(Comic version online at DA.)
"Ah Vector, I hate this cold!!" The young bee shivered, flapping his membrane wings in an attempt to warm himself up. Being an insect he was naturally more used to a warmer environment so here, in the far north west he was almost litterally freezing his butt off.
"Agh, stop complaining Charmy." The grisly voice of his boss told him through the ear piece inside his fighter pilots style helmet. "Just get airborne and find that Hedgehog."
The youngster shivered, shaking the falling snow off his body.
"That's easy for you to say! You're all snug in a cosy heated ship. It's just SO cold out here!!"
"Move or loss it Mister!"
It took a moment but Charmy managed to get himself airborne despite the cold. He pulled his goggles down over his eyes and flew up out of the trash strewn alley and into the winds. The faint snowfall of the morning had developed into a fully fledged blizzard.
"Not fair. I always get the bum assignments!" He muttered angrily to himself.
"Are you sure the kid'll be alright by himself Vector?" Espio asked, looking up at the crocodile. "Westopolis is a big city and even if we've narrowed it down to a district, he may not find anything." The chameleon was always the pessimist, always looking for a downside or negative aspect. Sometimes it worked to their advantage in sniffing out trouble but it also made him a difficult person to like.
"Have a little faith Espio. Charmy'll find him without any trouble." Vector stated confidently.
"I certainly hope so." Their employer said from behind them. Glancing back the two reptiles looked at the winged Commander. "After all I'm sure you'd late for you're more than generous bonus to go to waste."
Vector quickly about faced and rubbed his large handed together.
"You've got nothing to worry about Commander Okida. Haven't we delivered you the information as promised so far?"
The bat did not look too impressed.
"Nothing our own intelligence agency wouldn't have been able to find out sooner or later. If you mind me that blue hedgehog…THEN…you'll have earned your commission."
Vector started to look a little nervous. He coughed once before reasserting his confident façade.
"We'll complete the job sir, that's my personal guarantee."
Okida raised an eyebrow.
The door at the far end of the room opened and Topaz came in, saluting her commander before she delivered her report.
"We'll be passing over Westopalis city limits within the hour sir. We'll be over the target area on schedule."
Okida's personal vessel, the G.U.N service 90836 Codenamed: Thornblade, was one of the many in the air force's fleet. It was a Leviathan class cruiser with a customised fusion reactor engine that allowed it to travel at faster speeds than the others. Flying high in the blizzard the ship was almost impossible to make out from the ground.
"Is the S-Team unit ready to move out?" Okida asked, turning to face her, his wings folding around himself almost like a cloak. Topaz nodded.
"Yes sir, prototype Mech armaments ready to deploy and the pilots are being equipped as we speak."
The bat nodded once in approval.
"Very well. Have they been debriefed on the details of the Operation?"
"Not yet sir. I thought you might like to do that yourself." Topaz replied. Vector risked a glance up at the commander, expecting him to burst into anger. Strangely all Okida did was smile grimly.
"Very well. As soon as they're all ready have them assemble in the Mech bay. I'll address them there." Topaz lowered her head in a nod. "Dismissed."
Rouge raised the visor from her eye, a triumphant smile passing over her lips so a fang exposed itself. She had hacked the server and acquired what she wanted.
"A G.U.N unit had tracked your playmate to the city of Westopalis. An air force ship is on its way there." She stated, turning around to face Shadow. The dark hedgehog didn't look at her. "If we hurry we can beat them to him."
Shadow nodded once and grabbed her buy the arm roughly, his hand almost clamping around her wrist.
"Chaos Control!" He proclaimed and all Rouge could do was exclaim as he took her once more through that cold nothingness that existed outside of reality, sliding underneath time and space before emerging at his intended destination.
Teleportation was a strange experience. It was like being compressed into a really small space and then expanding back out upon the re-entry to normality.
As the distortion subsided, Rouge collapsed to her knees desperately trying not to loose her lunch.
Unaffected, Shadow raised his hand to shield his eyes from the unexpected snow that was thick in the air.
Grudgingly he had to give the bat some credit.
She was indeed correct. The impostor hedgehog was here. He could sense Chaos Energy in the air. It was a residual trace but it was quite recent, meaning that a Chaos Emerald was nearby. And where a Chaos Emerald was… that blue hedgehog would not be far away.
"A little warning when you're going to do that would be nice." Rouge muttered, staggering back to her feet and nearly slipping in the ankle deep snow. The two of them were standing in the middle of an empty market square. The buildings around them were almost empty as most people of the city were taking shelter during the storm.
Shadow glanced around from right to left, a thick scowl coming over his face. It would take days to search this city. The Chaos Energy trail was strong but dispersed, impossible to followed
"Where are you?" He muttered.
"50.000 credits would certainly pay the bills for a while." Hare commented as the news broadcast went on.
Amy almost collapsed on the table, eyes wide in utter despair as she clutched her head.
"They've turned me into a criminal!" She sobbed. "What am I supposed to do now? I can't go back to my home. I can't go back to Uni. I can't even walk in the street without the fear of someone turning me in."
"Welcome to my world." Sonic muttered, raising a hand and putting on a bleak expression.
"Don't worry girly, none of US are going to turn you in." Hare told her, looking back over his shoulder. "They'd have to offer me a whole lot more cash than that to become a government snitch."
Bark put a supportive hand on her shoulder.
"You're welcome to stay with us until we can get this mess sorted out." He told her.
Suddenly Sonic hissed and stood up sharply, clutching a hand to his shoulder.
"Sonic what's wrong?" Tails asked, looking up at him in alarm.
"Get the Chaos Emerald hidden." The blue hedgehog muttered through clenched teeth in reply
"What's wrong?" Chuck asked him. The human rose to his feet.
"I can sense him." Sonic replied. "Don't ask me how but I can sense him."
"Sense who?" Bean asked with a raised feather.
Amy was the first to catch on. She vaulted to her feet, slamming her hands down on the table.
"It's him?!" She asked looking panicked. Sonic nodded grimly.
"My mark… it's burning. I can tell it's him somehow."
"Who?" Tails asked coming up quickly.
"The Dark Hedgehog… the one I was telling you about. He's close."
"The Robotnik's agent?" Hare asked in alarm. "We've got to get the hell out of here!" Tails came up beside Sonic, keeping his face serious.
"How close is he?"
"Within a few blocks." Sonic replied, keeping his eyes on the snow ridden streets outside. "Hare's right, we have to get out of here." He risked a glance at the young fox. "If my mark is telling me he's here… then it's a safe bet his mark is telling him I'm here."
"He's coming for me I can tell."
"Believe me, if you saw how pissed off he was during our fight last night you'd know." Sonic blinked once and swallowed hard. "If he follows me here, he'll take the Emerald back to Robotnik." He glanced over at the others. "And I can't put you guys in danger… not against this guy."
"What are you going to do?" Tails asked him.
"I'll lead him away." Sonic replied. "You hold up here, keep your heads down. As soon as I get back, we're going to have the move the Emerald."
Tails nodded once.
His body a blur, Sonic flew out the door; a sonic boom shaking the entire building with all the windows rattling. Two streets away, Charmy Bee was trudging his way through the snow by himself.
"Sure, send the kid out while they stay all warm and cosy." He told himself. "Jerks." He would of course never admit this to either Vector or Espio but he found that while he was alone, his courage soured to new heights.
A moment later, a blur of blue shot past him, the resulting shockwave throwing Charmy backwards until he crashed headfirst into a snow bank.
"Vector… plah!" He cried into his headset as he tried to right himself. "Vector, I saw him."
He managed to get up quickly enough to watch the blur disappearing down the street with snow flying out in its wake.
"Heading down main street and fast!"
"Charmy, you just landed just one fat pay check!" Said the voice on the other end of the line.
Despite the stinging pressure he could feel on his shoulder, Shadow managed a smirk.
"He's here." He stated, glancing around him as if trying to determine in which direction he should go. Suddenly, the Chaos Emerald became the last thing on his mind. The only thing right now, in this moment, that mattered to the dark hedgehog was finding that impostor and settling the score.
"Does he have the Chaos Emerald with him?" Rouge asked. Shadow shook his head.
"No and I don't care."
"The Doctor will."
Shadow paused briefly.
"You find the Emerald." He told her, looking back sharply over his shoulder. "It's close, probably within a few blocks. A professional jewel thief such as you shouldn't have any difficulty in finding it right?"
Rouge just smiled.
Alarm bells on the Thornblade began going off as soon as confirmation was received of their target.
Pilots for the strike team ran into the Mech bay, their helmets tucked underneath their arms. Racing up the steps they arrived at the deploying platform as their mech's were shifted on a series of pulleys into position. Technicians were busy removing the umbilical cables feeding into the humanoid machines, each one the about the size of a car. They were covered in streamlined armour, four of them painted white with red outlines and the fifth red with white outlines.
Commander Okida and Lt. Topaz stood before them on a balcony overhanging the bay and turning to him, all five pilots snapped to attention.
"You are the best pilots of your generation." The commander told them, folding his arms behind his back. "You've past every exam and every trail and graduated from your training. Now however, come's the ultimate test of your skills." The trail moved along and one by one the machines these pilots would be using were rotated to face the catwalk where they were waiting. "Your target is capable of travelling at immense speed and has thus far eluded capture by conventional methods.
That is where you come in. The target is to be subdued, preferably without injury but if you have to… shoot to wound."
All five pilots all saluted as one.
"Your target is also in a civilian area so we want as little collateral damage as possible." Okida added. "Lt. Sam 'Speed' Robinson, you have displayed the most skill and discipline in your training and so you will be commander for this mission. Success will mean a permanent position as the head of the unit."
Sam was a man in his middle twenties with short, fiery red hair and fierce blue eyes. Even amongst the other pilots he stood out, something about him striking a cord of respect with them. He snapped his healed together with a smile and held his salute.
"Now move out S-Team!" Okida stepped aside and gestured to the open cockpits of the Mech's. The pilots placed their helmets out and ascended the short stairway, climbing into the seats with the technicians still conducting the final systems checks, disconnecting the mechanical umbilical cords and moving the scaffolding away.
"This is Smith, all systems green." One of the pilots stated into the communicator inside his helmet.
"This is Trevor, all systems green." Another added and his mech flexed an arm, the fingers clenching and unclenching.
"This is Aisha, all systems green."
"Zis is Boris, all systems green, dah."
Sam smiled to himself as the last two pilots reported in. He checked his own machine. He'd piloted it many times before but only in simulation. This would be his first time he and the Mech he had dubbed 'Speed King', would be put into an actual mission. His commander wouldn't say it but he knew they were going up against the Imperial Agent, the hedgehog who could travel at high speed. What else would be the point of developing mechs and training pilots specifically for high speed pursuits?
Sam cared little for the war effort if they captured the Agent but what he did care about was the fame that would come with it.
If he accomplished this mission then he would become an instant celebrity. G.U.N would never be able to keep such news as the capture of the Agent secret for long and when it leaked out, Sam Speed would be known a hero across the entire world.
"This is Sam, all systems green." He reported, flipping a few switches. "S-Team ready to deploy."
"It's a go sir." Topaz told Okida once confirmation of the readiness of all five mech's was received. Okida nodded once.
"Deploy." He ordered simply.
Still attached to the rail, the mechs were moved one by one back towards the open Mech bay exit. The chains released their grip on the first and it dropped out into the air, the jet engine on its back blasting to life and the machine soured out into the blizzard.
The other mechs quickly followed, dropped in succession until they were all deployed. Within moments they assumed formation and were dropping down towards the city, keep in alignment with the road directly before them.
"Target last sighted heading west down Main Street." A voice in Sam's ear piece told him. "Estimate that now Target is moving into Downtown."
"Roger." Sam replied. "S-Team, move up. We're going Hedgehog hunting."
The painful tingling in his shoulder was growing more and more acute and Sonic could tell the doppelganger was close. The theory in the back of his head was that after their marks had reacted last night, from this point one whenever they were close, this tingling would occur. It would have been a useful warning mechanism, if it didn't help the dark hedgehog out at the same time.
Guessing that he had put enough distance between himself and the others, Sonic came to a stop directly in the centre of a snow ridden square. There was hardly anything around accept for a white haze, the snow coming in even thicker. All the shops and streets were empty. That would make it easier this time, not so many people to get in the way.
"Ok…" He muttered, his breath coming out white. "I'm here darko, so where ya at?" He took several steps back, turning his head this way and that determined not to be taken unawares.
Without warning, a flash of green light erupted from behind him.
"I'm right here." A familiar voice stated and before Sonic could react, a kick smacked him directly in the back forcing him forward to stumble into the snow. Flipping forward onto his feet again, Sonic about faced and confronted the same black and red hedgehog whom he had battle last night.
"Man you are a die hard." The blue hedgehog commented, keeping a safe distance. He didn't want to be so close given how his opponent could use energy manipulation. "Look I'm tired can't we reschedule or something?"
"No." Shadow replied flatly. "You die now." He held up a hand, sparking of golden lightning sparking down his arm. "But before I strike you down… indulge me. What name shall I carve upon your tomb stone?"
The blue hedgehog managed a thick smirk, full of attitude and smug superiority.
"The name is Sonic, Sonic the Hedgehog."
"And I am Shadow, Shadow the Hedgehog." The dark Hedgehog replied.
"Nice… it suits you." Sonic stated. "You're the agent for Doctor Eggman's empire right?"
"Who?" Shadow asked raising an eyebrow. "Oh I see… you're referring the Doctor."
"Yeah that's the one. Looks a bit like an Egg." Shadow tried to hide a small smile and failed.
"Yes I am the one your people know as the 'Agent'." The dark hedgehog told him. "Is that a problem?"
"Yes it is." Sonic stated with a cold edge to his voice. "See my goal is collect the Chaos Emeralds to stop you're boss from using them to take over the world."
Shadow gained a smug grin.
"Ah so you do have at least one Chaos Emerald."
Sonic smacked a hand across his mouth when he realized he had said too much.
"Well I have to thank you for leading me right to it. This'll be the first Emerald we've been successful in finding." Shadow's grin widened. "You've done us a great favour."
"We?" Sonic asked. There was a brief pause when the sudden obvious truth was made clear. "You're not alone!"
Shadow chuckled lightly.
In horror Sonic realized that he had walked right into a trap. Racing out to confront Shadow, he had left Tails, Amy and the Emerald completely undefended.
About facing, Sonic made for the streets. Before he could get more than two feet, Shadow swung in front of him; arms outstretched blocking the way.
"Just where do you think you're going?" The dark hedgehog told him, grabbing him by the arm and tossing Sonic back until he collided into a snow drift. "You and I still have unfinished business."
Before Tails or anyone else could react, several round cylinder objects came flying through the window and accompanied by a shower of broken glass. The moment they hit the floor they expelled a thick green gas that quickly spread out over the flour, rising up to fill the entire room.
"Hey wha…" Hare started, rising to his feet. Even as he did so the muscles in his legs gave way and he collapsed, the gas taking full affect. Chuck struggled to keep himself upright but eventually he succumbed, collapsing onto the table unable to retain consciousness.
Bean and Bark followed, the duck falling first and the large polar bear collapsing on top of him.
Tails tried to cover his mouth, coughing into his hand several times before he fell to his knees.
"No…the Emerald…" That was all he managed to mutter before falling, keeping his eyes open only for a second before he was unable to hold on any longer. As soon as he was out, a dark winged shape swung in through the smashed window, acrobatically spinning into the room. A mask over her face, Rouge was protected from the affects of the airborne knockout gas.
"Like taking candy from a baby." The she-bat commented. "Only far more enjoyable." Her visor was lead her here, attuning it to the frequency the Doctor suggested.
There, sitting in a silver box on the table, was the Chaos Emerald.
"My god…" She breathed, gazing in wonder at the gemstone. "It's …its gorgeous." It was so large, so sparkly, so wonderful, and so perfect! When Robotnik had described such jewels to her, she almost didn't believe him. How could such perfect gemstones exist without her knowing. "No wonder they all want this…"
She was so captivated by the Emerald that she didn't notice the soft clinking sound as the old war hammer was removed from the wall.
Just as she was reaching for the gemstone, the weapon came down sharply knocking her hands away from the stone.
"Hands off!" Amy Rose told the bat, before knocking her back with a kick. Protecting herself from the gas, the pink hedgehog had tied a clothe around her head. Being in the apartment's kitchen when the gas bomb went off she had had time to improvise.
"Agh you bitch!" Rouge cursed. Amy put herself between the Emerald and the thief. Rouge bad a move for the gun at her side but before she could use it, Amy expertly swung the hammer around so the thin end batted the weapon away. Before Rouge could recover, the pink hedgehog came on the offensive; the warhammer driving in an upper cut that caught the bat so hard she was thrown clear across the room to smash into the table breaking it in half.
"Bring it!" Amy said almost coldly. After Sonic had saved her the least she could do would be to protect the jewel he was found of so much, regardless of whether it was a Chaos Emerald or not.
Rouge scrambled to her feet and the sprung at Amy with a flying kick, showing her own skills for martial arts. Amy was able to parry away the kick before swinging the hammer forward, catching Rouge across her face. The blow knocked off the gas mask, sending it flying.
Clutching at her mouth and nose to ward off the gass, Rouge lashed out with a kick that struck Amy's stomach. The pink hedgehog tumbled back and reaching for something to steady herself, she laid a hand upon the Emerald.
The Emerald flared to life at the touch and bolts of its power surged up her arm and into her body.
Amy cried out in alarm before she screamed as the power caused her quills to stand out on end. Her eyes were glowing brightly and shining with light.
Like a true power surge, it felt it standing only for a moment before she collapsed forward onto the floor with a faint trail of smoke rising from her quills.
The Chaos Emerald fell from her hand, rolled a short distance before coming to a stop.
Rouge tried to get up but the gas was beginning to affect her. It was completely numb, as if she had slept on it and was now a dead weight.
"Damn it!" She hissed, feeling a stiffness in her legs and wings as well. Stumbling forward as best she could, she grabbed the jewel with her one good hand.
"Doctor…come in Doctor do you read me?" She asked, speaking into the communicator in her visor.
"Chaos Spear!" Shadow proclaimed, sending forth another energy projectile which Sonic had to fly through the snow to avoid. As it struck the ground behind him, the explosion sent forth a shockwave that threw the blue hedgehog forward, rolling until he landed upside down in a snow drift.
Shaking the snow out of his quills, Sonic growled and vaulted back to his feet.
"I don't have time for this!" He muttered to himself
"Make time." Shadow replied, raising his hand again.
"Negative Shadow, you're not to engage." A harsh voice snapped angrily from the ring on the dark hedgehog's left wrist. "Rouge reports she has the Chaos Emerald. You're to return to Imperial territory with it immediately."
"But Doctor…" Shadow started and Sonic realized that he was hearing the voice of the dictator himself.
"That's an order!" The voice added in a tone that allowed room for no argument.
Both hedgehog's turned to look up. Searchlights shone down from overhead as mechs, each baring the G.U.N insignia, hovered above.
"Put your hands up in the air!"
"Gee would you look at the time." Before Shadow could turn his attention back to Sonic, the blue hedgehog sent a handful of snow directly into his face with the small particles of ice hitting him in the eyes. Temporarily blinded Shadow staggered forth, clutching at his face. This gave Sonic the opportunity he needed to make a run for it.
About facing, the blue hedgehog blasted forth racing back he way he had come towards the apartment.
Scrapping the ice out of his face, Shadow snarled angrily, fully prepared to charge after Sonic like the wrath of god.
The constantly hiss from the approaching Mech's brought him back to his senses and pushing a great deal of self discipline upon himself, Shadow muttered the two words that would transport him safely away.
The pursuing pilots didn't even notice the green flash in amongst the white falling snow. Their attention was fixed completely on the blue blur racing ahead of them down main street.
Sam Speed took the lead, readying the long rang rifle his machine had attached across its left arm.
A warning shot was fired, striking the ground just ahead of their target. The hedgehog slowed a little to avoid it and then sped on, flying forward at tremendous speed. It seemed as if the friction of the air wasn't a factor.
"The four of you get head; box him in on all sides." Sam told the others in the unit. "Force him to slow down." The human smiled. "Then he's all mine."
"Roger." The other four replied as one, their machines flying forward past him in formation.
Sonic glanced back at the last second to see the Mech's soar up along either side of them, one trailing behind and another moving ahead. They formed a circle around him and their plan was laid bare. Casting a glance upward, Sonic caught sight of the fifth Mech flying above. It was aiming its rifle directly at him.
"Oh no boys, you're going to have to do better than that." The blue hedgehog stated, speeding up quickly and with this burst of speed leapt at the back of the Mech directly in front of him. Landing on the top of its head, Sonic reached forward and put his hands over the camera sending images down into the cockpit.
"Get him off me! I can't see!" The pilot yelled into his communicator, his mech struggling not to crash. It smashed into a parked car, doing a flip before smashing into the ground. Sonic jumped off at the last second, doing an acrobatic spin before smashing his foot into the camera lens on the mech trying to catch him on his right. As this one fell back, unable to travel at such speeds while blind, Sonic using the gap in the circle to make a break for it.
"Oh he's good." Sam remarked. "Even better than our intelligence reports said. But he's injured now. A bit of a shame really."
Sonic heard the shot and turned to look.
Before he could react, the projectile it him in the back. A series of metal claws latched onto him and then a discharge of electricity erupted into his body.
His body trembled at the sheer force and all his senses negated themselves.
He barely stayed on his feet for a moment before he toppled to the ground trailing smoke.
The mech's landed all around him, each one raising their rifles to lock directly onto him.
Even though he struggled to get back up, Sonic realised that now his situation was hopeless.
The fifth mech, the red one which was undoubtedly their leader, landed nearby and walked calmly up to them. The other's parted to let it through and Sonic watched as the camera on top rotated, giving the pilot a more focused image of his target.
Then he couldn't keep his eyes open any longer. AS he sank into unconciousness, he heard someone say:
"This is S-Team to Commander Okida, mission accomplished. Ready for Evac."
"So… Sonic." The Doctor mused putting a hand to his chin. His face pushing itself into a deep frown. "I will remember that name."
But there were of course other things to consider. He turned to look at their prize, the Chaos Emerald that floated in the suspended beam of light behind him.
"Here is the start of a very long road. One Chaos Emerald, the jewels of legend. Gemstones containing the power of Chaos itself, one of the greatest of the outer gods."
"He doesn't really believe all that nonsense does he?" Rouge asked, whispering to Shadow. The dark hedgehog did not reply.
"As the blue hedgehog…" The doctor started, getting up. "I'm going after him myself.
"No!" Shadow snapped, clenching a fist. "He's mine!"
"Those are my orders." Robotnik declared. "I was prepared to let you go hunting but this has become an obsession for you. I can't afford to have you distracted, now off all times." He leaned over the desk and stared the dark hedgehog down. "Are you going to second guess me?"
There was a long pause.
Then Shadow backed down.
"As you wish Eggman." The dark hedgehog started.
Robotnik shot him a very hostile glare from behind his glasses.
"I beg your pardon?" He asked, pointing a finger at him. "What did you just call me?"
Shadow hesitated, fretting over the uncharacteristic slip of the tongue as Rouge tried very hard not to giggle.
Shadow was being distracted by that blue hedgehog and at the moment, Robotnik needed his full attention on the task at hand.
A Chaos Emerald, an actual Chaos Emerald had been brought to him and Robotnik did not want to jinx his luck. Shadow had to be kept busy locating the other seven.
And if he was going to keep his mind on that task then this blue distraction had been destroyed.
"Hmm…Westopalis, the Federation's western most city." The Doctor mused to himself thoughtfully. After this incident, G.U.N would gather a large portion of its military force there in hopes of containing this 'Sonic.' A city that large would need a sizeable force in order to control it, especially with its large civilian population.
A large grin spread from ear to ear across the Doctor's face.
"Ready the 4-D squadron." He announced, pressed a button on the side of his arm rest. "It's time for a little fireworks."