Chapter 15: Master Plan

Sonic looked at the Chaos Emerald in his hand.

He was hurling through space, getting farther and farther away from the Ark. He wasn't certain if he was in danger, or not, but he didn't really care. The best case scenario, if he didn't do anything, was that he landed on Earth safely. His friends needed him on the Ark, 'now!' which meant he had to do something.

After going over his options he came up with only one that seemed practical, teleportation. That particular option wouldn't have seemed so practical a week ago, but since then Sonic had seen Shadow and Chaos both using Chaos Control to teleport. He wasn't sure when he had realized that they had used Chaos Emeralds to do this, but he had, which was why he was now staring at the one he carried.

The longer he waited the farther he got away from the Ark, which would make Chaos Controlling all the harder.

The hero shut his eyes, squeezed the Emerald tightly, and spoke two words. "Chaos Control."

He felt an electrical sensation, that was similar to going super, only he felt a little drained, instead of energized, and it was on a much smaller scale. Oh, and he suddenly realized that he wasn't standing on anything.

Sonic opened his eyes, saw that wherever he was it was very dark, just as his feet hit the floor. Normally he would have been able to keep his footing after such a short drop, but right now he hedgehog was so disoriented that his legs buckled, and he fell on his bottom.

"That was embarrassing," he muttered as he got to his feet, and used the light of the Chaos Emerald to look around.

There wasn't much at first glance, just walls, doors, the ceiling, floor, and a eerie silence, that was perfect for echoing, but he couldn't think of any phrases that he hadn't already tried, and he had work to do anyway.

The blue blur almost took off in a random direction, but stopped; something wasn't right.

He looked around again, trying to spot it. But there was still only two walls, a bunch of doors, the ceiling, and the floor.

Something was out of place. Then he had it. Dust. There wasn't any dust in this particular hallway.

Then something else caught his attention. There was a green light, coming from down one of the halls that intercepted the one that the fastest thing alive currently occupied.

As Sonic walked forward to investigate the light got brighter, until finally, it's source appeared in the form of the Master Emerald, which was being carried by Knuckles, who was walking backwards, apparently asphyxiated with something he'd seen in the hall he had just left.

"Now there's a part of the Eggman Empire that you don't see everyday," the guardian said to himself.

"What don't you see everyday, Knux?" Sonic asked.

Knuckles jumped. "Whoa Sonic, you scared me," he said, "I just saw the strangest sight."

"Which was?" Sonic inquired.

"An Eggman Empire maid robot, and from the looks of it, it was put together by whatever odds and ends Eggman was able to scrounge out of this space station."

Sonic made a noise that sounded like a cross between a laugh and a gag. "You're kidding. Well, at least that explains what happened to the dust around here."

"So, do you have any idea what's going on?" Knuckles asked. "I chased some batgirl, who had pieces to the Master Emerald around and kinda got lost."

"Batgirl?" Sonic said, with a sly grin this time.

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Knuckles sighed. Not Sonic too.

"It was nothing like that," Knuckles growled.

"Suuurrre," Sonic said, grinning bigger.

"I don't have time for this," the misunderstood guardian thought to himself.

"Look, can we please get back to stopping Eggman?" Knuckles asked.

"Whatever you say… Loverboy." Sonic quipped.

"That's it," Knuckles said, and took a swipe at his so-called 'friend'.

Sonic jumped back and laughed. "Ha ha, missed!"

"Open your mouth again, and I'll break your jaw," Knuckles threatened.

"No!" Sonic said, in mock horror. Then let his jaw hang.

"Could someone please explain to me why I'm helping him, again?" Knuckles thought, as he tried to put a cap on his anger.

The echidna made as if to turn around, heard Sonic step in closer and start to say something else, then swung around and clocked him in the forehead.

"Ow!" Sonic called out, as he rubbed his head. "Man, Knux, I was only foolin around."

"Yeah, well a fool deserves what he gets," the now rather smug guardian replied, "Now if we could get back to Eggman?"

"Yeah sure. Just don't hit me again. Ow," Sonic complained.

"Okay. I was following some foot prints, or tracks in the dust, until I came across that maid robot cleaning up, and now I have no idea where to go next. You?" Knuckles enquired.

"I found Eggman, he trapped me in an escape pod and launched it towards Earth." Sonic shrugged.

Knuckles frowned. "Then how'd you get back here?"

"I Chaos Controlled," Sonic simply said.

"Didn't I hear Shadow say something like that?" Knuckles wondered as he asked, "You what?"

"I teleported. 'Chaos Control' is the password to teleport with a Chaos Emerald." Sonic explained.

"Really?" Knuckles asked, fascinated by this new knowledge about the gem stones.

"Yep," Sonic replied, once again sounding smug, "If Eggman thought that the fastest thing alive was bad, wait until he sees the fastest, teleporting thing alive."

"Do you think you can teleport us to wherever Eggman is?" The red echidna asked. "That would save us a lot of time, tracking him down."

"I dunno," The blue blur said, as he stared at his Chaos Emerald thoughtfully. "I don't really understand how it works."

Sonic continued to gaze at the powerful stone for a few moments and then came up with: "I don't think we should try it."

If Knuckles had a personality as sarcastic as Sonic's, he would have, at this point, gone on about some kind of world paradox, or Sonic's mind being taken over by an alien, because he was actually trying to be cautious. But everyone's favorite echidna was smarter than everyone's favorite hedgehog, at least in this respect, and he said nothing.

"Okay… then what's next?" Knuckles asked, raising an eyebrow.

"Huh?" Sonic looked up distractedly from the gem in his hand. "Oh, we find Eggman of course."

"I already know that." Knuckles was beginning to get irritated.

"Then why'd you ask?" Sonic countered.

Knuckles growled. "What I meant was, how, exactly, do we do that?"

"Then you should have said that in the first place." The fastest, teleporting, and somtetimes extremely annoying hedgehog said with a smile. "You should say what you mean if you want people to understand you."

Knuckles wondered how Sonic managed to turn even the direst of situations into some kind of joke and shot back instantly: "Says the person who uses enough teenage slang to put a hippie to shame."

"Enough fooling around Knux. We gotta find Eggman," Sonic said, suddenly all business.

Knuckles entire body shook with anger, and bewilderment. He had tried, and tried, and tried to keep Sonic on the task at hand, and the moment he let himself stoop to Sonic's level the hedgehog would suddenly become the mature one, and have the audacity to tell him that he was the one who should stop fooling around.

"Enough fooling around my foot!" Knuckles thought, but he managed to keep his thoughts to himself. No matter how annoying Sonic was, Eggman was more important at the moment. The real sad part though, was that the blue hedgehog would probably end up being the one to save the day, thus exempting him from any criticism. If there was anything worse than an undisiplined fool, then it was an undisciplined fool who didn't even need discipline to accomplish his goals. The echidna sighed.

"And how exactly are we going to find him?" Knuckles asked Sonic, and while his voice was definitely not under control at least his choice of words was.

"We go after the Chaos Emeralds of course. Wherever there's a Chaos Emerald, Eggman won't be far behind," Sonic replied easily.

"Right." The echidna nodded, his voice still not under control. "And just how do we find them?"

"Lately me and Tails have been using his Emerald tracker, but being as we don't have that, I guess I'll have to use the Chaos Emerald." Sonic said, then concentrated on the stone.

"Let's see… There seems to be some that way." Sonic pointed down a dusty fork in the corridor that was beyond the hall Knuckles had come up in. But then the hedgehog suddenly squinted and said: "No, that way," pointing down the clean part of the hall that had yet to be explored - that is, by anyone other than the maid bot, of course.

Knuckles sighed, and leaned on the Master Emerald as he waited for Sonic to try and figure it out. "No wonder they switched to using the tracker," He thought dryly, then noticed something. He could feel the Master Emerald giving off energy that was leading him in the two directions that Sonic was pointing.

Knuckles smiled, and called out. "Hey, genius."

"Not now Knux. I'm trying to figure this out," Sonic said, without looking up.

"Aren't there supposed to be three Emeralds still lost?" The now rather smug guardian asked.

Sonic looked up at this with a smile of realization, then pointed down the clean hall and said: "You take that one, I'll take this one. First one to find a Chaos Emerald wins.", just a sparkle of competitiveness in his voice.

"You're on." Knuckles grinned, as he made his way down the clean hall, with the Master Emerald guiding him along. Sonic took off in a cloud of dust down the opposite direction, at the same time, with the Chaos Emerald as his guide.

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Shadow, meanwhile, was searching for the Chaos Emerald in an old G.U.N. robot construction room, when he suddenly saw a blue hedgehog not ten metres away. He recognized the other a moment before Sonic saw him, which was good because it gave the black one a chance to recover from the shock.

When Sonic did notice Shadow, the Ultimate Lifeform had his face under tight control, but actually Shadow felt like his gut had just exploded inside him. The thoughts and feelings racing through his mind and heart at seeing Sonic were almost indescribable. Shadow was relieved to see that Sonic had once again survived a close encounter with death, and yet annoyed for the very same reason. He was pleased that he hadn't killed anyone yet, and yet all the more angry that he had yet to cross that threshold. He was curious about who Sonic was, and where he came from, and at the same time, felt utter disdain for the hedgehog and everything about him. It was almost as if there were two personalities inside him, battling for control.

The closer he came to avenging Maria, the closer he came to carrying out 'his' revenge, the more ground his lighter personality seemed to gain. And having fought Sonic before, Shadow knew that this would be a battle with no guarantee of who the winner would be.

"Fancy meeting you here," Sonic said, walking towards Shadow with an unreadable expression.

"I could say the same thing about you." Shadow was standing perfectly still; his darker side was in complete control of his tone of voice, but his lighter side seemed to have a foothold on his choice of words. "I could have sworn that escape pod burned up in space."

"What can I say?" Sonic asked, "I'm full of surprises."

"Of that there is no doubt," Shadow thought, but barely kept himself from saying out loud.

"Who are you?" the obsidian hedgehog asked instead, and although his darker side was disgusted, his lighter side was awaiting Sonic's answer with the utmost anticipation, as if part of him already suspected the answer to be amazing.

"I'm just a guy with a need for speed," Sonic said, as he reached Shadow and stood still.

On the outside the Ultimate Lifeform remained expressionless, but on the inside his dark side snorted at his light side's anticipation over nothing.

Shadow had had enough.

Without any warning, he spin-attacked towards Sonic, but the blue hero dodged to the right and called out: "Chaos Control!"

The Chaos Emerald! Upon seeing Sonic, Shadow had completely forgotten about it. Too shocked upon seeing the blue blur to pay attention to the fact that he wouldn't have been able to see Sonic if it hadn't been for the glow of the Chaos Emerald that he carried.

Sonic reappeared along Shadow's path, and did a sweep kick, sending him tumbling into a control console.

All around the room half of the machines started humming as they came to life. A few of them had their own lights, or gave off some kind of machine-related glow, but most of the room was still blanketed in darkness. The black hedgehog rolled to his feet in one swift movement.

"Chaos Control!" Shadow called out himself and vanished instantly.

He reappeared on top of a large, tower-like machine that was apparently occupied with transforming small robot parts into bigger ones. A perfect vantage point.

There was no way to miss Sonic, as his Chaos Emerald made him stand out like a lighthouse. But the blue hedgehog had already spotted Shadow and was running straight up the equipment, towards him.

Shadow dashed off to meet him half way. Their spin attacks collided, and they would have bounced off of each other, had Shadow not uncurled at that precise moment, and grabbed Sonic's leg.

With a crash, the hero landed on the floor, the Ultimate Lifeform coming down on top of him.

Shadow dug his knees into Sonic's gut and reached for his rival's Emerald, but the blue hedgehog beneath him managed to wheeze a last 'Chaos Control' and promptly vanished.

Shadow gave a wry smirk.

Sonic may have learned Chaos Control, but that wasn't the only Chaos ability.

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Eggman's Eggmobile flew through the halls of ARK. The mad doctor wasn't going anywhere in particular; he was just keeping on the move, giving himself time to think.

He was so close to world domination, closer than he'd ever been in his life.

It was kind of odd. He had always suspected that world domination might not be obtainable until Sonic was eliminated, or neutralized. His subconscious must have assumed that he'd only ever achieve temporary neutralization. Somewhere deep down he had always assumed that he and Sonic would battle each other until Sonic slowed down from old age, and Eggman went senile.

The hedgehog was gone, no longer an impediment to the Eggman Empire. But somehow…it seemed wrong to establish it right after Sonic's heroic demise.

Knuckles, Tails, Amy, and G.U.N. would undoubtedly try to stop him, but without Sonic to help them he just might succeed this time. The temptation to achieve what he'd worked for so long battled with the disgust the doctor felt for not respecting his enemy's death with a brief cease fire.

He was so close…

But Sonic was dead…

A single tear trickled out from behind the doctor's glasses, and down his cheek. The so very sad thing about death was that it was so final, there were no second chances, or special exceptions. When someone died, no one would 'ever' see that person again.

Eggman made a decision right then and there; he wouldn't kill anyone else today. Forget today, he wouldn't kill anyone else ever again. He was a genius for crying out loud! He could figure out how to take over the world without killing anyone.

Eggman decided to put the decision of fight or flight behind him for a moment and take stock of himself and his opponents.

Tails would go for the Chaos Emeralds next, Amy would probably go with him, the scientist didn't have the foggiest idea where Knuckles was and there was still that G.U.N. agent.

Eggman had the entire Ark available to him a fifty year old space station of spare parts, about another hundred and twenty G.U.N. security robots, the fifteen engineer droids that he had brought along, and of course his brilliant mind.

"Where are the Chaos Emeralds now?" the human wondered as he loaded the Emerald tracker program on his Eggmobile.

The screen came to life with its usual promptness, showing the scientist several colored dots on a blueprint of the Ark. Three of these dots were still in the control room, one dot that Eggman recognized as the Master Emerald, was closing in on a fifth dot, that was the fake emerald that Shadow had brought onboard, and finally there were four more…

"That can't be right." The fat genius thought to himself as he surveyed the screen again. "Three, the Master, the fake, and four. No I must be missing something. Okay there are six Chaos Emeralds on this Station, one Master Emerald, and one fake Emerald, that makes eight, and there are one, two, three… Nine dots."

Eggman stared at the screen blankly for a moment. It couldn't be.

He quickly reloaded the program, and double-checked, but there was no mistaking the nine different dots.

Moving with all the grace of a five-year-old on Christmas morning, he brought the security cameras in the room with the four Chaos Emeralds on line with his hands flying over the buttons wildly.

It was a little difficult to see, since he had turned off almost all of the lights earlier, but there was still no mistaking the sight of Sonic running with a Chaos Emerald.

"Sonic…" The name came out of Eggman's mouth of its own accord.

It could be… Not just could be, it was!

Eggman laughed. He let out a long and loud bellow of laughter. He should have known, Sonic the Hedgehog, his old arch foe, wouldn't go down so easily.

The happiest doctor on the planet, in a matter of speaking, let out one more laugh, and then got back to work. He still had a world to conquer.

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Sonic was catching his breath on the other side of some big piece of machinery.

He wasn't used to fighting someone that was as fast as him. Metal Sonic had almost been as fast, with Knuckles coming in third, but Sonic was just used to being the undisputed fastest. A fact that Shadow did dispute.

Sonic was going to have to change his fighting style, if he hoped to come out of this in anything better than a draw.

The light of at least two Chaos Emeralds caught the corner of his eye, telling him that a certain Shadow was upon him.

The blue hero waited, just a moment, then leapt over his adversary. Gloved hands grabbed Shadow's shoulders for extra momentum.

The Ultimate Lifeform spun around as Sonic landed on the conveyer belt. The band was moving at a steady pace, but as far as Sonic and Shadow were concerned it might as well have been an amateur youtuber's stop motion.

Sonic sidestepped onto a second belt, which was moving in the opposite direction, and then took off, moving the same way as the conveyor.

Not wasting a second, Shadow jumped on the first band and followed suit.

Sonic ran on his conveyer belt, given a miniscule boost by the fact that he and the conveyer belt were moving in the exact same direction. But Shadow was skating just beside, unhindered by his conveyer belt moving away underneath his feet, because he was moving along a layer of air above.

"Chaos Spear!" Shadow shouted, his face drawn into a snarl.

Sonic remembered Chaos Spear from Shadow's battle with Chaos, and decided that continuing on his current course was probably the dumbest thing he could possibly do, and dove off of the belt, onto the floor.

Even though the darkness made the streak of light that passed through the space Sonic had just been running in seem much brighter than it actually was, it still looked rather underwhelming, considering the amazing continuous blast of energy that Shadow had used on Chaos. It apparently lost a lot of its power without a super form to go with it.

Such a poor attack (which had also missed) couldn't go unpunished.

"You might want to change that to 'Chaos don't run with the scissors'!" Sonic taunted his rival, smirking.

"Chaos Control." was Shadow's only response.

The next second, the black hedgehog had reappeared right next to Sonic and spin kicked at him.

Even while the blue hero moved to avoid the attack, he received a glancing blow from Shadow's shoe. Once away, Sonic curled up immediately and spun towards his foe, a ball of razor sharp quills in a dashing spin attack.

Sonic's dark adversary dodged easily, and called for another Chaos Spear. With a hissing noise the light arrow left Shadow's gloved hand, heading off towards the blue hedgehog.

The blow connected.

Sonic was thrown out of his curled up position and up against a wall, feeling like he had been electrocuted.

He could hear Shadow move to follow up on his attack and finish the job, when a thought struck the blue blur. Sonic didn't know where the thought came from, nor did he really have time to care in the middle of a fight.

Making sure he had a firm grip on the Emerald in his right hand, Sonic held out his left hand and called out: "Sonic Wind!"

The result reminded Sonic of 'The Phantom Menace' when a Jedi would hold out his hand, and the droids that were attacking him would go flying, only that it was Shadow who was hurled away instead of the duck-like robots.

However, another effect was that the hero suddenly felt horribly drained, like when his Super form was threatening to leave him.

Shadow did another Chaos Control from his position on the floor.

Sonic wondered why the black hedgehog had been able to use Chaos Control and the like, so many times without tiring out, when he remembered that Shadow had more than one Emerald.

"Nuts. And just when I thought things were evening up a bit."

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Shadow felt like his right leg was asleep. He had worn himself out by attacking the door, and now he was relying on the Chaos Emeralds for energy, which had the nasty effect of making his whole body feel like it was on pins and needles. His right leg was completely asleep, while the rest of his body either felt like it was on nervous energy, or about to join the already annoying leg.

But this didn't deter him from attacking Sonic. They'd both gradually stopped using their Chaos Emerald abilities, and now they were both running around the room, like two great beacons, lashing out and dodging.

Now the two were heading for each other head on. Shadow kicked for Sonic's head but the blue hero infuriatingly curled up, and rolled under the blow.

They both turned, the blur that they left behind making a figure eight and came at each other again at break-speed.

Shadow punched and missed, Sonic kicked and hit.

But rather than being repelled backwards, the dark hedgehog fell forwards, losing his balance. Just as Sonic was coming around for a follow up attack, the lights came on.

Shadow was blinded and stumbled at a very high speed into the corner of one of the pieces of machinery. He completely lost his footing, hit the floor, and started tumbling, and rolling, end over end, until a wall stopped his momentum brutally short.

Shadow's entire body felt like it had gone numb from pins and needles, yet somehow that had managed to hurt.

"Sonic! It's so good to see you again!" Came the very unwelcome voice of Dr. Eggman.

"Hey!" Sonic yelled.

"Come now Sonic, you don't need the Emerald to see anymore, I've turned the lights back on," the scientist said, far too smug for Shadow's taste.

The black hedgehog tried to get up, but he was so disoriented that he fell back down.

"Shadow! You look awful!" Eggman exclaimed, in mock concern. (needs an adverb. Concerned? Or in mock concern? Surprised? )

"I feel awful," Shadow thought, but didn't say.

The Ultimate Lifeform was dog tired; he had been pushing and pushing his limits, and now he just wanted to stay in whatever awkward position he was laying in, and never get up again.

Shadow felt the cold metal of the claw that Eggman used to grab Emeralds, reaching for his.

"No!!!" Shadow thought, as he got up despite his fatigue, and grabbed the claw. It had already begun to retract, somehow managing to hold onto three Emeralds at once.

"Come now Shadow," Eggman said again, becoming annoyed.

The light was hurting Shadow's eyes less, and he could see more clearly now.

"Give me the Emeralds so that I can use the eclipse cannon to conquer the world," Eggman continued.

The claw strained in the black hedgehog's grip, as he fought to hold on, and then he suddenly realized what the human had said.

Shadow let go and fell to the floor.

"That's it." The scientist tilted his Eggmobile sidewise, just in time to avoid Sonic's spin attack. "Come on Sonic, I was expecting that."

Shadow just lay there. He was exhausted, and Eggman had unwittingly volunteered to finish his task for him.

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"But I'll bet that you weren't expecting this!" Knuckles suddenly heard Eggman say, far away on the other end of the room.

The crimson echidna set the Master Emerald down, as far away from Eggman as he could without leaving the room and went to investigate.

"What? For you to push a button? Deary me, never seen you do that before!" The voice of Sonic, with all its usual sarcasm.

Smirking, Knuckles walked on the scene.

Eggman was floating in his hover craft with Sonic on the far side, while Shadow was lying in the dust, some distance away. The Ultimate Lifeform looked awful.

"I think you're talking about the squad of robots that I just trashed back there, right, human?" the echidna asked, looking smug. "I also relieved them of this." He held up one of the Chaos Emeralds proudly. Turning to Sonic, he added: "And since you seem not only to have failed to get yours, but also managed to lose the one you had, that means I win our little bet, hedgehog."

Needless to say he was feeling pretty good about beating Sonic, and couldn't resist rubbing it into the face of the hero's super inflated ego a little.

"Sorry Knux, but that's Tails' fake Emerald." Sonic simply said.

Eggman, meanwhile, was trying to inch his way past Knuckles, but the guardian had been watching him and shifted his position, to effectively block the way out. The doctor stopped, apparently trying to figure out how to use the situation to his advantage.

"Guess the winner will be the first one to get one away from Eggman." Sonic grinned, seeing the human's uneasey expression.

Knuckles scowled. Was the hedgehog immune to any form of humiliation?

"Sonic!!!" Came the two very unexpected screams, and suddenly the speedster was smothered in hugs.

Hearing Amy scream and throw herself on Sonic was one thing, but hearing and seeing Tails do it was quite another. The little fox' eyes were shining so brightly as if Christmas and his birthday had suddenly happened all at once.

Knuckles was so surprised that he almost forgot about Eggman. Almost.

The scientist had been making a break for it and with Sonic temporarily immobilized it looked like it was all up to Knuckles. The echidna jumped for Eggman, knowing that it would be close but he would make it…if it hadn't been for Shadow. The dark hedgehog intercepted him, knocking both of them to the floor.

Knuckles threw Shadow off of him, but when he had struggled free Eggman had already rounded the corner, and was out of sight.

Knuckles lost no time and gave chase. The guardian managed to catch sight of the overweight human heading down a hall, just before the door slammed shut in his face.

"Great. Just great," Knuckles muttered to himself. (Perfect example for sarcasm, btw. ;) )

He thought about trying to pursue the doctor by himself, but instead, decided to regroup with Sonic, and Tails, figuring that three people could search faster and more effectively.

When he got back, the two-tailed wonder and the pink fan girl were still clutching Sonic with all their might. The very miffed guardian was about to ask them just exactly what they thought they were doing, when he heard Tails say. "I thought we were going to have to go on without you!", the voice of the fox still shaking and muffled where he had buried his face in Sonic's chest.

Knuckles stopped, and humphed. Now he understood. But he was getting downright tired of Sonic's popularity.

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Rouge was aloft, hiding near the ceiling in the main control room. She knew that sooner or later someone was going to come in here; most likely Eggman, or Tails, but there was no reason it couldn't be any other member of Sonic's posse either.

She had managed to almost bury her feelings completely, but only almost.

The sound of the door opening and footsteps reached her highly sensitive ears. Was it the echidna?

She turned to see, quickly, but no. It was only Dr. Eggman.

The obese doctor floated up to the console, twisting his mustache, and in general looking far too happy for Rouge's taste.

"At last," Eggman crowed as his little Emerald-snatching claw started laying the Chaos gems in little Emerald shaped indents on the console in rapid succession. "The birth of the Eggman Empire! Bwa ha ha! Hmm…" Eggman stopped mid laugh, then continued. "You know… that is a rather disgusting way to describe it. Bwa ha ha ha ha!"

Disgusted with the fat man, joking with himself, Rouge turned her attention to the Emeralds instead. They were so beautiful…and yet so repulsive. They represented the pinnacle of the life she had chosen for herself, and only now did she realize just how low that pinnacle was.

Out of her peripheral vision a flashing screen caught her eye. Rouge turned and then saw the single word, flashing in red, over and over again.

"DANGER"

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To Be Continued…