Trigger Warning: Child abuse.

It was a quarter to midnight. Two of the three organic citizens of the city slept soundly. The third crept through the shadows, silently avoiding cameras and robots as she made her way to the outskirts of the massive city.

Getting out of the building that housed the living quarters undetected had been quite a trick, but by some miracle, she had pulled it off. Now, crouching in a dark corner as a guardbot went by, Rane's heart hammered in her chest. She was so close to freedom she could all but taste it, but one wrong move and she'd be dead.

Part of her desperately wanted to just run for it, but she knew that that would get her detected, and her slim chance would quickly become no chance. Taking a steadying breath, she bolted for the next shadow, vanishing from sight just as a camera turned her way.

The hedgehog smiled to herself. The camera hadn't been fast enough. That bloody "speed serum" was turning out to have been useful after all. She still didn't come close to rivaling the famous Blue Blur, but she was definitely much faster than she had been, and it was enough for her. She turned her attention back to where she was headed. Less than a mile and she'd be outside of the city.

She'd finally get to see what Mobius was like outside of Robotropolis. She couldn't remember her life before Robotnik, and she'd never left the city. All she really knew of the outside world came to her from pictures and her mother's stories. She'd never seen a real tree, or flower, or blade of grass. She'd finally be able to feel the roughness of tree bark, smell the sweet aroma of a flower. She'd been waiting for this her whole life. She eagerly took a step, starting for the next clump of shadows.

Only to jump back at the sound of voices.

"C'mon, Knux! I coulda been in and outta there already!"

"Yeah, with every bot in the city on your tail."

"Please, I can handle them, no sweat!"

"Uh-huh. And were you planning to pull all three of us out of the city? Or are you just going to leave us behind to fend for ourselves against robots you attracted?"

"Both of you shut up! You're going to attract attention."

The first two voices were masculine, the third clearly female. It sounded as if there was a fourth person who was simply being quiet.

'Freedom Fighters,' Rane realized.

Judging by the impatience and egotism in the first voice, one of them was Sonic himself.

The second voice was calmer, more collected. 'The echidna?' she wondered. 'That Knuckles character?' She figured it was a pretty good bet. But the third voice...

"So, where to now, Sal?"

Of course. Princess Sally Acorn. That made sense. She started to wonder what they were up to, then cursed. If they raised an alarm, Robotnik would almost certainly find out Rane was missing, and would activate the implant. It would be too soon; she needed more time. She considered confronting the group, but decided against it. They'd most likely assume she was an enemy. Rane willed them not to get caught - they might be able to escape easily enough, but it would be game over for her.

With a final silent plea for them to be careful, she returned to her own mission. It wasn't long before she found herself standing at the city limits, looking out over the moonlit landscape beyond. Most likely due to the chemical smoke and resulting acid rain, the land for some distance was a barren, rocky wasteland. With luck, she'd be far beyond it by morning.

Rane stepped out of the city and took off, resolving to put as much distance as possible between herself and Robotropolis.

She was free. For however long it lasted, she was, at long last, free. And no one was going to take that from her.

Lowering her head in determination, she poured on the speed, and never looked back.

She'd been running for only a few minutes when she felt it. A sharp pain in the middle of her chest, radiating outwards through her entire body. Her breath caught, and she stumbled, tumbling and sliding along the rocky ground for over a hundred feet before finally stopping, the unforgiving rocks tearing at her body. Another pain shot through her, and she sat up, panicked.

'No, not now, not yet! It's too soon! I'm not ready!' Kneeling on the rocky ground, she ripped the bag off her back and dug through it, frantically yanking out the scalpel she'd lifted from the medical center.

Another shock raced through her body. It was now or never.

Clenching her teeth against the fourth shock, she braced herself and brought the knife up to her chest. "OhGodOhGodOhGod..."

She closed her eyes, pressed the scalpel against the original scar, and dragged it across her chest. She heard a horrendous scream, and belatedly realized it was her own. She repeated the move, pressing harder, cutting deeper. She tasted blood in her mouth - she'd bit into her lip in response to the pain.

The shocks were becoming more frequent, more powerful. Blood ran down her chest, soaked into her gloves, ran down her arms. Her hands had begun to shake, and the third cut was ragged, the sharp blade tearing through flesh as easily as it would butter.

She still had not found the implant. She could feel it; the pain was unbearable. 'Where the hell is it?' The hedgehog was terrified that the knife would slip, and she would pierce her heart, or her lungs. She struggled against the growing numbness in her fingers and, her hands now shaking violently, sliced a fourth time.

This time the blade hit metal.

The world spun around her, the edges of her vision were growing dark. She was kneeling in a puddle of her own blood, but she didn't notice. Her arms and legs were almost entirely numb; she could barely hold onto the scalpel as she used it to lever the implant out of her body. She swayed, dangerously close to passing out, and struggled to remove the device that was so determined to kill her.

The implant finally clattered to the ground.

A second later, Rane joined it.

Sonic all but sauntered in front of the others. Robots, Shmobots. It hadn't even been a challenge. He grinned up at the full moon and called to the others.

"C'mon, you guys! We're home free!"

Sally glared at him.

Knuckles glared at him.

Tails was stuck between glaring at him and beaming with pride. It made for an interesting expression.

Sonic turned to face them, walking backwards. "Aw, c'mon guys! We got what we came for and nobody got hurt!"

Sally didn't bother to mention the growing bruise on her left leg. Knuckles glanced pointedly at the cut on Tails' cheek.

Sonic sighed. "Alright, nobody got seriously hurt! It coulda been worse!" He stopped as his shoe made a tiny 'splat' sound. There was no water out here, so what... Then he caught sight of the others' expressions. Sally had paled considerably. Tails appeared to fighting off a bout of nausea. Knuckles simply looked horrified.

And Sonic smelled the unmistakable stench of blood. He looked down slowly, already knowing what he was going to see. He was standing in blood. A lot of it. He turned around, and his eyes widened at what his saw.

A female hedgehog, partially curled into a protective ball, lay on the ground, her fur soaked with blood. A scalpel lay near one of her hands. He was sure she was dead. Sally suddenly appeared in his field of vision, and knelt next to the girl, heedless of the blood. Reaching out and taking one of the hedgehog's wrists in her hand, she felt for a pulse. The girl was deathly cold, her pulse only just there, but she was alive. Sally pulled off her backpack and started to rummage through it, quickly locating and removing a roll of gauze. "Sonic, help me out here."

Sonic joined her by the other hedgehog, gently rolling the unconscious form onto her back. Her chest was cut open, and cut deep. He couldn't understand how she was still alive. Taking the piece of gauze Sally handed him, he pressed it against the wound. He wondered if there was really any chance of saving the girl. He doubted it, but he knew Sally wouldn't just leave her there to die alone. He knew he wouldn't either.

The other two stood out of the way, watching. The ten-year-old held the expression of a child who'd already seen far too much in his short life. Not needing to be asked, he switched on his flashlight so Sally could better see what she was doing.

Knuckles stepped forward with a frown, noting the blood-covered knife on the ground near the girl. "Are you sure she wants to be saved?"

Sally didn't look up. "I don't think she was trying to kill herself," she stated, handing another piece of gauze to Sonic and preparing to use the final, longer piece to wrap around the emerald hedgehog's chest. "Think about it. If you were trying to kill yourself, would you cut across your chest, or plunge the knife straight in?"

Knuckles raised an eye brow. The princess had a point. "Then why...?

"I wish I knew. Here, help me sit her up so I can finish."

The echidna did as he was told; gently maneuvering the wounded girl into a sitting position so Sally could wrap the remaining bandage around her torso. As he did, the moonlight glinted off of something that had been hidden underneath her. Holding her up with one arm, he reached out with his other hand to retrieve the mysterious object.

"I think I may have just solved the mystery," he stated. Sonic looked at him questioningly. Knuckles held the bloody coin-sized discovery up, and Tails angled the flashlight up slightly to illuminate it.

Sonic frowned. "What the hell...?"

Sally tied off the end of the bandage. "Finished."

No longer having to hold the gauze against the still-bleeding wound, he took the object from Knuckles. He turned it over, frowned again, and handed it back. "Better hang onto it for now, Knux."

The Guardian nodded and rose to his feet as Sonic took the girl in his arms. She was fairly light, a fact he attributed at least partly to the loss of blood. "Somebody grab her bag. We better make tracks."

Sally returned her own bag to her shoulders, and Knuckles picked up the abandoned backpack. They picked up the pace, Sonic running on ahead, Tails just behind him, following by air. Sonic cradled his charge carefully in his arms and willed her to survive until they reached Knothole. She was hardly breathing.

"Just hang on, ok? You've survived this long. Don't give up now..."