Cries From Within
By: Mark J. Hadley
It wasn't exactly a routine mission.
With the exception of a few small lizards or wild brush, the desert was usually devoid of life or movement, quite a serene scene. Today, however, this silence was broken by the high-pitched whine of jet engines, emanating from a small plane that was speeding across the landscape about twenty feet off the ground. It was fairly small, but it held up against the heavy winds of the sandstorm. The two occupants had to wear goggles to keep any flying dust out of their eyes, due to the sand blowing about in the air, but they still kept heading straight, a singular destination in mind.
In the passenger seat, Amy Rose was focused intently on the way in front of them, as it could be easy to lose their way without an extra pair of eyes. She glanced briefly to the seat in front of her, piloted by the one who built the Tornado in the first place. Tails, despite his young age, had developed into quite the inventor, and the Tornado was his pride and joy. It was hard to tell through all the blowing dust, but she could swear she saw a smile on his face despite his concentration to keep the craft steady. Amy wouldn't admit it, but she was impressed at how much he was at ease in situations like this.
Sonic, as well. He insisted that he didn't need the lift, and was following along on the desert sands below. The Tornado was fast, but it still only took minimal effort for Sonic keep up with it, and the cloud of dust he was kicking up in his wake wasn't really noticeable because of the dust that was already in the air. Their approach would go more or less unseen, just as they planned.
Their destination was already barely becoming visible through the dust on the horizon. It was a small chemical plant...although it had previously remained inactive for years, it had been seized by Dr. Robotnik recently and put back into operation. Apparently, he had found some leftover chemical compound at the site that he wished to analyze and produce more of. Whatever its purpose, Sonic was well aware that it shouldn't fall into Robotnik's hands, so he set up an immediate strike to put the factory out of commission. Since Robotnik usually expected them to be on the defense instead of making an assault like this, they figured this would catch him off-guard.
Of course, they had to approach unseen, which is why they were sticking to these dust clouds. Amy didn't really like it that much... all the sand was getting in her face and hair. But it was necessary, something about a perimeter defense that would have warned Robotnik if they approached any other way. Besides, as much as the sand irritated her, she knew better than to complain; she, after all, had to argue some in order to even come along on this assault. She only wanted to make herself helpful, despite Sonic's insistence that she would just get in the way. Eventually, she convinced the two of them on the grounds that if something happened to Tails, they'd at least have another pilot for the Tornado.
But that was basically it. She didn't have anything else to do, except to stay out of the way, which Sonic was pretty adamant about.
It's not a routine mission, she thought, but it sure feels like it.
With a sigh, Amy concentrated on the desert ahead of her again. As she did, she heard the Tornado's engines power down slightly. "Tails?" she asked, having to shout to be heard over the engines and blowing dust. "Are we slowing down?"
"It'll make us harder to pick up on radar," Tails called back. "Remember, if Robotnik's expecting anyone to show, it'll be Sonic, so all his sensors are probably calibrated for high speeds..."
"Oh, ok," Amy nodded. She watch Tails easy the throttle some more, the Tornado slowing gradually until it was moving only about half as fast as it was before. Below them, Sonic had slowed his run to match theirs, although he was now running backwards, and looked extremely bored. Grinning to herself, Amy thought, Typical Sonic...nothing ever seems to rattle him...
Yawning, Sonic called up, "Wake me up when we get there, okay? I don't wanna miss any of the action..."
"Faster!" Robotnik growled at the pair of robots in the cargo bay. "I want all those drums loaded for transport at once!" The robots nodded, redoubling their efforts as they put the large drums of chemicals into the back of the large cargo vehicle. Robotnik nodded back to them and added, "And don't drop any, either; it's extremely volatile!"
Turning and striding out of the cargo bay, he looked down at the smaller canister in his hand, the reddish substance visible through the glass exterior. It was quite a significant find in this old plant, definitely some kind of experimental substance. Unfortunately, there was no data about it, aside from the canister being labeled as an armor research project. It appeared to be a bonding agent, and Robotnik concluded that must be something to increase the resiliency of metallic armor. Although he needed to bring this sample back to his laboratory for a full study, he decided to activate the processors and get as much of it generated as he can in the meantime.
Especially if that pesky hedgehog is on his way, Robotnik thought, furrowing his brow. But even if he is, it doesn't matter... if I can get only one transport worth of this chemical out, that should be plenty for my purposes. If I'm lucky, it will give me just the edge I need against Sonic...
An alert buzzer went off abruptly, startling him and almost causing him to drop the canister. He quickly managed to grab it with both arms and hugged it tightly to his chest to keep it from falling... he gritted his teeth and hissed, "Speak of the devil..." then called out louder, his command catching the attention of a nearby sentry, "Activate all defenses, and send out intercept drones at once!" The sentry immediately relayed the command as ordered, and Robotnik looked back at the canister, thinking, I had best depart now, before it is too late...
Tails wiped some of the sand from his goggles and peered down at the instrument panel in front of him. The radar had suddenly become active, and he saw blips approaching from the direction of the plant. "Uh oh..."
"What? What's wrong?" Amy asked.
Instead of answering her, Tails peered over the edge of the craft and called down, "Sonic! Incoming!"
Still running backwards, Sonic blinked in surprise, but then grinned and kicked himself off the ground, leaping and turning a partial somersault in the air. He landed so that he was facing forward again, still in mid-run, and exclaimed, "Finally! I'll take care of the cavalry, and you head for the plant!" Tails gave a thumbs-up, and angled the Tornado upwards, climbing out of the sandstorm and kicking the throttle back to full power again.
At the same time, Sonic took off in a burst of speed, on an intercept course with the targets, which were becoming visible through the sand in the distance. There were eight small drones, round except for three flat wings extending out in a triangular arrangement, and what looked like a weapons port on the front. They were heading for the Tornado, but Sonic was moving faster than it, and knew he would reach them first. After a few more quick strides, he leapt into the air, his momentum carrying him out of the clouds of sand and through the air towards the nearest drone.
It wasn't expecting an attack from below, so Sonic landed on top of it with ease. He kicked off of it hard, propelling himself towards one of the other drones... the force of his kick sent the first drone off-course, and before it had a chance to adjust, it spiraled towards the ground, crashing into the dunes. Sonic clung to the second drone and started to pry open a panel on its side. By this time, four of the other six drones had veered away from its pursuit of the Tornado, and concentrated on him instead.
The remaining two drones continued to head directly for the tiny plane. Amy noticed this, and looked over at Tails to get some idea of what he was going to do. Tails, however, wasn't turning away from them... he kept flying the Tornado straight, keeping a determined expression, but cracking a small grin at the same time. Cringing, Amy thought, What's he doing? Is he going to ram them?! The drones got closer, and Tails still showed no sign of changing course. Amy grabbed the sides of her seat tightly, and clenched her eyes shut...
Just before they hit, the Tornado rolled sideways, passing directly between the two drones, with barely inches to spare on either side. The drones themselves both tried to turn around to follow them, but when they did, they got too close to each other... the side of one collided with the wing of the other, causing it to snap off in a brief shower of sparks. The damaged drone couldn't stay aloft, and plummeted to the ground, trailing smoke behind it.
Amy released her grip on the seat and shouted furiously, "Hey, are you crazy?! You could've thrown me out of the plane there!"
Tails didn't take his eyes off their course in front of them, and muttered under his breath to himself, "Yeah, we wouldn't want that to happenwould we?" The other drone was already starting to come around and follow them, but he didn't pay it much attention; they were moving faster than it anyway. He was more worried about the perimeter defenses of the plant, their main target.
In the meantime, Sonic had gotten through the panel of the drone he was holding onto, and tugged at some of the wires. With each tug, the drone changed its flying angle, and even though it was erratic, he was still able to steer it to some degree. "Cool!" he said with a grin, and gave the wires a hard tug, twisting it into the path of the other drones. He hopped off just before it collided with one of them, both of them exploding on impact. Dropping back to the ground, he touched down on one knee as the debris from the drones landed around him, then glanced up as the final three circled down after him. Weapons emerged from the ports on the front and opened fire, but the hedgehog was already on the move; it was child's play for him to dodge the incoming blasts.
The Tornado approached the outer wall of the chemical plant, which was now being protected by a laser barrier. The crisscrossing beams of light between the tall metal pillars were too close together to allow even a single person through, let alone something as big as the plane. Tails angled their flight so that they were circling the barrier's perimeter, and called back, "Amy, there's a little metal device under your seat; could you get it and throw it at one of the pillars down there?"
"Oh, so now you want me to do something?" Amy huffed back.
"C'mon!" Tails said, a bit angrily, "Either throw it, or hand it up here so I can throw it!"
"All right, all right," Amy answered, and started digging around underneath the seat. "This round thing?"
"That's the one," Tails said. "Just toss it right out. Try to get it as close as you can." Amy nodded and looked out at the metal pillars. As they passed one of them, she threw the small metal orb as hard as she could. It soared out, not quite directly at the pillar itself, and for a moment, Amy was afraid she may have ended up tossing it into the laser beams instead. As soon as it was about twenty feet from the pillar, though, it changed directions and flew into the side, guided by the strong electromagnet inside. It attached to the metal and stayed put.
"I think I got it," Amy said. "Now what?" Tails didn't reply, but punched a button on the Tornado's console instead. A strong electromagnetic wave burst out from the device, extending out in a large radius... the circuitry in the pillar shorted out, and the laser beams generated by it switched off a moment later. The plane had already passed well out of the range of the device, but the shockwave from the EMP blast caused the plane to shudder slightly anyway.
Off in the distance, Sonic had just somersaulted between two of the remaining drones, their blasts missing him and striking each other instead. Can't believe that move still works, he thought. He landed from the jump, with the remains of the two drones raining down from the air around him, and was focusing on the last drone near him, when he noticed the EMP go off near the plant. "That's my cue!" he said, and started heading for the base, with the drone in hot pursuit. While he ran, he scooped a rock up from the sand, and slowed down just a bit so that the drone could keep up with him. As it was about to fire, he jumped once, making a 360-degree turn and throwing the rock behind him in mid-leap... his accuracy was dead-on, the rock lodging itself in the drone's weapon port just as it fired. The blast backfired, and the drone exploded into a thousand pieces.
Now that the perimeter defenses were down, Tails was able to take down the Tornado. There was enough pavement below to serve as a landing pad for the plane to land, and in less than a minute, he had set down, gliding slowly to a stop. As he did, Tails said, "Alright, now we wait until Sonic gets through. I'll be right behind him..."
"What about me?" Amy asked.
"You stay with the Tornado," Tails said. "It's your job to guard it, remember?"
Amy frowned and nodded, though she thought, You mean it's my job to stay where it's safe. But how can I help Sonic if I stay here? He needs me! She waited until the Tornado had slowed enough, then unstrapped herself from the seat and jumped out. As soon as her feet hit the ground, she started running for the plant.
"Amy, what are you doing? Get back here!" Tails exclaimed. When it became apparent that she wasn't listening, he gave a frustrated sigh and got out of his own seat, racing after her. Amy had a good lead, though, and was already past the deactivated barrier, heading for the entrance to the plant. Before Tails could get to the barrier, though, a few blasts struck the ground in front of him, forcing him to a stop. The remaining drone had caught up to them, and was opening fire on him. Without much cover left, he retreated back in the direction of the Tornado.
Sonic rushed towards the plant, and saw the drone firing at Tails. He gritted his teeth and ran faster, then leapt into the air, spinning into a furious somersault. His trajectory carried him right to the drone... and in the next instant, he passed through it, slicing the drone in half. He landed on the ground next to a stunned but thankful Tails, who smiled and said, "Awesome!"
"Naturally," Sonic said with a grin. He glanced over at the Tornado, and was about to ask where Amy was, when he caught himself and said, "Don't tell me... she went in, didn't she?"
Tails nodded, "Naturally."
Sonic closed his eyes and slapped a hand over his forehead, "Argh... all right, I'm going to find another way in. You get the Tornado back in the air, in case Robotnik tries to make a break for it. I'll be back with Amy... if she got herself into trouble, though, don't expect me to get her out of it." As the two of them headed for the plant entrance, Tails knew that Sonic was only kidding... though he didn't like having to rescue Amy from the danger she often got herself into, he still did anyway. It was in his nature, whether he liked it or not.
Robotnik activated the controls to the cargo ship, powering it up as his robots secured the last of the drums. "Excellent!" he called out to them, "Now, convert to defense mode, and protect the vessel from any attack. I don't want any unexpected surprises ruining the transport." The robots complied, retracting their loader claws and replacing them with an energy shield on one arm, and a blaster on the other. They fanned out, forming a defensive perimeter around the ship.
Amy watched this from her hidden position behind a stack of crates. She had gotten through more or less unseen, since most of Robotnik's robots were either here or outside. Still, it looked like they had arrived too late. He was about to make his getaway, and she decided that she had to do something quickly. But what? she thought. What would Sonic do? Probably just run right in. I can't do that... I'll have to think of something else...
Her eyes fell on a large spool of heavy cable, and she got an idea. She quickly unwound some of it off the spool, and tied the end into a loop. Once that was done, she peeked around the edge of the crate once more, watching the robots, circle the ship. She'd only get one shot at this, so she had to be careful... she watched them carefully, waiting until just the right moment. The instant none of them were looking, she spun the cable around like a lasso, and threw it towards the back of the ship, grunting at the effort.
The heavy cable flew unseen through the air, and looped itself around one of the jets in the back. She clenched a fist and whispered, "Yes..." and ducked back under cover before anyone could see. This'll give Sonic enough time to get in here, she thought. This is perfect! I'll bet Sonic will be surprised... he'll be glad he brought me along now!
On the back of the cargo ship, the rockets fired, and it lifted up into the air, heading towards the ceiling as a door in the ceiling opened to allow it passage. As the ship lifted into the air, Amy gasped... the cable wasn't holding it in place at all, and it was unwinding rapidly from the spool. In a few seconds, it would come off entirely. No! she thought. I'm not going to lose my big chance to show Sonic what I'm worth! She grabbed the cable and tried to pull on it, but it turned out to be a bad decision, because in the next instant, the ship launched out of the cargo bay, pulling the cable with it. Amy reflexively clung to the cable tightly, and she was pulled into the air with a startled shriek.
By now, Sonic had climbed up to the roof, and he spotted the ship emerging from the open cargo door. He grinned and exclaimed, "You're not goin' anywhere, Robotnik!" He leapt in the ship's direction, carrying him the full distance and landing squarely on the glass bubble covering the cockpit. Robotnik was startled to see the hedgehog covering his view, and Sonic took the opportunity to make a face at him.
"Heeeelllp!!" Amy cried out. Sonic looked around the edge of the ship, and saw her hanging from the end of the cable, holding on for dear life... the ship was at least a hundred feet up by now, and gaining more altitude quickly. Sonic looked back through the cockpit at Robotnik, then back at Amy... he gave a frustrated sigh and started crawling towards the back of the ship.
It didn't take him long to get to where the cable was attached. He grabbed the cable and started hauling Amy in to the ship, calling out, "Hang on!" Amy nodded and clutched the cable as tightly as she could, but she was terrified, and continued to scream as her tears left a trail in the ship's wake. One of her hands slipped, and she dangled by one hand as her mind raced, Oh no I'm gonna fall I'm gonna FALL!!
Sonic saw the danger she was in, and started pulling the cable in faster. "I almost have you!" Sonic shouted, "Don't let go!"
"I'm slipping!!" Amy shrieked.
Without much option left, Sonic tied the rest of the cable around the rocket and grabbed hold of it. He quickly slid down the remaining length, and just as Amy let go, he grabbed her wrist, "Gotcha!" Amy looked up at him gratefully, although he had now put himself in a similar predicament.
Robotnik watched them over his shoulder from the cockpit, and grinned as he flicked a few switches on the control panel. An arm with a spinning saw blade emerged from the side of the ship, and he carefully began to guide it towards the cable. Sonic clenched his teeth as he saw this... there was no way he could pull himself up the cable with one hand, and nowhere else to go.
He caught something out of the corner of his eye, and turned his head to see the Tornado flying a ways behind them. Okay, one shot... he thought. Hope Tails is watching... He abruptly let go of the cable, and Amy screamed as they fell away from the ship... they tumbled through the air for a few moments, but sure enough, the Tornado changed course, heading to intercept their fall. Less than a hundred feet before they hit the ground, the plane came right under them, and Sonic grabbed the wing with his free hand.
Now that they were in a safer position, Tails turned and angled towards the ground, heading back for the plant, as Robotnik's ship disappeared in the distance. The plane touched down, and Sonic dropped off the wing, landing on the ground with Amy. She stood on unsteady legs, and said, "Th-thanks... that was..."
"That was stupid," Sonic said, scolding her. "What were you doin' in there? You were supposed to stay with the Tornado, not go for a joyride on Robotnik's tail!"
Amy folded her arms, "Hey, I was just trying to help!"
"Staying out of harms way is the best way you can help me," Sonic retorted.
"So you do care about me," Amy said, giving a smile, "I knew it!"
Waving his hands, Sonic said, "I didn't mean it like... look, nevermind, let's just get to the plant." He looked over at Tails and continued, "Maybe we can find something that'll tell us what this was all about. If we're lucky..."
Tails worked at the computer in the plant's control room, accessing databases and looking for information on recent productions. As he had almost expected, all the records had been blanked. Amy, in the meantime, was rooting through a stack of papers. Sonic ran into the control room, asking, "So, find anything, bro?"
"Nothing," Tails answered. He glanced at Amy, who shook her head. "Amy either. How about you?"
"Nada," Sonic told him. "All the chemicals were moved out. We're back to square one." He kicked a chair over. "Almost had him, too. All right, let's pack it up and move out. We're not gonna find anything else."
Tails nodded, "Right." He shut the computer down and started for the door. "C'mon, Amy."
"I'll be along in a second," Amy said, as Tails and Sonic left the room. As soon as they were out of the room, she sighed and looked down at the papers scattered all over the desk. I tried to help, really, she thought. Why doesn't he understand that? There has to be some way I can show that I can be heroic, just like him. It makes me so mad... how can he be so stubborn? Why can't he see me for who I am?
She shoved the papers off the desk in anger. As they drifted to the ground, she turned and started to walk towards the door, but then something caught her eye. She looked back at the desk, where the papers were collecting on the ground, and saw a piece of paper folded up under the desk chair. Curiously, she went over and bent over, picking it up, the unfolded it to see what was on it. She could scarcely believe her good fortune at what she saw.
It was a printout, probably from the computer here. It had a map printed out on it, which she recognized as part of Station Square, probably a warehouse since it was near the coast. A location was marked on it clearly, with an address printed beneath. But even better, there was a handwritten note scrawled at the bottom that read:
1 – Secure formula component
2 – Complete weapon
3 – Eliminate hedgehog
Amy's spirits rose as she realized that it was something Robotnik had left behind. He's planning to go here to pick up something? she thought. Another stored chemical? Maybe if we get there first, we can catch him in the act! I'll take this right to Sonic; he'll be proud of me...
She hesitated, then frowned a little, thinking, No, wait... this is my chance to really prove my worth. I'll go there myself... that Sonic would probably just rush right in anyway, but if I sneak in, maybe I can hide out and find out what Robotnik is up to! This'll show Sonic what I can do! Tucking the paper away, she grinned to herself and headed for the door, to meet back at the Tornado, while working out a plan in her head for the mission...
TO BE CONTINUED...