Aaaaand here we go. The penultimate chapter of 'Life Could Have Been So Different', the fic that in its concept stage was supposed to be three chapters long in total. That was approximately six years ago...

Anyway, huge thanks to any of you who are still reading and commenting! I hope you enjoy this second-to-last installment, I tried to make it a chapter worth waiting for. ;)


Anonymous Review Replies!

God1432: What can I say, I wish I still had free time like in High School...

Guest: Thanks, will do! :)

Guest: Aw, shucks. :p

Sherland: No worries, that's fine. As long as I don't have to reply in Spanish, because speaking is a lot harder than reading it. XD I hope you'll find everything you were hoping for/dreading to in this chapter! I love hearing where all the readers come from, the internet is kind of amazing, I usually think :) Thanks for the comment!

Guest: Aahah...ahahaha...this...actually gets updated *less* than He Is My Master...oh dear.^^° But at least you don't have to worry about it going unfinished, that's something, right?! Thanks for the review, glad you like it!

inujisan: Errrr, yeah. Real life can be a bit of a bitch, sadly...but hey, at least we're still alive, right? :D Er. That was maybe a bit tasteless of me in regards to the new chapter...XD

God1432: This story is set before Black Doom will attack. Sonic is kind of worried, because he only now found out that there might be that alien invasion waiting in the future.


Chapter 49: The End Of All Things

Sonic had noticed a change in Shadow's expression during the last, disquieting turn the story had taken. The black hedgehog's expression now was one he had not seen before, the entire figure in the seat opposite to him a far cry from the Mobian who had come into his house during the last day's twilight, and had been staying through this night full of storms and stars. Back then, Shadow had seemed easy-going and relaxed, just an acquaintance and semi-friend who had come to see whether he couldn't get through to the broken hero of Mobius, and somehow, this had turned into a re-telling of the life of the Ultimate Lifeform – which had nevertheless somehow managed to bring Sonic back to life as well.

And despite all the horrors and heartbreak the memories had contained, Shadow's tone had sounded...glad as he retold most of the events, especially when it had come to the time he had been able to spend with Maria. But now that tone was gone, and Sonic knew what was coming next. This was finally to be the tale of the last night the two friends had spent aboard the ARK. And how quiet it had been before the storm.

Like the prelude to a catastrophe...

Sonic swallowed. For some reason, much like when he had earlier thought he would now listen to Shadow cold-bloodedly murder someone, it was somehow hard to speak.

"Shadow..." the blue hedgehog began and the Ultimate Lifeform looked up, red eyes serious and dark. Sonic took another breath. "I know how it is to-" He broke off, started again, tried different words to dance around the same issue. "You don't have to tell me this part if it's too..."

Shadow finally mercifully interrupted him.

"Few people know what happened that night," the Ultimate Lifeform said, and his tone this time was careful, deliberate, his face expressionless. Red eyes had wandered up to the ceiling as if the black hedgehog could see the events of his past playing out in the shadows of the room. When Sonic was about to open his mouth to at least try and say something, they focused on him again.

"Some deserve to know."

OoO

Shadow the Hedgehog's life had hardly ever been easy. He had been forced to fight and to kill, to let himself be experimented on in set-ups that would have cost the life of any other research subject, and more often than not, he hadn't even been sure whether his best friend would live to see the next day when she was sick. In his sleep, Shadow the Hedgehog was no stranger to nightmares.

But this night he only woke up when he realized that the screaming he heard wasn't in his dream, but in reality.

"Maria! Shadow! You need to kkkkhhhch-!"

"Pro-professor...? Maria! Wake up!" Shadow had been disturbed first, his fine hearing and soldier's instincts putting an end to his slumber the moment irregular noises emanated somewhere in the vicinity.

"Mmuh? Wha? Shadow...?" the blonde girl that had been lying next to him in bed blinked sleepily, hair in total disarray. "What is going on...?"

"The professor was on the intercom. Something bad is happening," Shadow replied tersely, already out of bed and over at the speaker embedded into the wall next to the door. Tension was rolling off every muscles in his body.

"Professor? Can you hear me? Please reply."

"Shadow..." Now Maria was making her way toward him still slightly unsteady. She had fallen asleep in her clothes, too wiped out to bother changing. Her blue dress and blouse were as rumpled as her hair and the sparse, night-time lighting of her room gave her dark hollows under her eyes. Shadow was pushing the button of the intercom, trying to establish a connection, his lips a thin line on his face as he attempted to contact Gerald whose voice had woken them up.

"...ria! You need to evacuate! GUN has found out about the origins of Project Shadow and they're coming to exterminate-!"

Gerald's voice was high-pitched and reedy in panic, both Maria's and Shadow's eyes abruptly widening, the two mismatched siblings immediately exchanging a glance that was a mixture of sudden adrenaline and a sick feeling in the pit of the stomach.

"Professor!" Shadow at once shouted again. "Where are you! Tell me your location and we'll come get you-!"

"I'm -kzzht- kitchen – no, go...scape caps...! Don't trust-"

"Professor Robotnik!" A new voice suddenly interrupted Gerald on the other side, which both Shadow and Maria recognized as that of the elderly kitchen chef, Nate, that had often broken rules and regulations to let them play in his realm when they had felt like trying to make pancakes in the middle of the night. He also sounded frightened, but perhaps like he was keeping it just a tad bit better together than Maria's grandfather at the moment. "...leave NOW! They...door down any...econd!" Nate's voice could be heard, before suddenly sounding much closer to the speaker.

"..adow, Maria," the cook was saying, "if...hear me, make your...escape capsules, I...with the Professor!"

There was a gun shot, and for one horrible second, Shadow wasn't even sure whether it had come from the speaker or from in front of their door, and which alternative was worse.

"Shadow, we need to leave!" Maria was already slipping on her shoes with one hand, her other on the button that would open the door to their room. "They'll corner us if we stay here!"

"Right," Shadow replied, just turning to the intercom for one last transmission.

"Professor, we're making our way to the closest escape capsules," he said quickly. "Stay with Nate. He knows the shortcuts through the kitchens to the closest evac pods." The black hedgehog swallowed. "See you on Earth."

"Shadow..." the old man's voice sounded a bit less distorted now, like a strange, last bubble of calm before the firestorm would envelop them all. "I'm...sorry. My betrayal of Earth - my contract with Black Doom may have just cost us all our lives..."

"It won't cost Maria's, Professor," Shadow said, and now his voice sounded like steel.

"I promise."

And with that there was an explosion on the other side and the transmission finally cut off. Maria had opened the door of their room and then she and Shadow had already burst out into the corridor of the space colony that had been their home and was now possibly to be their grave.

"There's two sets of escape capsules nearby, where shall we go?" the blonde girl asked and Shadow grabbed her hand.

"The explosions are coming from the rec side. Let's head left," he replied, having to raise his voice to make himself understood over the din of the sirens, the explosions and the gunfire emanating from the right end of the curving corridor, noises that he knew would catch up to them soon enough. Maria nodded and the pair started running, Shadow pulling along his sister as fast as he could without making her stumble, vividly reminded of the last time they had to race against time through these stainless steel corridors when artificial Chaos attacked.

But that time, they had been defending their home.

Now they were trying to escape to a planet he had never been to, and those same people sharing their home were now trying to kill them.

Red lights of blaring alarms were splashing across Maria's skin with crimson colour as they ran, and Shadow had to imagine her dead on the floor, smeared with blood from a gunshot wound and nearly felt sick.

"Shadow, I think they're getting closer!"

"I know!" Shadow shouted back as they had to briefly stop in front of another sliding door that marked the entrance to the lab area and Maria hurriedly hammered in the code.

When the door opened, they stepped into carnage.

"-!" Maria screamed, but at the same time had reacted quickly enough to smother her own cry with her hands so no one inside immediately noticed them. The soldiers were too busy shooting.

The scientists were too busy dying.

It was a huge, open-plan laboratory where up to twenty of the younger research fellows had been performing their experiments side by side every day. Now it was a corral where soldiers were shooting into a group of young men and women trying to hide behind desks, fridges, trying to escape through the door if only there had been a pause in the gunfire, and Shadow and Maria were watching it all, frozen with shock for only a second.

"Shadow...save them."

It was a whisper, but Shadow wouldn't need to have heard it to know what it was that she said. And he knew they didn't have time. And he knew they couldn't afford to stop, couldn't afford to fight.

And then a man was gunned down in front of them and he flung himself into the fray anyway.

"CHAOS SPEAR!"

The lance of lightning tore through the big, communal laboratory hall, slicing equipment in half and immediately attracting the undivided attention of any armed GUN personnel in the area. Shadow hoped this way they at least wouldn't notice Maria still in the doorway.

"It's the experiment! Shoot i-!" The man who had tried to shout a command didn't get much further than that as Shadow was already tearing through the room like an avenging angel, and his hoverskate landed straight in the soldier's face, knocking the human clear into a wall. Shadow didn't stop to see whether he had left his victim alive or dead, instead whirling to face the other soldiers that up until now had been busy gunning down the civilians or shooting up the laboratory - presumably on orders to destroy evidence of this massacre,a cynical part of his mind supplied glibly.

Bullets whizzed past his ears as the uniformed men tried to level their guns at him, futilely trying to score a hit on the living weapon of mass destruction that had already evaded robots with reflexes so much faster than a human anyway. A kick of rocket skates against a steel table sent the heavy lab furniture flying into their bullet hail as if it had been a plastic IKEA contraption. Sparks lit up on it like shooting stars where projectiles hit the steel surface to ricochet crazily across the room, before it squarely hit a woman in uniform in the chest, taking down her as well as another soldier who had stood at her side, the man crumpling like an afterthought.

"Surround him!" one of the soldiers yelled as Shadow landed gracefully in the (now cleared) centre of the mayhem, for one second a calm eye of the storm. Out of the corner of his eye he could see the surviving scientists trying to crawl away, some of their white coats stained unmistakeably red and sticking to their bodies in unnatural places. They were trying to escape from the lab and he hoped they would make it – but hopefully not take the last escape capsule with them. Then the ring of armed soldiers around him asked for his attention again.

"How nice of you to line up," the Ultimate Lifeform remarked, even if he knew no one was likely to listen anyway. But they did hear his next words.

"CHAOS BLAST!"

It wasn't an uncontrolled explosion like it had been such a long time ago when he had been strapped to a laboratory table in the ill-fated experiment that had claimed the lives of six scientists. The Chaos energy blasting through the laboratory now was a technique controlled by a master; and Shadow knew exactly how far and how brutal he wanted the Chaos to lash out. The soldiers were flung back like scarecrows in a storm, limbs folding at awkward and wrong angles where they collided with the walls in their way. But none of the civilians (and of course Maria) had been hit in the explosion, and Shadow barely spared the falling bodies a glance as he turned around to look for his friend.

"Shadow!"

He didn't have to look for long. Maria came striding toward him in a hurry, her dress smeared with what Shadow recognized as the all-purpose nanite-healing gel his creator had developed, and which came in capsules, that you basically just needed to throw at people who were hurt. Maria had obviously been scurrying around the laboratory trying to help the injured, even if some of them probably already had been beyond the point of what any medicine in the world could do. Shadow's mouth set in a hard line as a part of him thought just how twisted this world had to be that the scientists and soldiers shot down today in front of them had not even been the first men and women they had both seen die.

Why did this have to happen now?! Just before we could have returned to Maria's home...!

The black hedgehog had to forcefully shut that train of thought down. If they wanted to survive this, he couldn't allow himself to be distracted. Maria had reached him now, and he could see how she, too, was shaken, but was trying hard not to let the carnage they had just passed through paralyze her or send her into a panic.

"Thank you...for saving them. At least some," she said, and her voice trembled only ever so slightly. Amid the bodies it had to sound like a joke to anyone who would be watching this, Shadow figured, the two teenagers standing in what had been a lab and was now a graveyard between the stars. But at the same time he knew it was important to say things like this, even in situations like these, because if you didn't, it meant you had lost something in the fire...

"We need to leave. More will be coming," Shadow said quickly, taking her hand again, preparing to lead another mad dash across the space colony, hoping against hope both he and his sister would make it to the escape pods alive.

"Wait." Maria had taken a step forward, but had then stopped. She released his hand and reached down toward one of the...dead? unconscious? soldiers. "Here. Take this."

Shadow stared for a moment at the rifle she was holding out to him. Only now he noticed that in her other hand, she was holding one that was just like it, a weapon taken from fingers that had already stopped moving...

Shadow reached out and his hands closed around the rifle with a familiarity that Maria's hands were so obviously lacking. He gave his sister, who had never made a secret of her contempt for killing tools a bit of a quizzical glance.

"You are taking a gun as well...?"

Maria only glanced at him briefly, before giving her weapon an examining look, and then expertly sliding the safety toggle into 'armed' mode. She met his gaze again, and this time, her voice didn't even tremble a little.

"I am a Robotnik, Shadow. Don't ever forget that." Her jaw set. "And it's set to 'stun only', as is yours. Don't you shoot to kill if you don't have to, understood?"

Shadow blinked. There was steel in his sister's eyes, and for a moment it somehow managed to look even more dangerous than the rifle he held in his hands.

The Ultimate Lifeform for some reason couldn't help but give the faintest ghost of a smile.

"Yes, ma'am."

Maria nodded. "Good."

She took his hand. Shadow pushed the button that opened the door of the lab leading out to the other side. And then, on a way that was hell between the stars, the two youngest Robotniks were crossing the ARK with both guns blazing.

OoO

Sonic had been staring silently at Shadow for the past ten minutes as the black hedgehog's tale had now been steadily descending into its final and darkest chapter. Outside, he wondered whether dawn was waiting to rise behind the horizon or whether something might have happened to the sun and the new day might never come after all. The blue hedgehog swallowed.

"So that's how it really happened?" Sonic asked. "The catastrophe?"

Shadow nodded. "Yes. GUN had found out about the professor having made a deal with Black Doom, however inadvertently that might have been. Compromising Earth's safety and keeping it a secret equalled High Treason." The black hedgehog looked to the side. "These were the...consequences."

"'Consequences' that meant killing everybody aboard the ARK?" Sonic asked again, and now there was that familiar righteous anger audible beneath his words. A hero that had just found out about an atrocity that had been kept quiet...

"Pretty much," Shadow confirmed the question. "Strictly speaking, a lot of the experiments going on aboard the ARK hadn't been exactly in line with ethics regulations. The space colony had been primarily intended for biological and medical research, like the line of work that led to my creation. GUN ordering the scientists to develop weapons of mass destruction like the Eclipse cannon, or turning myself into one had never been officially green-lit by the government or the United Nations.

Of course, we didn't know that at the time," Shadow said before Sonic could speak, his tone now only sounding slightly bitter. "But they already weren't able to keep it quiet forever. Information about some of the more martial research going on aboard the ARK had started to leak out. Nothing was on the news yet, but back then, the executive board of GUN was already in trouble and trying to find a way to hush up what they had been doing for the last three years."

Sonic blinked, grabbing the armrest of the couch as details for him were beginning to fall into place. "So that meant when GUN found out about Professor Robotnik's deal-!"

"They saw it as a perfect excuse to wipe any evidence of what they had been doing and destroy everything on the space colony in the name of 'Public Safety'. A necessary military intervention to stop the illegal research aboard the ARK, that then 'tragically' turned into a massacre as the scientists resisted, " Shadow finished Sonic's sentence, a cynic, humourless smile tugging at the edge of his lips. "They had planned to frame the Professor as the guilty party, any evidence of weapons research as the private exploits of a madman. My corpse was probably supposed to be the main exhibit," Shadow added darkly, "The most important project of Gerald Robotnik, put down because he had turned it into a raving killing machine."

"But the people on the colony, they had seen you save them!" Sonic protested. "During the invasion of the Artificial Chaos!"

Shadow raised an eye ridge. "And that night the GUN personnel had been ordered to slaughter any witnesses that could have testified to that. Your point being...?"

The blue hedgehog was looking at him now, but seemed to have trouble to find any words that would have been able to express what he wanted to say. Shadow could see the fury burning beneath the surface of those green eyes, mingling with the horror caused by knowing the truth of what had really happened aboard the ARK. Of course, GUN had succeeded in hushing things up in the end. Of course in the media it had all been presented as nothing but a terrible accident. But even if there was nothing that could be done now, even if everything was already in the past, Shadow thought this was at least...something. Sonic was now railing against the same injustice he had wanted to rail at and curse back then, and Shadow couldn't help but wonder whether by telling this story, Sonic wasn't the only one he had made feel better.

"How did they even find out about what your creator had been doing?" Sonic asked and interrupted Shadow's thought process. The blue hero's voice was tense, his posture on the couch now more coiled up energy, as if the entire hedgehog wanted nothing more badly than to leap from the sofa, to right things in a world where so much was wrong...

When Shadow replied, his own hands for the first time turned into fists as well. The black hedgehog's gaze darkened.

"Who do you think told them?"

OoO

"Find them before they escape!"

Shadow's world had shrunken in the last five minutes. By now, his clouded mind wasn't even sure, could barely remember whether the universe even contained anything but steel corridors flooded with blood-red lights, sirens blaring in their ears and screams being cut off by gunshots. He could hear Maria's panting louder than everything else. At least it meant she was still alive.

Another shout came from the soldiers behind them and Shadow released the hand of his sister, whirling around to fire at their pursuers with impeccable aim. The three men dropped like flies, their nervous systems shutting down in fractions of a second from the electrical impulse. He turned back into the direction they had been running in again, briefly froze as he saw another soldier in front of them, aiming to shoot-

A blast from Maria hit him straight in the chest and he crumbled.

"Good work," Shadow managed, before grabbing her hand again and already hurrying on. Behind them, the sounds of boots on steel were already audible again, beating as loud as their hearts.

Running.

Pounding.

Counting away their last seconds like a clock of death.

"There!" Maria panted, coming to a halt in front of another metal door in the corridor they were in, and started to type in the access code as quickly as she could. Shadow's eyes were meanwhile roving up and down the corridor like nervous birds, the seconds it took to open the sliding door to the escape pods pure and utter torture. He didn't know whether the Professor had managed to escape or even if he was still alive. He didn't know if they would be safe if they made it into an escape pod. And a stray bullet at any time could end them both.

"We're in!" Maria's voice came through, the blonde girl grabbing him and trying to pull both of them through the door that was now sliding open so painfully slowly. Shadow shot a last glance outside as he pressed himself through the gap after Maria, couldn't see anyone catching up to them, not yet, but they would come soon, and they needed to get into a capsule now-!

Shadow was thinking all of this and more when he promptly collided with Maria's back as he pushed forward into the room.

"Maria?" he asked, "Why'd you-?"

And then he stopped as he saw the reason why she had stopped.

They weren't alone in the pod bay.

Shadow took a step forward.

"You."

Mis-matched eyes stared back at him, and Shadow thought it shouldn't be possible to feel so much hatred, or be faced with it in return.

Vincent Graves, laptop still clutched in his hands, was staring at him only for a second, before he immediately had levelled a gun at Shadow.

"What are you doing here?! You should never have made it this far!" he yelled, and it was only then that everything finally clicked into place in a brain that before had simply hoped this couldn't be true.

"It was you," Maria said, tonelessly. "You called GUN. You told them of Black Doom. You are the reason everyone out there is dying."

"Your grandfather is a traitor!", Vincent shouted back, his voice hoarse, but apparently the alcohol now out of his system, leaving only blodshot eyes and pale sweat behind. "It was his fault in the first place! Everyone but me was just to stupid to see it! Even my father, even now, sending me to the escape pods instead of in the fight for justice!" he scathed, slightly swaying now, either the exhaustion or the adrenaline making his movements a bit unsteady, his gait just a bit unnatural. But Shadow could see how he was still calculating his moves, making sure that he was still blocking their way toward the escape pods at every second, keeping his gun pointed straight at Shadow.

"No. The professor only researched for the benefit of mankind. The people dying right now are dying because of you. This is all your fault," Shadow said, and he could feel the Chaos roaring inside himself again, ready to obliterate Vincent and everything, asking him, begging him to lash out with a lethal spear instead of this puny stun gun...

"Well, if you want them to stop dying, then why don't you let them shoot you?" the son of the Commander shot back, a slightly manic grin on his face now that didn't look like it belonged there. "They're mainly looking for you, freak. Once they got you, everything stops."

Shadow didn't reply. Instead he raised his own gun.

"For you it stops here."

Two shots rang out across the ARK, both as loud as anything in the ears of the three teenagers, and at the same time barely audible in the apocalypse breaking loose in what had once been their home together. Both shots found their mark.

But only Shadow's had been meant for something alive.

"NO!"

It was Maria who screamed, and Shadow only realized that she wasn't screaming for Vincent when he saw what she was looking at.

The steering console of the escape pods, now with a burnt black hole where Vincent had shot it, had just given a last spark and died.

"No! No, no, no, NO!" Maria had dashed over in a heartbeat, and was already staring at the smoking electronics, her fingers flying over the non-responsive buttons and the dead screen, scrambling at it like a drowning man would grab even at a boat that was sinking.

"Did he break it?!" Shadow was at her side instantly, tossing his gun carelessly to the side where it clattered next to Vincent's lifeless form. He didn't know what to make of most of the electronics, especially now that the screen was no longer displaying any instructions. Outside, he thought he could already hear the gunshots getting closer again, sirens still blaring shrilly in their frantic rhythm, as if this was the heartbeat of the ARK and it was now finally dying.

"The, the remote controls have been completely destroyed," Maria was saying, and Shadow thought that right now it was taking all she had to keep it together, trying to take deep breaths, staring blankly at the controls before her. "This means we have to use the manual override. That lever there," she said, pointing at a stick next to the console board without even looking up. "That means..." and now her gaze finally met Shadow's, and her face was as ashen as if she had already died.

"That means to operate it someone has to stay behind."

XXX

Sonic raised an eye ridge. "That sounds like the stupidest design ever."

Shadow glowered. "Bite me."

XXX

Back then, it only took a second for Shadow to reply.

"...alright," he said, although his voice sounded just slightly more hoarse than it had before. "Get into a capsule. I can hear them coming."

"What? No!" Maria looked at him, eyes wide and head shaking frantically. "It's you they want, you idiot! You have to leave, now!" She tried to pull him toward one of the capsules, but Shadow broke her hold as easily as a doll's. Red eyes narrowed as he broadened his stance.

"I can take anything they want to throw at me. Leave, Maria. Now."

"They will kill you and you know it!" the blonde girl shouted, for the first time since their trip through this hell had started tears welling up in her eyes. Anger and desperation were mingling in her words now, cutting straight into Shadow's heart and letting him raise his voice as well, making him shout things he never, ever would have wanted his sister to hear.

"You're the professor's grandchild, Maria! They will kill you, too!"

"Yes," the blonde girl replied, her demeanour now strangely calm again, as if her own death was simply a factor she had figured into some sort of equation long ago already. "But without you, I would die anyway." In so many more ways than one, was what she didn't say, and they still heard it both.

And Shadow realized he couldn't win this. Except for one way, that he had sworn he would never, ever use – but now he had to.

"Maria," he said, red eyes a warning. "Go now, or I will force you into that capsule."

"No," his sister replied, not looking at him as she shook her head. "You won't."

"Oh yeah?" Shadow shot back, advancing now, preparing to yank her, to lift her, to even break her arm if it only meant he could save her, protect her from dying. But then she looked back at him with a sad smile, and in her eyes was a world of pain.

"You forgot it again, Shadow," she said. "I'm a Robotnik, remember?"

And she shot him at point blank range.

OoO

Back in the present, Sonic was staring.

"She...shot you? Maria shot you?!"

Shadow by now was looking calmly into the distance, a hand of his absent-mindely brushing across a spot just the left of his chest fur and Sonic briefly wondered if that was perhaps where the gun had strafed him back then. The black hedgehog didn't seem to notice.

"It was a stun gun, as you may recall," he said, before turning his gaze to look straight at Sonic again. "But here you can see the length your loved ones may go to save your life when they can – and how far we will go to avoid the grief of being the one left behind."

The black hedgehog had spoken slowly, but deliberately, and a part of Sonic already knew what was coming next, but this time he didn't lash out angrily like he would have done before all this had started, instead bracing himself for the pain Shadow's words were sure to bring, but this time also accepting that they were true.

"Tails died so you could live, Sonic. And it was his choice, and he was glad to decide as he did."

It hurt. It hurt one hell of a lot, but this time, the blue hedgehog found he actually had the strength to reply.

"...yes. I think I understood that now," he said, breathing out heavily, before adding. "But he should never have been forced to make that choice in the first place."

"No," Shadow agreed. "Neither he, nor Maria, nor any of us. But since he has, there is only way you can repay the gift he's given you."

Sonic nodded. "I know," he said. A moment of silence passed, but when he spoke again, it seemed as if something that was broken had finally started healing. Now the former hero of Mobius was almost smiling.

"...so finish your story so I can start keeping my promise to my li'l bro?"

OoO

Shadow woke with his head and chest hurting all over, but about his surroundings, very little had actually changed. He was still in the pod bay, even if the room now seemed kind of blurry around him. Alarms were still blaring, gunshots were...getting closer...

Shadow abruptly shot to his feet as he realized what was happening and how he had just been shot by his best friend. He collided promptly with cold glass.

I am trapped. This can't be happening.

It was as if a drill of pure ice had just erupted from the ground and impaled him all the way to his stomach. It felt as if the floor had dropped out and he was suffocating and burning in pure space.

It felt as if he was just about to watch his best friend die.

"MARIA!" Shadow flung himself against the bullet-proof glass with all his might as soon as he spotted his sister at the damaged console. She had just flipped a few switches that seemed to have initiated the launch sequence, the capsules all quietly humming now, warming up and getting louder. But she still had to have heard him, for she then turned around.

"Shadow! You woke up in time!" she exclaimed, seeming genuinely happy for a moment, though Shadow could tell even through the thick glass that she had to have been crying. "I...I'm glad. I wanted to say goodbye," she said, and when her voice broke, her brother felt as if his heart had just done the same.

"N..nnng...!" Shadow was trying to speak, to form a sentence, but it suddenly seemed impossible to express the bottomless despair he felt as words.

He could feel his legs already giving up on him, the Ultimate Lifeform collapsing to his knees as his hands slid down the smooth glass with nothing for him to hold onto any more. Outside, the apocalypse aboard the ARK continued, but Shadow's world had ended the moment he realized his sister would die.

"Shadow, please...don't cry..." Maria was speaking again, even if her own voice was now shaking so much you could barely make out her words. "Please, I beg of you...do it for me..."

"But I don't want you to die!" Shadow could hear himself yelling now, his larynx feeling raw and hoarse from the painful knot in his throat he was trying to choke back, and even if he knew he wasn't making any sense, he didn't care. Maria was going to be murdered and he couldn't do anything, and he couldn't break the capsule and get to her, because now that the launch sequence had begun all the capsules were locked and preparing to leave the ship, so there was no way he could get her into one of them now, and it wasn't fair and she was going to die and it wasn't fucking fair-!

And for the first time since his childhood had ended, the Ultimate Lifeform actually broke down crying.

"I...I had a happy life up here, Shadow, all thanks to you," Maria was saying now, and Shadow felt like her voice was the only thing he could cling to. His capsule was slowly starting to move now, turning to the left by only a few inches to get it into launching position, and he knew that as soon as it had finished, Maria would pull that lever. His head snapped back up and now he could see his friend smiling at him, for likely the last time she would ever be able to.

"Grandfather hoped you could cure me, Shadow," she said. "You still can do that for people like me. You're a miracle, Shadow," she tried to keep going. "And now...all the people...on that planet..." her hand closed around the lever, her smile never leaving her face even if her eyes briefly squeezed themselves shut as the last of the Robotniks was fighting against the tears. "You can give them a chance to be happy..." She raised her free hand. "Goodbye...Shadow..."

Shadow wanted to scream, to shout, to yell at Maria that the only one he ever had wanted to save was her, but only managed some sort of strangled, corrputed noise that sounded like wordless anguish. And then, before he ever was able to say goodbye to his friend, the door broke down and suddenly, there was a soldier and his trained weapon facing them both.

"FREEZE! STEP AWAY FROM THAT LEVER!"

The rifle was clearly pointing at her, and this wasn't one of the models that even had a 'stun' setting. Shadow's capsule had stopped moving. As soon as Maria would pull that lever, Shadow knew it was a matter of seconds until he was hurtling away into space. The blonde girl glanced at the soldier, blue eyes wide and unreadable. Then her gaze flitted to her own weapon that she had brought, that now lay forgotten on the floor where she had shot Shadow, too far away to be of any help now. And finally she looked at her friend for one last time.

"Step away from the lever or I will shoot!" the man was yelling, his voice sounding like he was still young, perhaps the only reason he hadn't yet shot down the girl that must have seemed like a child to him. Maria closed her eyes.

"Sorry," she said, though it never became clear to whom those words had been meant. She pulled the lever.

The soldier fired. And Shadow screamed.

Just two words.

"CHAOS CONTROL!"

To be continued...


You thought I'd go out without a cliffhanger? ;) Hope you liked and if you read, please review! :D Also, just in case any of you are fans of the TV series Supernatural, or the book Good Omens, I *just* started putting up a crossover, in case you're short of reading material at the moment :P Meanwhile, back from Japan in Europe and just nearly managed to accidentally kill myself in Switzerland, so...yay there's an update, right? ;p