By Asher Tye
Disclaimer: I own nothing. Sega does, and to some extent Archie and DiC do, but I do not. Oh wait, I forgot. I do own Sargasso, and this plot was my idea, but other than that…
Author's Note: As most of you who have asked, I've been having a great deal of writer's block where my other two stories, "Tails Underground" and "Reversion," are concerned. A teacher I once had told me that writer's block can be cured by getting away from the project that's causing you problems and focusing on something else for a while. To that end, I decided to try my hand at a story involving another character as the main one, Rotor.
Have you noticed the severe lack of stories involving Rotor? I've done some checking around and that pudgy little walrus actually has a rather impressive fan following, which leads me to question why he's so ignored when it comes to stories. It is to that end that I present a Rotor tale that features none of the other mainstream Freedom Fighters (save in mentioning), and that also means no Sonic and Tails as well. Read, review, and enjoy, and who knows, I might just make more of these.
"Now you shall pay the price for foolishly defying my will," the lobster hissed as he held tight to young Rotor's struggling body. The teenaged walrus's lungs felt like they were going to explode as he was held underwater by his adversary. Though he was at home in the water, the Tusker was still a mammal, and needed to breathe air to survive. This, combined with his recent exertions attempting to evade the pair of feral mako sharks that had been sent to rend him by this very lobster, left him completely at the mercy of the aquatic arthropod, even if his body had been in the best of shape and not battered and bruised. Just above him, no more than a few feet, he could see the clear surface water of the northern seas that were his home, inviting him to break it and fill his lungs with life giving oxygen. Still his lobster assailant clung to him, holding him under the waves despite his valiant efforts to escape. Slowly his vision began to blur as darkness descended on his mind, his body slowly becoming still as it was released to sink into the depths below. The sneering face of Sargasso leered down at him as he lost consciousness his mind unable to comprehend that it was here of all places that he would meet an untimely end…
&Skeeter, Mom… I'm sorry. I failed you.&
Two days previously
The sun shone brightly on the village of Knothole's improbably existing docks. Robotnik had always been secure in the knowledge that, though the Freedom Fighters were a perpetual thorn in his side, they were a landlocked one and, as far as he knew, lacking in the ability to maintain a permanent aquatic staging ground to attack his watery holdings. This, combined with the fact that their greatest champion was not known for his love of water, left the despotic dictator feeling secure in the idea that the oceans of Mobius, but for a few "minor" annoyances, were his to plunder at will.
After more than a decade battling the ever more resourceful Freedom Fighters, Robotnik really should have known better.
Built on a medium sized lake hidden within the Great Forest but easily accessible to Knothole, the docks were the actual brainchild of General D'Coolette, even if they had been rather elegantly designed by Charles Hedgehog. The coyote had realized that, though Knothole did provide an excellent fallback position for the kingdom should it lose its war with MegaCentral, they were essentially cut off from all ways to connect with their allies. Flying was a risky proposal at best, but the General reasoned that a submersible would be a most elegant way to sneak past enemy blockades. Thus had Sir Charles hit upon the idea of using an underground tunnel to covertly connect the lake with the Sea of Acorn, and thus with the surrounding oceans of the world.
Of course the war had ended in Acorn's favor and Knothole proved unnecessary. As the rustic village began to be directed towards becoming a royal retreat instead of a military fallback, many of its former features, designed to repel armed invasion on a mass scale or subvert occupying forces, were removed to allow for a more relaxed feeling of peace and tranquility. The underwater tunnel, however, remained, deemed unworthy of warranting removal. Then Robotnik had taken over, and Knothole had found itself gang pressed into serving its original purpose, that of a fallback position safe from the horrid arms of an occupying force.
It is said that Necessity is the mother of Invention, a good saying that well describes much of the items and tactics at the Freedom Fighters disposal. Robotnik's presence made it necessary for them to find ways to circumvent his detection, and thus had they developed devices that allowed them to do so, such as waterwheel generators and economized farm plots. For one intrepid Mobian however, though Necessity was indeed the mother of Invention, Possession served as an extremely eager father, especially with Ingenuity serving as midwife. In Rotor's case, he possessed a secret underwater passage that gave access to the rest of Mobius by way of submarine, a fact that, in his fertile mind at least, necessitated that he have a submarine with which to use it. Thus had he built the first of the devices currently taking up residence at this improbable boathouse; the Bathysphere.
Small and ovoid shaped, the Bathysphere was utilitarian in design, but it was big enough on the inside to house three passengers, more than fast enough to evade Robotnik's underwater minions, and came with an array of accessories that only served to increase its usefulness on missions where it was needed. Indeed, such a success was the Bathysphere that Rotor found himself commissioned to create another submarine, the aptly named Sea Fox, for his youngest friend, the fox named Tails. Though he himself had never actually ridden in it, it being originally under an order of dry-dock from Princess Sally; Tails had confided in Rotor that the machine ran like a dream. Indeed the Sea Fox had quickly become the vulpine's favorite possession, on which he worked side by side with Rotor to maintain and improve upon its design, though this position was eventually usurped by the fox's own invention, the powerful biplane known as the Tornado.
And so the submarine had fallen into neglect, or had at least as far as Tails was concerned, though the younger inventor constantly bragged that he would one day find a way to attach the Sea Fox to the Tornado and thus have a machine that was in all ways all-terrain. But Rotor had not forgotten about either machine, and often did he travel down to the docks to perform maintenance on both. It was here, more so than in Knothole, that he felt most at home, comforted by the sounds of water filling his ears that reminded him of his homeland in the frozen Northern Territories where his mother and younger brother had been when Robotnik's coup had begun. For the longest time the walrus had not known what had happened to them, and then he had found out that, realizing robots did not function so well in the cold and wet slush of the north, Robotnik had forgone robotcizing them in favor of merely brainwashing them into doing the grunt work for one of his convoluted plans to conquer Mobius, a plan Rotor had stopped though the entire herd had remained brainwashed and had had to be left in the care of a local penguin colony. Though Rotor still held out hope that one day he would be able to free his family and friends' minds from their prison, he at least knew them to be safe.
Today Rotor again found himself on his back underneath a propped up Sea Fox, his Bathysphere bobbing serenely in the water behind him as his worked on the younger sub's engine, almost as though it were a puppy eagerly awaiting attention from its master. Holding a wrench in his hand the walrus proceeded to tighten the cap of the Sea Fox's crank case, having just finished replacing the motor oil inside. Long ago Tails had used the oil covering a hapless seagull to fill this case and allow the brand new submarine to go on its very first adventure. To Rotor's knowledge, the kit hadn't realized that the oil he'd used had been low grade and worthless, good only for a single trip before it had worn out, and that the walrus had been the one to replace that bad oil with some of his own supply of the fresh stuff, subtly of course, so as not to incur Sally's wrath. Slowly, deliberately, the walrus worked, grime and grease beginning to cover his purple fur as a result of his labor of love.
"Rotor," a voice called, one that the mechanic couldn't readily place. Startled somewhat, Rotor attempted to lift his head to see over his protruding belly only to accidentally hit it against the metal hull of the Sea Fox. Dazed for a few minutes, the mechanic's head swam as he was treated to a double vision view of the lake and his Bathysphere sitting in the water… and the dolphin treading in place right beside it, a worried look on his face. "Rotor, we need help," the dolphin once more intoned. Searching his memory for a name to match the face he knew he recognized.
"Bottlenose?" the walrus asked, wondering where the epidemic of truly bizarre names that had afflicted his generation had come from.
"Yes and the Forty Fathoms Freedom Fighters need help," the dolphin said, referring to his teammates who were one of those "minor" thorns preventing Robotnik's domination of the oceans.
"What's wrong?" Rotor asked, fully expecting a tale of Robotnik's renewed interest in spoiling the waters of the planet. What he got was something wholly different.
"They've been captured in the Northern Territories, all of them. I was the only one who was able to get away and try to find help, so I came to Knothole."
"How? What happened?"
"I told you they were captured, in the Northern seas," Bottlenose urgently. "We were trying to save the walrus herds and…" At the mention of the herds, Rotor's nonexistent ears perked up as he got right into the other aquatic mammal's face.
"What do you mean the walrus herds? What's happened?"
"No time, we have to leave; we have to save them…" So saying Bottlenose turned around in the water and began to dive, swimming away from the distressed and confused walrus. Thinking quickly, Rotor grabbed a sheet of paper and quickly scribbled a message. If he waited long enough to go get the others for help, chances were good they'd lose Bottlenose and then he might never see his family again. Though it wasn't exactly abnormal for the walrus to be off by himself, it wouldn't be long before someone noticed his absence from Knothole and came looking. Pinning the note to the still raised Sea Fox, Rotor jumped into the Bathysphere and started it up, it engine purring softly as he pulled away from the docks and made the submersible lower under the water. So busy was he in his rushed pursuit of the dolphin that he failed to notice how the wind created by his ship's hasty departure pulled free the note from its spot on the Sea Fox and it fell daintily into the water below.
& & &
The Northern Territories were a great distance from the Kingdom of Acorn proper by land, often taking days of travel by even the swiftest air car. The waterways of Mobius held a much different story, however, and this was the route the Bathysphere took as Rotor expertly piloted it towards his destination. Inside he listened as Bottlenose the Dolphin told him the story of how he had come to be separated from his friends.
For weeks the Forty Fathoms Freedom Fighters had heard rumors that something was up in the Northern Seas, but as news had been steady and uninterrupted, they had thought little of it. Then, only a few days ago, that news had stopped completely. The Quadruple F had gotten worried, especially considering that that was where the family of one of the core Freedom Fighters in Knothole were known to reside. And thus they had gone to investigate.
Though everything had started out normally enough, as the group had progressed into the frigid waters of the north, strange things had begun to be noticed. For one, the fish and other non-sentient denizens of the deep, save the simplest and least motile members, were nowhere to be seen. Cautiously they'd proceeded onward, fully aware that something was most definitely not right. This sense was reinforced when they came upon the ice flow where in the walrus herd had been corralled to keep them from wandering mindlessly off and being caught by Robotnik emptied of all its occupants. The herd had not been difficult to find, as had all the other missing sea creatures. They were all at the bottom of the sea, working in a cavernous opening inside an underwater mountain.
Someone was mining something, and they were using the brainwashed walruses, as well as several more animals, to do it. Bottlenose described in amazement the sight of seeing a small walrus sporting a red beanie cap, whom Rotor immediately recognized as his little brother Skeeter, approach a giant mako shark without any hesitation, a large basket in his hands. Instead of opening its jaw and devouring the foolish youngster whole, the shark had instead shaken its head, causing Skeeter to drop the contents of the basket, which turned out to be a number of glittering rocks, to the ocean floor before returning to the mines. Having seen enough, the Forty Fathoms Freedom Fighters decided it was time to do something about this exploitation.
And that had been their first mistake. Having spent all their lives battling the mechanical minions of Dr. Robotnik, the Quad-F had found they were completely unprepared for the attack that came.
"The herd attacked you?" Rotor asked of the dolphin. When he had left his family and friends, they had been barely able to feed and care for themselves, hence why he had left them in the care of the penguins, hoping they would be safe. In any event, his people had always been peaceful, unwilling to hurt even flies. This meant there was someone controlling them. As any Freedom Fighters did when confronted with the question of the identity of their enemy, Rotor's mind couldn't help but turn to Robotnik.
"But that wasn't all. We got attacked by fish, sharks, jellyfish, every feral creature in the area," Bottlenose explained. "We were completely outnumbered, and we couldn't even fight back. Big Fluke was the first to be taken, he was just too big to handle so many smaller attackers without crushing them, and so he wound up being an easy target for them to take down. P.B. Jellyfish went down next. He kept using his electric stingers, trying to knock them out but…"
"But P.B. didn't have enough juice to knock them out," Rotor realized.
"It was at that point that Ray and I realized we had to retreat," Bottlenose continued, referring to his manta friend over the flying squirrel currently living with the Chaotix. "We tried to out swim the walruses, but the makos got behind us and cut off our retreat. I'm a faster swimmer, so Ray told me he'd hold them off while I went for help. I didn't want to, but under the circumstances…"
"Don't feel upset, I don't know of anyone who wouldn't," the walrus said, more because he wouldn't have found out about this if Bottlenose had stayed over believing it was the right choice to make. He was not there so he had no right to judge the dolphin's actions.
"But that's when I got surprise number two… Fluke was able to overtake me and got in my way."
"Fluke! But you said the walrus's stopped him." Rotor wasn't sure he was overly willing to listen as to how a blue whale would have been able to get away from his herd.
"They did, but then… Something had happened to him," Bottlenose explained. "He had the same blank stare in his eyes that the miners did, like someone else was staring out from his eyes. And he wasn't alone. P.B. Jellyfish was there too. He's the one who did this to me." As the dolphin swam he turned over to expose his belly, on which several burned scars that looked like they'd been made by several electric whips striking him.
"How did you get away?"
"Sheer dumb luck and being too stupid to consider the consequences of my actions," said Bottlenose. "There are underwater tunnels all over the northern territories. A great-uncle of mine, Ecco, showed me how to find them. I found one and dove into it. Since I'm faster than P.B. and smaller than Fluke, they couldn't catch me."
"Not really. It was almost time for me to surface and get air. If I hadn't found that underwater air pocket…" There was no need to say more. As a fellow aquatic mammal, Rotor knew exactly what the risks were when you went underground, especially if you hadn't taken a breath recently. "Once I got out, I took a breath and headed straight for Knothole as quickly as I could to get help."
"I see," Rotor said, suddenly feeling much less confident about being able to handle this situation without help. The image of his poor mother and baby brother though, forced to mine whatever it was that whoever was controlling them was looking for, was enough to shove such thoughts from his mind. Besides, even if he had brought the others along, there was little they could actually do to help beyond piloting the submarines. He was the only member of their group built for underwater missions.
The Bathysphere's radar began to blip as it began to receive a large number of signals indicating, to Rotor at least, that they were nearing the location of his herd. Unwilling to leave their fates to chance, Rotor had implanted tracking devices on each of the walruses before he'd left, allowing him to easily find them should the need arise. Working the controls, he slowed his ship's progress, not wanting to fall into the same trap Bottlenose had. As he did so, he could almost swear he felt a picking sensation at the back of his head, like someone pinching his brain itself. Out of habit he swatted his imaginary pest.
"What was it?" Bottlenose asked, noticing Rotor's odd behavior. "What did you feel?"
"It was nothing," the walrus said dismissively, though his cetacean friend was less than willing to drop the subject.
"As we approached the dig, all of us felt a peculiar feeling, as though someone was knocking at the back door to our minds, and I'm getting that feeling again," he explained in a fearful voice. "Someone's controlling the minds of everything in the area, and I think that that feeling's the signal that it's trying to control us."
"Got it," Rotor said in understanding. As they approached to within half a mile of what Rotor assumed to be the mining operation, the walrus cut all power to his engines as he hid the Bathysphere. Though an excellent recon ship, there was little need to run the risk of its bright red paint showing up against the darker oceanic colors. Once the ship was secured, Rotor stepped towards the air lock, closing the door and allowing water from the outside to pour in. As the room filled, the walrus took a deep breath and opened the door to the outside.
For a brief moment, despite the layer of blubbery fat that insulated him, Rotor shivered. He had spent far too long in warmer climes and his body had gotten used to such temperatures, as evidenced by the fact that he had lost weight while there. Acidly he reminded himself that he would need to do some heavy binging before he eventually moved back to the north. A skinny walrus would not survive here.
Out in the ocean, Rotor swam up to the waiting Bottlenose and the two proceeded over to a secure spot where they could observe the activity. Below them the walrus herd was indeed working what appeared to be a digging operation of some kind, though they were not the only ones. Feral animals of all kinds abounded through the site helping in one way of another. Never had the young Tusker seen so many fish, squid, jellyfish, and other members of the marine ecosystem in one place.
The sound of coughing caught his ears as he noticed a young walrus calf suddenly begin to choke as the breath he'd taken began to run out. Only Bottlenose's intervention prevented Rotor from charging into the area and pulling the lad to the surface to breathe, loss of the element of surprise or no. As it turned out, this action proved unnecessary as the water above the young walrus seemed to part, funneling a shaft of air down directly into the calf's open mouth. Able to breathe again, the walrus did so quite avidly, taking one or two puffs form the open pocket before it closed up.
"Miserable mammals," a dark voice could be heard to say as an even darker shape swam nearby, flanked on either side by two of the largest mako sharks Rotor had ever seen in all his life. "That I could not find anything else with hands to dig is the only reason I tolerate their presence in my greatest hour of triumph." Rotor's eyes watched as the shape revealed itself to be a lobster, and a fairly big one at that. Large claws and a fanned tail erupted from a blue suit that was covered in an equally blue shawl-like cape as the figure glided forward in a very unlobsterlike fashion. "That I, the mighty Sargasso, am forced to rely on these useless walruses is perhaps destiny's cruelest test of my worth." Sargasso glided down to the calf that was still recovering, a nasty look in his beady yellow eyes as his antennae came forward. His hunched form bent over more to allow one of his smaller, secondary arms to grip the boy's unresisting chin. "Get back to work, or I shall feed you to my sharks." Under normal circumstances this might have made a child that small jump in fright, but this was not the case here. No clearer proof was needed that the walruses were all still brainwashed then when the boy gave no reaction and meekly went back to his job.
"I guess he's the one who's behind this whole thing, huh?" Bottlenose said. The Mobians of the water had long since figured out the ability to speak underwater, but Rotor, who knew his abilities to dive were limited, chose only to nod his head. Dolphins could stay underwater much longer than walruses, and it would do Rotor no good if he had to return to the Bathysphere, or even the surface, for another breath so quickly. It could even be fatal. With a clawed finger, the tusker pointed towards the mine the walruses and other miners were coming in and out of. "We're not going to try to free your herd?" Bottlenose asked in surprise.
"Not yet," Rotor answered with as much speed as he could yet still remain intelligible. "Need see mine." So saying the two Freedom Fighters inched their way down to the open sea cave. As he did so, Rotor couldn't help but feel there was something familiar about this entire area. Like he'd seen it somewhere before. Carefully the duo moved down to an unused underwater mining cart, with Bottlenose sliding inside while Rotor put on his best blank face and began to push it through the mind. If Sargasso noticed he had one more worker than he'd started with, it meant little to him as he watched the walruses' procession with great distaste on his face. Once inside, Rotor continued to follow his brethren, his eyes darting from side to side as he took in the makeshift and dangerous mine. One good seaquake would be more than enough to collapse the whole thing… and trap anyone inside who remained. All around him Rotor watched as walruses worked hard, the larger ones digging into the hard walls of the mines as the smaller ones, with help from the fish, carted the rocks out. Every so often he saw a walrus begin to choke as his breath began to give out, only to watch in fascination as a funnel of air inserted itself into their mouth. More fish patrolled the shafts, clearly there to prevent any disruption in the labor force that would hinder Sargasso's efforts, and Rotor fought a fearful gulp as he imagined some of the more vicious animals figuring out that he was not under their lobster master's spell.
Finally he'd seen enough and the walrus veered off down an empty mineshaft quickly, Bottlenose emerging from his hiding spot once they were out of sight.
"So what's the plan?" Rotor wondered about that himself. Machines and technology he understood, combat tactics were another story entirely. The thing he wanted most was to get Sargasso to release his herd and the Forty Fathoms Freedom Fighters, but with so many dangerous sea creatures on his side, and his ability to control them, Rotor doubted he could force the lobster to do so. And then there was the fact that the entire herd was essentially also his hostage. That left trying to bribe the arthropod with something he wanted.
As he'd passed amongst the workers, he couldn't help but notice that while most carried out lots of broken rock, quite a few were hauling out what looked like gold and jewels. Not simply gold ore or broken jewels, however, but actual coins, ingots, and cut stones. Also present were old scepters and other such baubles that looked more to be part of someone else's wealth than one taken from the sunken earth. Less and less was this place looking like a mine, and more and more did it appear to be someone's treasure trove. Idly Rotor's mind brought forth memories of stories his mother had told him of sunken treasure and hidden bonanzas. Was that what this place was, a hidden cache of old treasures?
&But this can't all just be about some treasure trove,& Rotor thought to himself. &There have to be other sunken treasures more accessible than this one; so why come here where he stood a better chance of getting noticed? Something's here that Sargasso wants, and if I can find it first, maybe I can convince him to release the herd.& Such a search would have to wait though, as Rotor soon felt his lungs begin to burn. He'd been underwater too long; he needed to get air soon. Quickly he turned to Bottlenose.
"Back Bathysphere, info," he said to the dolphin. The Bathysphere had a direct line to N.I.C.O.L.E. and the little computer could no doubt help him figure out what it was that was being searched for. Quickly he turned from his partner and began to swim back to the entrance of the cave, hoping that his hasty egress would not be noticed by his mesmerized brethren. When no alarms were raised, a giddy sort of happiness came to Rotor's stomach as he saw the exit approaching, a feeling that had nothing to do with his brain trying to command him to breathe.
"Did you find your tour of my little home satisfactory?" the same dark voice from before asked as Sargasso descended to block the exit, his bulky frame still flanked by the sharks that guarded him. Immediately the happy feeling in Rotor's gullet dissipated. "I was a touch concerned that you had lost your way."
"You knew we were here?" Rotor asked in shock, forgetting to keep his words to a minimum.
"Of course Rotor, you did not think you could enter my territory without my knowledge, did you?" Rotor's eyes widened as he realized this creature had known his name without ever meeting him. Something was most definitely wrong, and this was confirmed by the lobster's next words. "Especially when I am the one who sent you the invitation to come." Sargasso's claw snapped shut with an audible clack, the signal to attack. Rotor dimly prepared to evade the sharks, only to have the last of his air forced out of his lungs by a driving force from behind that sent him crashing headfirst into the rocky cave wall. As his vision swam, he gazed into the face of his attacker; Bottlenose Dolphin, whose eyes now showed the same blank and emotionless stare Rotor had seen amongst everyone here. As though he could not bear not being the center of attention, Sargasso swam into view, a sly smile on his jagged face. "Sleep tight little Freedom Fighter." And with those words, darkness engulfed Rotor's mind.
To Be Continued….