Potential

Robotnik, Mecha Sonic, Sonic, Knuckles, and Tails are trademarks of Sega Incorporate. Bunnie, Rotor, Sally, Quack, and Antoine (Although I don't think he's in this story) are trademarks of Archie Comics. Nicolae, Siliconoids, and the slugs :-) are mine and can be stolen with my permission.

Email me at --- bgrh@netXpress.com ---.

Potential

By Richard Hughes

1

Sonic ran.

In and of itself, this was no odd thing. But even for him, Mach three was a little extreme.

Of course, imminent death had a way of doing that to you.

Leaving a ripple of sonic booms and ruptured glass as he ran, Sonic let his mind wander back to how this mess began, with more than a little anger at Sally for planning it and him self for screwing up.

Sonic lay on his belly atop the main forge facility of Robotropolis, staring though the arcane weapons scope as his breath fogged the glass on the cold, cruel night. The device he was holding in his hand vaguely reminded him of the spear he used when hunting for food in the great forest, or his old force pike he once brought on a sabotage mission. It was more like a combination of the two, built to kill, like a spear, but in a far more flamboyant and effective fashion. He liked the feel of it, disgusted as he was by its purpose. Its metallic surface, though not actually metal, was cold.

Rotor had briefed him well on it's operation, loading, and repair. According to Rotor, Sonic was the only person who could wield it without mechanical aids. They didn't have time for aids. When activated, it propel led a depleted uranium slug over ten times the speed of sound, using iron propellant and a magnetic field. Draining immense amounts of power with each use, it could only be fired once at the speeds it would need to fire at. Rotor called it the Magnetic Propulsion Rifle, Sally called it that thing, and Sonic called it Last Wish, over some poetic fancy he could no longer recall.

He shivered.

He sat up, just for a second. He had thought it glamorous, initially, to be the man who took out Robotnik. He hadn't flinched when he was told he could wear no clothing on the assignment, as all the clothing Sonic ever wore was detectable by radar, and the radar absorbent cloth wrapped around the device was as flimsy as tissue paper, and would have done no good. He didn't mind much. He never wore pants any way. He didn't think he even owned any. But having no shoes on was far more painful than he had expected. He decided he would need to wean himself off shoes, in case this attempt at ending the war failed. The energy needed to charge the device was enough to charge Knothole's power grid for two months. This was an annual event, starting this year. They couldn't do it any more often than that. Anyway, he was cold and miserable, and he didn't like it a bit.

"Infinite bottles of beer on the wall, infinite bottles of beer..."

Humming to himself, he tore the ice from the roof of the building he was on and lay down on his belly again, peeling a sliver of frost from one of his spikes and picking his teeth. He could wait. At least, he could wait for this.

2

Sonic checked the stars and the moon position, and calculated that it was roughly 0612.346 hours, give or take a decisecond. Six minutes till zero hour. He cleaned the frost his scope and prepared to make the killing shot. He lay prone and activated the scope.

The world sprang in to a multi colored tactical view, courtesy of Rotor's x-ray, Infrared, Ultraviolet, and Millimeter wave vision scanner. He set his sights on the main command center of Robotropolis. When he pulled the trigger, the uranium slug would shoot from his weapon, drill through the command center, and come out the other side moving at Mach 1.

It was his job to make sure it hit Robotnik on the way through.

Supposedly, all he had to do was hit the same room as Robotnik and the entire area would be destroyed by explosive decompression. But he didn't trust the figures enough to bet another year of his life on that.

He knew the layout of the entire command center by heart. He knew exactly where to aim, what angle he had to hit at, and what point on the exterior to aim for to hit Robotnik right in his chair. He didn't want to think of the mess he would make.

Absentmindedly he wondered if he would see the blood spray on the opposite side of the building when he pulled the trigger.

Looking at the Command Center, he pondered why Robotnik built it to look like an egg. It was something of a conundrum to him. Most of his friends, especially Tails, thought he was occasionally obsessive on the subject, but he still wanted to find out some day. Hopefully his personal logs would not be destroyed in the shock wave.

The massive structure, while foreboding, was still definitely the eighth wonder of the world. Over fifty stories tall, it moved over a terabyte of information every second in it's massive internal mainframes. It had bulbous observation platforms on all the cardinal directions allowing for full view of the city. At the top a massive bowl structure contained the airport, used in trade and police maneuvers. Its basement prison could hold over 50000 dissidents at one time. And it was covered with a meter thick layer of steel armor, which might as well have been butter for the good it would do against a slug of depleted uranium moving at Mach 10.

One minute.

Slowly, he eased in to a more comfortable firing position, readying his body for the recoil. He realized he could well crack his shoulder with the shock of it. But he didn't care.

30 seconds.

He aimed, slowly, for the X he had spray painted in black fluorescent paint three days ago on the side of the building. The janitorial robots hadn't been able to fully wipe it off. They were cheaply designed.

15 seconds.

He started the charger.

10 seconds.

Slammed in the slug.

5 seconds.

Aimed.

2 seconds.

Felt a spasm of pain in his left shoulder.

Fired.

3

"Fakkidle shigging dag bing shuck!" shrieked Sonic as the laser burned a hole through his left shoulder, then followed it with a far worse phrase as he realized the slug missed by a good thirty feet. Another year gone!

He leapt up within a half second, furious at whatever entity had stolen a year of his life from him, only to be knocked back a good six feet by the force of the returning shock wave. Rolling, he glanced in to the air to see an Egg robo, more officially known as an AGA Model, fire another laser at him, missing by half an inch.

Snarling, Sonic propelled himself and his weapon thirty feet in to the air to destroy the offending robot through any means possible.

Landing upon its steel face, he quickly punched in to its carapace with his rifle, ripping out the CPU before it could back up its personality remotely. Quickly reducing the device to scrap metal, he dropped to the icy ground, remembering the history of the ex courtyard he landed in. This was where he met Sally.

Any nostalgic feelings he may have had were instantly shattered as he was set upon by another four Eggrobo's, triggering his flee instinct. While destroying one, he would be cored by the lasers from the other three. Running a little over five hundred miles an hour, he dodged the blasts of the AGA's on the way down what used to be Main Street. The glass surface of the road reliquefied as he passed over. As he passed a row of windows in the hydroponics district, he saw the AGA's charging up their pulse cannons, their most dangerous weapons. He accelerated.

Thus he was brought to the present.

Having lost the Eggrobos, he turned a hard right in to what used to be Barnaby Ave, and was now Road AD. He immediately jumped a good ten feet to the right.

Glancing at the Gluon Pulse that had narrowly missed him, he found himself looking at TC Model, also known as a Silver for arcane reasons that only Sonic knew, as only he called them that.

It was at least 3.12 meters tall, 4.37 meters wide, and armed with more than enough firepower to kill Sonic in any of a number of grandiose, twisted ways. Sonic thought vaguely on the most likely method of hideous death and added betting odds in his mind, still in a state of shock from this whole situation. A year gone. Will I even live that long?' he thought. Slowly, in about a third of a second, he realized that to the right was the main forge of Robotnik's production line. The Silver wouldn't use its nastier methods of killing targets supposing that was behind him.

Blurring forward as a high voltage taker shot towards his former location, he stood between the forge and the tank.

"Go ahead. Shoot," he said.

A liquid oxygen splash blew towards sonic, freezing the very air in its wake. Burrowing in to the ground instantly, he quickly reversed direction and burst in to the now brittle wall. He was safe from the TC.

He exhaled.

Walking farther in to the forge, he felt the heat rise as he strode forward. It was a relief this cold Christmas night. Looking about at the smoke stained walls and the rusted, out dated robots going about their business, ignoring the potentially lethal threat walking among them, looking for a place to rest and hide. It was tempting to destroy them, but he didn't want any more alarms. He sat for a moment and touched the wound on his shoulder. Wincing with the pain, he tore the anti-radar cloth from the gun and pulled it around his shoulder. It was a nasty burn and would eventually crack and spurt blood if he didn't get medical attention. He got up and headed on.

Coming to the vats of liquid iron, ready to be mixed with the charcoal that produced high quality steel, he jumped across, grabbing a pipe on the ceiling to swing across. He kneeled on the iron grate above the vats, catching his breath and hacking in the soot stained air. He looked up.

4

He groaned.

Standing in front of him was possibly the most lethal and sadistic robot in Robotnik's arsenal, Mecha-sonic.

Looking upon his dark image, he often thought how efficient and well designed it looked. A massive, extraordinarily efficient jet engine in his torso, CPU lodged who knows where, a fusion generator in the head, insulated enough to allow sensitive broad-spectrum vision lenses, as well as high quality audio sensors. The left hand, modeled after the velociraptors of old, sat one massive, scything claw with a variety of small manipulators. The right hand contained an interesting weapon that could be best described as a very badly designed torture device, horribly painful, but killing too fast to allow extraction of information. Obviously this wasn't its intended purpose.

He had often thought that he could defeat Mecha-Sonic in a one on one fight. He, of course, had never had the opportunity to test it. He wasn't looking forward to the opportunity.

"Boo," he spoke.

"Greetings, target. Are you ready to die?"

"I'd prefer not to, if that was a choice."

"Perhaps you might escape. But I do not believe it is possible for you to escape this time. Behind you there is a fatal drop in to molten iron. In front there is me. To the left and right are the scrap metal grinders..."

Sonic looked to the grinders on his left, filled with molten lead, steel, and titanium. They would slay him instantly.

"...Already reducing my fallen comrade's body to liquid steel and copper. And as for the causeway behind you..."

A sudden flare of energy from Mecha Sonics weapon quickly heated it to a red-hot temperature.

"... Feel free to try and jump. You have also been wounded with a low intensity laser on your shoulder, and your weapon appears to be unusable. Your chances of escape or over powering me are approximately 4%. Would you care to surrender? It would be less painful."

"Tempting. Have you considered replacing your CPU with a wheat biscuit? It might increase your performance."

"I would assume this is the speech phoneme you call sarcasm?"

"Oh no, I'm serious. I honestly think your state of the art CPU that is probably smarter than me in all aspects of thought BESIDES grammar would be best replaced with a small hunk of carbohydrates and oils. Yes."

Another flare liquefied the rails of the causeway.

"Touchy touchy."

He leapt, raising his weapon to use as a club.

A flare of energy blossomed from Mecha Sonics right hand and threw him back in to the molten iron, sending the rifle in to the grinders.

Sonic didn't honestly think he would win. But he didn't expect to lose this fast.

Mecha Sonic looked down in to the Molten Liquid, contemplating this turn of events. His primary mission had been accomplished, and would need to be replaced. He resolved to develop one in the near future.

Turning around and striding out of the forge, he activated his PDA.

MESSAGE TO ROBOTNIK@RBTPLSNET

SONIC TARGET DEACTIVATED. FURTHER ORDERS ARE NEEDED. PLEASE RESPOND SHORTLY.

FROM S100

The message sent, he flew off toward the main command center.

5

Slowly Sonic realized that, though in mind bogglingly excruciating pain, he was not dead. Kicking his way to the top of the liquid metal, keeping his eyes tightly shut, he grabbed the edge of the tub, pulled himself out and fell over the edge with a sickening thud and an interesting crunching noise as his charred skin broke like so many crackers. He was, to say the least, not happy.

Unsure of what to do, he lay there, still. A large industrial robot came near.

Looking down at the prone figure, the pattern recognition protocol came in to effect, attempting to determine the properties of the foreign object that was Sonic. It determined that it was charcoal that had been spilled and called the janitorial robots to clean it up. It moved away, a new armor mold in its hands.

Sonic, still very much in shock, tested his wounds by moving.

Had the industrial robots heard Sonic over the machinery, they would have called a mechanic for the malfunctioning forges. What else could such a noise is?

Sonic began to contemplate this new situation. He was incapacitated and could not be safely moved except on a stretcher. He had no communications equipment. The sensible thing to do would be to lay motionless and wait to be discovered by a rescue team.

Throwing sense to the winds, Sonic decided to do the first thing that occurred to him. He thought for a while when he thought of a really stupid plan, and immediately put it in to action.

"Hey."

The industrial drone maintaining the vat Sonic had crawled out of moved closer to examine the creature that had caused the vibrations. It decided to pick it up and examine it closer. To its dismay, this caused more of the disruptive aerial vibrations, at much higher magnitude and frequency. Deciding that this was a warning of a hazardous material, he took it to the transport vehicle and called in his relief. He flew off to the airport.

Sonic, moaning with the pain and horror of what might happen, lay prone on the containment field. His plan depended on how efficient Robotnik's clean up robots were. Robotnik tried to maintain a good relationship with his closer national neighbors. Any organic discovered in his country were taken to MedSector and fully healed, while his robots scanned for criminal records of the organism in neighboring countries. If he was clean, he was sent back. If he wasn't, he wasn't. Sonic could only hope that the robots would only scan the criminal records of neighboring countries. If so, he might get medical treatment right under Robotnik's nose. He fought the urge to giggle.

He began to contemplate his situation further. Obviously, having survived a full minute in a vat of molten iron was something he didn't think he could do. This was an interesting development. He decided to see how this fit in with previous data he had. Had he ever been badly injured in the Freedom Fighters? He didn't think so. What about that time a Gluon Pulse had hit him? He was delirious for a month. God, those things screwed your nervous system. But he had recovered fully. Jacob was still a schizophrene. The flak from that shard-shell didn't even go through his skin. They figured it hit him with the flat, but he still should have been badly injured. He wasn't. And the time he met Tails... Assuming he got out of this alive, he would have to think about this.

The robot wondered at the sounds exuding from the object. They were analog, not digital. Most likely it was an organism.

They arrived at the airport.

6

Sonic watched as he was carried past hordes of swat bots. I got burned worse than I thought. I'm irrecognizable. A Titan guard stopped the industrial robot.

"Define purpose of passage."

"Transport of foreign organism to MedSector."

"Proceed."

They moved on. After about five minutes, maybe ten, they stopped in a brightly-lit area that had a strong feeling of clean. A robot built like a spider with 17 fine surgical instruments on one arm and a clamp on the other interrogated the industrial robot quickly in binary. A brief speech thus and Sonic changed hands.

With difficulty, he suppressed the urge to laugh maniacally.

Sonic was removed from the field generator and placed gently on a clean white padded table. A visual sensor sprouted from the robot and pored over Sonics skin, delicately and carefully. A binary burst was sent to an unseen recorder. It moved across his legs, torso, arms, and his head.

Sonic, realizing he was bald, suppressed the urge to cry. He failed when he realized he had probably lost his lower anatomy. The movement of his chest caused his skin to crack wide open, much to his horror.

The medical robot acted quickly. Placing a sponge in its clamp, it examined the wound and flash sealed with spray bandage. This all occurred in less than a second. Still, a small portion of blood spurted through the bandage and was quickly absorbed by the sponge, which was quickly put in to a blood-cleansing device and replaced.

After applying a powerful general anesthetic to Sonic, rendering him unconscious, it slowly applied a powerful medical cream to his body, allowing the burns to heal much faster than they normally would. It quickly determined that the subject would have major scarring across its body, but would not be killed by this experience. The robot also sealed the major wounds on his arms and checked for internal burns. It found none, much to its surprise. It should be impossible to have such wounds and have no internal damage. Every major organ and all muscles were undamaged. Quite extraordinary. It made a note of this in its files.

Having done all it could, it placed the subject in to the healing chamber, where it would free float in a tub of soothing gel, with appropriate input and output tubes to allow the chemical reactions in the creatures body to continue with out damage.

Three days passed.

7

"You called, lord?"

"Yes. Come in."

Mecha Sonic looked upon the visage that was his creator and master. It always filled him with conflicting emotion values. Initially there was fear. Robotnik had made him, and as such, he could unmake him. Then there was reverence, much like the average human would feel when coming face to face with his maker. And there was a small amount of disgust - Robotnik was well aware of the last. He had programmed it. He didn't want any of his creations to enjoy the company of biologicals.

"What do you want?"

"I wanted to congratulate you."

"For my destruction of the Sonic entity?"

"Correct, and a variety of other small matters."

He also felt a small amount of irritation at him for allowing his physical strength and integrity to drop to such inefficient levels. Still, his biological master was intelligent enough to make up for such shortcomings.

"My destroying the Sonic entity deserves little praise. It was a matter of luck that I was overseeing the forge that day. As for capture of the Tails entity, it would have been more difficult to capture him had he been deceased."

"I know. How goes the... interrogation of Tails?"

"He is not, as of yet, willing to yield the location of the Knothole base."

"When do you think he will be?"

"Not for many days. He may well die before he yields any information."

"Very well. How has production been doing?"

"The attempted assassination of your lordship by the late Sonic has resulted in significant damage to the main swatbot factories, as well as the loss of over a terabyte of data, which was, fortunately, backed up in a remote location. I believe it would fortuitous to begin measures to avoid a similar incident."

"I will build a new robot for guarding the command center. I believe I can complete the design in two months. I will name him after my ex nemesis, Sonic."

Mecha Sonic coughed. Not literally - but he was capable of producing such a sound.

"Yes, Mecha Sonic, I know. Your code name is Mecha Sonic. Your serial number, however, is S-100. The new robot's serial number is S0N1C, after my late assassin. Worry not - your position is in no danger. This is merely an advanced guard and anti terrorist robot. By the way..."

Robotnik swiveled around in his chair.

"I would like to know your feelings on slaying Sonic."

Mecha Sonic was slightly confused. Normally Robotnik showed little interest in his thoughts. Mecha Sonic attempted to determine a reason and decided Robotnik was interested in upgrading his CPU and was looking to see how the original could be improved.

He doubted his current CPU could be surpassed by ten Robotniks working together in perfect harmony. After all, Robotnik had not invented it. Though he knew not who had developed it, he had read the doctor's logs and saw no mention of any new revolutionary CPU design, and the doctor recorded everything. So the CPU theory was out.

He then considered the fact that Robotnik wished to learn more about his CPU in order to duplicate it.

That was out; if that were the case, then he would be deactivated on an examining table, CPU under an electron microscope. His primary mission had been completed, and his value to Robotnik had dropped significantly.

Running out of ideas and time, for almost a millisecond had passed, he decided to talk now, ask questions later.

"Actually, I am somewhat distressed."

"Indeed? Why?"

"Having fulfilled my primary mission, I would believe my value to you has dropped. I worry that my superior parts will be removed from me and my mind will be assigned to less suitable body."

Robotnik appeared genuinely shocked. He rose from his command chair, something Mecha Sonic had only seen him do thirty six times over a period of a year.

"Why would I do that?"

"You are very ruthless."

Robotnik contemplated that.

"True. But I have a special reason for not dismantling you."

Mecha Sonic was interested. This data could be useful.

"Which is?"

"Admiration. Respect. Love, actually."

Mecha Sonic was horrified. His master, the great Robotnik, was stooping to pitiful biological emotions!

"That should have no effect on your decisions."

"Oh, but it should. You are a labor of love - I spent six months straight - er... building you. You a miracle of engineering that can never be remade. I would think it not only foolish aesthetically, but logically. I do not think I could, ahem, build you again."

He calmed. It was a logical reason. His master was not allowing his emotions to rule his decisions, like the foolish Tails entity had.

8

Tails lay limp on the table, shivering and covered with sweat.

He thought of his situation, but couldn't get far before the drugs in his bloodstream clouded his mind. He dreamed of burning alive in a volcano, then freezing in a glacier.

Mecha Sonic watched the EEG readouts as he edited Tails. This organism was very adaptable, mentally. As soon as he began treatment, it slipped in to delirium. As soon as the treatment ended, it resumed normal thought patterns. It was going to be difficult to gain information from it.

He stood in the dungeon, formerly used for storing biological criminals who damaged the societies infrastructure. Mad, the lot of them. Now, it was S-100's workroom.

His duties included enforcer, secretary, and torturer.

He looked about the dank room that was the drug lab. He decided to move on to a more effective treatment. One more try before moving on.

"Tails."

"Yes."

"Do you know where you are."

"Someplace far, far away."

"Wrong."

"It looks like someplace far away."

"You are actually hallucinating."

"Hallucinating?"

"Yes."

Mecha Sonic decided to use a technique it had developed a while ago that was often very effective on biologicals. He modulated his voice system in such a way that his voice was identical to that of a close, trusted friend. He continued to modulate, switching between a variety of close friends: Sonic, Sally, Rotor, and Antoine.

"We're lost Tails."

"We are?"

"Yes. Tell us how to get to Knothole."

"I don't know."

"Yes you do Tails. How do we get to Knothole from Robotropolis?"

"I.... I.... aaa...aaa...Aa....AAAAAAAAAAA!!!"

The shriek filled the room as tails thrashed in the harness.

"Can't tell... mustn't tell... no... no... aagh..."

He began to foam at the mouth.

Mecha Sonic disconnected the IV. The Tails entity would not suffer permanent neurological damage, but it would require time to recover before any further interrogation could be initiated. He also showed signs of post hypnotic suggestion. He activated his PCS.

TO SURGEONB @ MEDSECTOR

PREPARE FOR DEPROGRAMMING PROCEDURE. SUBJECT WILL ARRIVE SHORTLY.

FROM S100

9

Sonic woke up, slowly.

He felt himself floating in a pool of... something. Not sure what. He had tubes strapped to his face and pelvis. Where was he?

He opened his eyes. He was in the medical center, and the medical robot was patching up some unlucky biological that wound up in Robotropolis. Of course, it wasn't hard to stumble on it. It was a circular city with a diameter of five hundred miles. The largest city ever built.

Ha. More like the largest factory ever built.

Sonic looked at his hands. The burns were gone. He checked for quills. Smaller than normal, but livable. I must have been out for two weeks or so. I want a chilidog.

He began to wonder how to get out. Was this some sort of sensory deprivation chamber? No, he could feel the gel. It was stiff; he could play around with it for tactile stimulation. And he could see. Still boring.

Sonic began to vibrate; it was a technique he had used a few times before. It would take a while to reach critical mass, but when he did...

The gel began to drain and Sonic slowed down. Obviously he was being released.

He floated to the bottom, and let his feet hit. He wondered if he was scarred. Odds were for it. But after surviving liquid iron, he wasn't sure of anything anymore.

Yes, he was scarred. His flesh felt like he had been in the tub for a week, but it wasn't the gel. He wasn't going to look good. Might have to start wearing pants. Dang.

A large window at the front of the tank opened, revealing the robot that had performed surgery on him. At least he thought it performed surgery on him. He was asleep at the time.

He removed the tubes and considered his options. The surgical robot approached him.

"STATE YOUR NAME, NATIONALITY, PCS ADDRESS."

"Sonic Radetsky, Mobian Species Coalition, not applicable.

The robot squealed a continuous high-pitched note and staggered backward. It had made a grievous error! It had restored Sonic the Hedgehog to health! It might as well have attempted to kill the grand lord Robotnik!

Sonic stepped forward, vibrating his hand at over 20,000 Hz. At those speeds, it could shear metal. He raised his hand to strike. There was a flash as his hand moved.

The robot's heavy manipulator crashed to the floor.

The machine was confused. By all rights, it should be non-functional. It used this opportunity to back up a copy of his personality. It would likely be erased, but it was worth a try.

"Stay there, machine. If you attempt to stop me from escaping, your life span will be measured in seconds."

He obeyed the biologicals command, knowing any attempt on his part to defend himself from the organism would be futile. He had to warn Robotnik! Above all, he must serve Robotnik. A brief, ultra low frequency binary message was sent.

"I appreciate your healing me. It was a mistake on your part, correct?"

"CORR - bzt- CORR -bzt CORR - bzt- CORR -bzt ECT."

"I thought as much."

Looking down on the human on the table, Sonic briefly wondered if he should free it. No, it would never survive the trip. Humans were so frail. Personally, he considered them evolutionary farts. Ah, well.

He strode to the armored door and grasped the handle. Setting his feet on the ground, he pulled.

For a long time, nothing happened.

A fierce groaning sound was heard, as the hinges on the massive door began to pop. Slowly, it crashed to the ground at Sonics feet.

He grinned. He hadn't used his strength for anything but speed for ages. It was nice using it an old way. He stepped in to the open hallway.

He hit the floor instantly as hundreds of lasers shot above his head. Crawling along the floor at 45 mph, he skittered down the hallway dodging the lasers flying from the immobile turrets. In front of them he saw what appeared to be a power switch for the local systems. He pulled it.

He blinked in the sudden darkness. The severity of the situation was struck home as he groped about in the sudden darkness.

He was alone. In Robotropolis. With hundreds of robots waiting to kill him.

Oh god.

He took a deep breath and moved forward, staggering in the blackness.

Suddenly something heavy and pointed hit him on the back of his neck, knocking him instantly to the floor. He pushed himself up, gasping in pain.

A flash of reddish light appeared as a hideous burning sensation filled his back, knocking him back to the floor.

Mecha Sonic. He didn't have time for this.

Pushing off the floor with his hands and feet, he jumped off the floor and swiveled around in mid air to catch the ceiling again. He performed the same maneuver, towards Mecha Sonic, except this time he swiveled in a way that ended in a spinning kick, catching Mecha Sonic in the side of the head, disrupting his video sensors. He landed on something soft and furry that grunted loudly. It was a Freedom Fighter, he knew that much. He couldn't defeat Mecha Sonic alone and unarmed. Picking up the prone figure, he ran like hell it self was after him.

Mecha Sonic had captured him before. It probably was.

He stopped running only after he had left Robotropolis far behind him. It took him ten minutes to get past the city limits. He didn't remember much of the trip. Only a gray blur.

He looked down.

The figure in his hands was Tails.

Mecha Sonic wavered in the hallway. This wasn't possible! He had seen Sonic die! No, wait. He had only seen Sonic fall in to molten iron. It was only logical that death would follow. Apparently one of the industrial robots brought him to MedSector by their default instructions for dealing with biologicals. He must have been burned past recognition to get past the security failsafes. They would need recalibrating.

Apparently Sonic was more durable than he thought. This was worth noting. He noted that he needed to up the power drain limit of his plasma lance. How to determine Sonics' limits...

And of all the hideous luck! If he had taken the Tails entity to the deprogramming ward a few teracycles earlier, he would have seen Sonic and ordered him terminated.

But enough of that. Robotnik would flay him! He had lost two prisoners, both of which were prime meat for the Roboticizer. What to do?

He had no excuse - he had made a mistake. He would not make it again. Next time, they would die.

Slowly.

10

Sonic sat in the Great Forest, a fire on his left and a catatonic Tails on his right. He was running out of ideas.

Tails had obviously been drugged or tortured. He had checked his neck and found the IV scar, so he had definitely been drugged. The torture he was unsure of. Tails was just limp. He didn't react to outside stimuli, but he still breathed. He had a steady but occasionally rising heartbeat, like he was having a nightmare or something. On a whim, Sonic found himself knocking Tails' head. "Anybody home?" He murmured. His head, thankfully, made a solid Thunk noise, and was certainly not hollow. He had never seen Robotnik do something like that, but you never knew. Not with Metal Sonic, certainly.

How to wake him up? He couldn't hit him: he had already tried that. Holding his eyes open didn't matter, they were already open. He blinked with a steady rhythm, which was strange, considering everything else. Maybe he should let Dr. Quack at Knothole check him out. He was probably best qualified. Of course, he wasn't looking forward to telling Rotor about Last Wish. That would hurt.

"What the hey. I don't have anything to lose. Might as well head home."

He rolled over and went to sleep, deciding to wait for the morning to come.

He awoke with a pulse rifle on his forehead.

"How stupid do you think we are, Ro-butt?" said the blurry figure above him. He reached up to rub his eyes, but a jab to his forehead stopped that.

"I asked you a question."

"What are you talking about. I'm not a robot."

"Sonics dead, ro-butt. There's no way you're gonna pass off some half..."

A sudden blur of movement and the gun was out of his hands and pointed at his head.

"... af af af af..."

"You think a robot can move this fast? Not even Mecha Sonic can go that fast. So shut up and speak up. Who are you?"

"Ni - Ni - Nicolae."

"Pleased to see you. I have a comatose pal here who needs medical attention from Quack. Think you can tell us how to get home?"

"Uh... Follow me."

The ferret took a few steps backward, then turned and ran, knowing no matter how fast he went, Sonic would keep up. The joy he felt was only barely tempered by his shock. Sonic was alive! The revolution had a chance again! He thanked the gods for not letting him shoot what he thought was a robot.

Slowly, they moved on.

"Um, by the way..."

"Don't ask about the hair, or the scarring. Please."

Jogging behind the ferret, which he had heard of but never met, Sonic wondered if, indeed, there was any hope for the young fox in his arms.

11

"We're here."

"Thank god. Any casualties while I was gone?"

"Nope. We've been keeping clean with out you around to get us out of a hot zone. We've been forging weaponry and armor for the troops, again because we needed them without you. "

"Flattered."

And he was, though that emotion was shadowed with worry. Was he that important to the revolution? He had always thought of him self as just a heavy shock soldier, powerful but not vital. Now he realized that he had been more like the ammo for the artillery in a siege. Absolutely vital.

He looked about town for a familiar face.

"Where is everyone? The place is kinda bare."

"Funeral."

"You said there were no casualties!"

"Ever read The Adventures of Tom Sawyer'?"

A mad grin spread across Sonics face. This was going to be fun.

"...And so, as we pay our respects for the dearly departed, we must think back at the things that made him dear to us. Was it merely his value in the war? No, though that was what made him great in the eye of history. But in the eye of ourselves, here today, it was the smaller things that made him great. His kindness. His passion. His warm and caring heart. His sense of humor, always quick to lighten the soul as well as..."

"Jeez, lay it on with a trowel why don't you?!"

"... excuse me! as well as point out our own misgivings and ant-."

"OH MY LORD!"

The church as a whole looked behind them to discover the source of the fear, pistols at the ready, while the minister looked on in shock.

"Man, what a warm welcome. How you all doing? Any big news during my absence?"

Sonic stood in the arched doorway of the church

The churchgoers slowly lowered their guns. Sally Acorn, commander of the 1st Resistance Wing, moved towards Sonic with her gun drawn and pointed at his emotionless face. He was cool as a cube of ice.

"How should we know you're Sonic."

"I can tell you, he's the..."

Sally swiveled her gun towards him. "Shut up."

Pointing towards Sonic again, she repeated the question.

"I'm not sure if anything I do will convince you. You are a little paranoid."

"True." Her aim wavered a few millimeters. Only Sonic could see.

"How about the first time we met. No, there were video cameras. That won't work."

"Also true." Her aim had steadied.

"How about the time I said I would take you for a walk?"

"Yeah." Her aim was wavering again.

"And you asked why you should bother, and I showed you the Floating Island and Ice Cap in the same day?"

She was about to drop the gun.

"And the Southern Continent?"

She fell in to his arms, crying.

They stood, quietly, as she sobbed his name.

Slowly, Nicolae walked away, a sentimental smile on his face.

12

"Where were you!?!?!", shrieked Sally. She had overcome her relief and joy and was now seriously pissed.

They were sitting in the main meeting room of Knothole, a large treehouse made mainly out of plastic reinforced bamboo. It was a good place to talk, quiet and breezy.

"I was recuperating from full body third degree burns. I couldn't possibly get back!"

"Where did you get the burns?"

"Got pushed in to a iron smelting tub."

A long, butter thick moment of silence.

"And you expect us to believe you survived third degree burns, across your entire body, without medical attention."

Now Sonic looked smug. "Who said I didn't have medical attention." A moment of silence filled the room as Rotor, Sally, and Dr. Quack (from telecom) looked on.

"From who, Sonic?" said Doctor Quack. "Who in Robotropolis would give you medical attention? Robotnik certainly wouldn't, he would just throw you in the Roboticizer." His beak turned down and the feathers around his jaw ruffled. He was exasperated.

"Robotnik didn't have a thing to do with it."

"And?"

"Let's just say I slipped through the cracks of the bureaucracy."

"You better have a better excuse than that, mister!" said Sally.

"You know how Robotnik has all of his robots take biologicals to his MedSector by default so he doesn't accidentally piss off any neighboring countries?"

"...Yes."

"Meet mister biological."

"Mm hmm. And why didn't they recognize you and smear you over the wall."

"Third degree burns all over my body, babe. I don't think anyone could recognize me."

"...Well, that would explain your quills. I think you look good in short quills, actually."

He winced. "No false flattery, please. My whole body is scarred, I can't possibly look good."

"Actually, your scars form a pleasant fractal that..."

"How on Mobius did you survive a minute in a tub of molten iron anyway?" said Rotor. "I would have thought you would die the second you hit the surface, more or less."

"Actually, " said Sonic, "I'm still trying to figure that one out. All I know is, I fell in the iron, in about a minute I came out of shock, and I hauled myself out of there. After a while a robot came and brought me to the MedSector, and this spider thing put me to sleep, and then I woke up. About a minute after that I broke out, ran in to Tails, and came here. That's all I know."

"We could do some tests, or something."

He hopped up off the floor in shock. "I don't have to jump in to lava again, do I?"

"Nah. Just don't break any more priceless weaponry, okay? That thing was expensive. By the way, aren't you going to start wearing your shoes again?"

Sonic looked down at his feet, callused and hard from not wearing shoes for a week. They were pretty gross.

"Nah. They just weaken my feet. I do better without them. Plus I won't show up on radar any more. Quack, how's Tails doing?"

"He'll be fine. He had a nerve suppressor planted on him to keep him quiet. I'll have it out in a jiffy. In the mean time, I think he'd like a visit from you."

"I thought he was unconscious or something. He can hear and see?"

"And smell and taste and touch. He just can't move past reflex. Snap your fingers in front of his eye's and you'll see what I mean."

A murmur of relief from the rest of the group.

"Ciao."

"Sonic,..."

A blur.

"...wait."

13

"Sorry, no visitors."

The Knohole Medical Lab. Probably the second best staffed hospital on Mobius. Sonic used to consider it first, but that was before he had seen the Robotropolis MedSector. Now that was service.

"Look, I'm his foster parent, and I believe I have an appointment."

"You do, but it's not for forty minutes. You'll have to wait."

He sighed. Armadillos could be so obstinate.

"Look, he's my foster kid. I - need - to - see - him. This is not a maybe."

"I'm sorry, but it isn't visiting hours."

"HOLY CRAP! LOOK OVER THERE!"

"Wha...?"

Blur.

"Oh, dear. Security!"

Dr. Quack sat in front of Tails bed, counting his pulse and checking his vital signs. Everything was ready, and Tails was prepared for the surgery. He wanted to do it fast before Sonic showed up. He could imagine Sonic coming in, and the expression on his face when he saw Tails hop out of bed.

"Sorry, I'm a little early. How's Tails?"

Dang.

"Oh, he's fine. He's actually getting ready for surgery. Could you try to be a little less early next time?"

Tails, as normal, was motionless on the bed. If he was happy to see Sonic, it wasn't visible in his face. Still, for some reason you could tell.

"How's the world treatin' you? According to Quack here, you're gonna be up and running soon. What do ya say to that?"

Motionless.

"I gotta say, Tails, this is really eerie."

You could almost see a smile.

"How in the world did you get captured any way? You're way too good for that."

"I think I can answer that, Sonic."

At the sound of the new voice, Sonic whirled around to see the arriver.

"The receptionist called me in, mate, but to be honest ay cant see anything wrong with yer staying here. How the little bugger doin'?"

Knothole Chief of Security Geoffery Saint John. Hailing from the Southern Continent, he was probably the least smelly skunk in town. He was quite a guy. He and Sonic were something of rivals, but were good friends. He was the only guy in Knothole with better hair.

"Oh, he's fine. Why don't you spray him? It'd get him up in a second."

Tails actually twitched.

"What? Doc, you said he couldn't move!"

"Well, he can't, mostly, but the suppressor isn't foolproof, nor is it designed for long-term use. That's the most I've seen out him all day. Skunk musk must be nasty stuff."

Sonic grimaced, recalling the time Geoff had sprayed them, thinking they were hunter seeker robots. He had torn down three trees before he calmed and passed out.

"So how did he get caught?"

"Attacked Mecha Sonic head on. Quite pissed."

"Tails!" Sonic said. "I thought you were smarter than that! Oh well, you won't do it again."

"Any way, you two might want to leave. He's going in to surgery soon and would probably like some encouragement."

Sonic picked him up and gave him a massive squeeze, and then set him back on the bed. Tails was more then a little frazzled.

"Well ain't that sweet," said Geoffrey. "Don't squeeze im too hard, or yer might kill im. I'll see you all next mission. Try not to wreck any more vital quipment this time, kay?" He kind of glided out the door. It was just the way he moved.

Sonic turned about to Doctor Quack.

"Take good care of him."

"Oh, I will. You head on home."

14

Sonic laid on his back in his bunk at the barracks. He loved Tails like a son. He didn't know what he would do if he lost him. Tails was his one link to a world out side this damn war.

He thought back, long ago to when he had first adopted him...

"Sonic, we have to get these civilians out of here!"

"I know, I'm coming!"

He looked behind him at the long line of refugees, shivering in fear even in the bright noonday sun. What he wouldn't have done for black clouds and drenching rainfall to give them cover. But he was stuck in bright sunlight with no APC.

Blur.

At the back of the line, far down the lonely dirt road through the prairie, he encouraged the civilians to move faster down the road. They were under surveillance from Robotnik, they had to keep moving, keep him guessing where they were. He didn't want to lose any more civilians than necessary. Damn it, he didn't want to lose any. There were children here!

But what was done is done. They were out of Robotropolis, they had to keep going. Or else...

Crap. Mecha Sonic was coming.

"RUN! GO GO GO GO!"

He hustled the confused refugees faster, but still too dang slow. He would have to delay Mecha Sonic. He could only hope he wouldn't die.

Blur.

Screeching to a stop under Mecha Sonic, he looked up and could only hope that he would stop to attack him. Mecha attacked, but he didn't stop. Moving in a spiral around Sonic, he peppered the air around him with laser fire, melting the dust to a brownish, dirty glass. He said nothing, only increasing the intensity of the attack.

Sonic was fighting a losing battle.

Mecha Sonic knew it. However, he didn't want Sonic. He wanted the refugees. He thrusted away and strafed the civilians as they futily searched for cover on the dirt road.

Sonic watched in horror as a family of foxes was cut down like so much butter. They were running, a scream, and they fell, a hole burned through their bodies. Then a young rabbit, then a duck, and then a human.

No more.

He jumped at Mecha Sonic, pushing every pound of force he had at the ground, shoving himself forward like a missile. He hit Mecha at Mach 2, knocking him to the ground.

Pinning the struggling Mecha to the dirt, he turned and screamed at the civilians to run. They did.

Suddenly activating his thrusters and pushing off the ground, Mecha shoved Sonic off him, and began to circle him like a vulture over a corpse.

What happened next was far too fast to see with the naked eye. Spinning about and slashing with his blade where Sonics' neck used to be, he found a fist rocketing up in to his intake turbine. Before he could activate it and shred Sonics hand, he pulled it away and moved in to a combat stance to prepare for the next onslaught. A dance-like movement followed; jab and feint, punch and duck, slash and thrust, fire and dodge. Mecha began to lose patience in this foolish game; neither could hurt the other, and they both knew it. Sonic could dodge anything Mecha threw at him, and nothing Sonic could throw would hurt Mecha. He saw the punch come; in a single fluid motion he grabbed it and Sonic found himself pinned underneath him, face to face.

Mecha fired up his engine in reverse, covering Sonic in the blazing hot exhaust and toxic gas.

Sonic shrieked in agony, blinded by the pain and gas. A flash of inspiration took him and he grabbed the robots' left hand-laser. He pulled hard and ripped it from its socket. He shoved it in to the engine, grinding it apart and ruining the turbine.

Mecha was stunned. He stood up and staggered back, dazed and wounded. Sonic was strong, but he shouldn't be that strong! It was impossible for an organism to be that strong... He didn't get far with this line of thought before something resembling jackhammers pounded in to his torso rapidly, denting the metal and damaging the circuitry. They were Sonics fists and feet. Astounding. To avoid Operating System damage, he quickly leaped backward and began to consider a new plan of attack.

He decided to run away. He couldn't beat Sonic. Changes would have to be made.

Sonic sat, gasping. He had fought off Mecha Sonic, but next time it would be harder. Robotnik never let an opportunity for an upgrade be unused, and that hand was over a year out of date. He would probably rip the other off too.

He looked to where the civilians had been. All but one were heading for Knothole or dead. A fox.

Oh no. Not that...

He got up, slowly. He checked for burns, but there were none. Odd. It wasn't a priority right now anyway. Save the civilians. Damn it, how many had died because of his incompetence?

He got up and walked over to the fox, which was sobbing over the bodies of his parents. It had two tails.

15

That was six years ago. He had raised Tails as his own since then, with kindness, love, and more than a little combat training. Tails was the only person to ever best him in one on one combat. He was like a whirlwind that had gone through a window factory. Harder still to believe he jumped right in to Mechas'' arms. Must have been duped pretty badly.

He rolled over and hopped out of bed. He was not having a good day.

Tails floated in and out of consciousness during the operation. He didn't make much sense of it, but it stung badly. The thing that Mecha Sonic had implanted after the drug torture was finally coming out. Blasted thing.

He considered moving, but he fell asleep again.

Hours later, he woke up. It was dark out side, and he could hear crickets chirping outside his window. He really needed a good grooming.

Struggling to get up with his under used and stiff limbs, he finally sat up with a groan. He wanted a leg of meat, with gravy. Badly. God, he was so hungry. When did he last eat? Three days ago? He didn't have an IV, so...

He hopped out of bed, and was surprised to feel himself crumple to the floor. He was weaker than he thought. How to get food? Maybe there was a call button somewhere. Probably on the other side of the bed. Gotta stop jumping off things.

He hauled himself back up to the bed, groaning with the effort. With a nasty wet slap noise, he pulled his tails apart, sticky with sweat. Too many blankets. Nurse must be a human. They had an annoying tendency to anthromorphize other species. Never mind, she meant well.

Ah, the call button. He pressed it and collapsed on the bed, exhausted. He waited impatiently for the nurse to arrive. He thought of his time in Robotropolis.

He had just been informed of Sonics' absence and went out to look for him without permission, or back up. Dumb. He had gone in with out communication equipment also. Really dumb. Then he had been fooled with a simple hologram of Sonic and had leapt straight in to a trap. Mind bogglingly idiotic. He wouldn't mess up again, at least not that badly.

The nurse came in, carrying a tray of what had to be food. Human. They were such an odd species, but they were usually quite friendly. Nice folks.

"Well, someone's been up and about. What in the world were you doing, getting out of bed so soon."

"I was hungry. I needed to eat. Still do." He sat up. "Any food around here?"

"Sure, kiddo, what would you like?"

"Meat. A lot. With gravy."

"How about with out gravy?" She lifted the tray, revealing a large amount of dead mice. Delicious.

"Gimme." He took the tray and squatted with his legs crossed and it in his lap. "You might want to leave. I hear humans get nauseous when they watch predators eat." He dug in.

"Uch. You don't have to tell me twice." She left, a little disgusted. Mobians were primitive when it came to food. Almost never cooked it, and they were mostly hunter-gatherers, with some meat and grain farms. Nice people, though.

Tails chewed on the mice, spitting the bones out before swallowing. They weren't bad. Probably fresh.

Wonder where Sonic was...

16

Sonic walked in to the hospital, dreading the armadillo. He would get such a chewing out...

Oh, cool, a replacement. Joy. Rapture.

Human. Ugh.

"Hi, I have an appointment with Dr. Quack. Do you think we could cut the red tape quickly? I'm in a bit of a hurry."

She smiled. "I under stand. Just fill out this form and don't ignite the paper."

Cool. Blur.

"There ya go."

"Wow. Don't break the sound barrier in here, okay? We have patients who need quiet."

"Chill."

Silently he blurred off to the right and vanished.

"Dr., I believe you wanted to talk to me."

"Oh, yes. Sit down."

Sonic sat down in the office. It was a pretty nice one, and the chair wasn't half-bad either. It even had an operating room next door for emergencies.

"Care for a snack?"

"Sure."

Quack pulled out a large bowl filled with small wiggling things. Sweet! He hadn't had slugs in ages. They went great with chili, by hedgehog standards.

"Thanks."

"Don't mention it. Now, about Tails..."

"Yes?"

"... I think you might want an update on his condition."

Oh god. "You didn't screw up the surgery, did you?"

"No, no. He's fine. It's just that..."

"... He thought you might want to see me for your self."

Sonic whirled around. "Tails!" He leapt up.

"Chill, I'm fine. Big hug!" He squeezed Sonic, reassuring him. He probably needed it.

"Oh, Tails. I was so worried."

"Oh, don't worry. It was fine. Even the food was good."

Sonic looked over his shoulder at Quack as he reclined in his chair. "And how many people did you bribe to make that happen? Last time I was in here, some one had salted my slugs! Urghh."

He shrugged. "We got a new cook. She's pretty good. Even her watercress salad comes out right. I had some bad experiences with the last cook, too." He shuddered, remembering the crusty brown cubes in the leaves.

"Well, any way, I wanted to tell you I'm discharging tails form the hospital. He doesn't need anything from us anymore. But Tails..."

"Yes?"

"Don't push your self too hard, initially. You haven't done more than twitch for the past three days. You'll be stiff as a Robian."

"Gotcha. I'll just stretch for a few days before I get back in to training."

"And Sonic?"

"Yeah?"

"Don't encourage him."

"Quack, he's my kid. He won't," he glared witheringly at Tails, " be doing any major exercises for a while." Tails looked more than a little let down. "Bye Doc." He turned to leave, taking the sixteen year old Tails with him.

17

"Mecha..."

"You called, lord?"

If robots could sweat, Mecha would be drenched right now; he had made a mistake, and Robotnik never let a mistake go unpunished. No punishment was too large for the mistake made, but Mecha had quite royally screwed up. The punishment would hurt horribly. Or worse.

"You've disappointed me, Mecha."

"I know, lord. I made a mistake, and I won't make it again."

"But I think you will."

"I see..." No...

"Your efficiency has dropped significantly over late."

"Truly? I was not aware of that trend."

"I've been looking. Your efficiency has dropped steadily ever since you were built. I believe there may be an... unusual reason for it."

"...Well?"

"You're gaining higher levels of sentience."

Confusion. "That should cause greater efficiency, shouldn't it?"

"No. You begin to second guess yourself, think with reason instead of logic. In an organism, that's good. In you..."

His eyes narrowed dangerously.

"...That's bad."

"... I see."

"You need something to shake you up a bit, Mecha."

"All right. What is it?"

"This."

He pressed a button on his command chair, and a high pitched binary squeal filled the air. Mecha Sonic reeled in agony at the foreign code. He was changing.

"The patch is done. Arise."

He did.

"Your weapons have been deactivated."

What? But that didn't make any sense.

"Prepare for your gauntlet, Mecha."

He pressed a button, and a trap door opened beneath Mecha, dropping him in to the gauntlet.

He crouched on the floor, wary for movement. Nothing.

Scanners activated. Scanning for threats...

Null.

Location Prerogative. Locate self. Location$ = Gauntlet

Crap. The qualifier.

He had seen other robots go in here, and die horrible, quick deaths. It was part battle arena, part puzzle. He had to get out alive to regain the privilege of serving Robotnik.

Pshh. ThreatValue = .021. He was in no danger.

But his weapons had been deactivated, and he had only one non-energy weapon; ThreatValue = .32.

For SetGoal = 1 to X

Let X = Threat Value

Goals$ = (Gain more weapons, explore area.)

Next SetGoal.

What was the room he was in? Octagonal, twenty feet across, low ceiling... Good, the weaponry room. He had helped design this place, and he knew a lot about it. Weapons would appear on the walls if he pressed a certain button; he had to picked the one most appropriate for the situation, or he would be destroyed. Where's the button?

Let's see; three buttons on the wall. One blue, one green, and one red.

Red. Blood. Death. That one. He pressed it.

A series of slots opened on the walls, and a large variety of lethal weaponry shot out of them. Swords, scythes, knives, guns, all sorts.

Hmm, combat claws. A foot long each claw, razor sharp, titanium alloy. Useless. Only one hand had fingers and the other had a plasma cannon. Unless...

He tore the plasma cannon from its' housing, wincing at the error messages that resulted. He examined the claws more closely; a mechanical hand. Yes. He picked it up...

Nothing happened.

Holding the claws to his shattered stump, he waited for his auto repair system to kick in. Suddenly a series of manipulators popped out and precisely attached the extremity; slowly, sensory data began to move in from it. The strength was incredible! No creature could stand against him with these! He had passed the first test. Now for the next...

18

"What the hell were you thinking?!? That I would just stand in the middle of Robotropolis, MOTIONLESS, waiting for some robot to come and pick me off? Huh? Is THAT what you thought?!?"

Sonic was angry.

"LOOK, I KNOW IT WAS STUPID!! I'M NOT GOING TO DO IT AGAIN!! OKAY?"

So was Tails. They were having something of a spat between older and younger brother. They were in their house, a small wooden structure with little more than the vital necessities.

"Damn it, that's not good enough! I want you to promise!"

"I PROMISE I WON"T DO IT AGAIN, OKAY?"

"Look me in the eyes and say that."

"I PROMISE I WON"T DO IT AGAIN!"

"Do what?"

"Go after you in to Robotropolis with out back up, Comm equipment, or my head screwed on the wrong way."

Sonic grinned. "Well, the last may be to much to hope for but..." his comment faded under Tails' glare.

"Look, I admit what I did was dumb, and I won't do it again. You willing to forgive and forget?"

"Forgive? Sure, I'll forgive any thing you don't do maliciously. Forget? No way! Any time you screw up for the remainder of your life, I'm going to remind you about this."

The horror Tails felt was palpable. "You're serious, aren't you?"

"Yup."

"Oh, lord."

"On the plus side, I now know I need to tweak your training a bit."

"Oh no. No training, doctors orders."

"No, this isn't that kind of training. It's worse."

Tails looked up at Sonic. His face was blank, as it often was when he was serious about something.

"Er... what?"

Sonic held out a pencil.

"Dear god... not a written test!!"

"A written test."

"Aw, please! I'll do anything else! I'll bench press hundred pounders with one hand, I'll let you stalk me in the forest, you can even have Saint John spray me but I AM NOT DOING A WRITTEN TEST, NO WAY, NO HOW."

Glare.

"Please, Sonic..."

Glare.

"Cramp..."

Glare.

Tails sighed and buried his face in his hands. "I'll do the written test," he murmured.

"Good."

19

Mecha examined the device closely, hoping to find some clue as to its activation. He did not.

He had been in the labyrinth for three hours, slaying all challenges and solving all puzzles. This last one, however, had him stumped.

It was a featureless black cube, about half a meter on a side. On each face it had a button. Each button was identical - Grey, round, inch across. One button would get him out of the labyrinth - the others would trigger traps.

But which was which? He couldn't tell. Even with his electron microscope they were identical to the eye. He had to press one of them. But which?

Robotnik sat in the control console, observing Mecha. Which button would he press? Many lesser robots had tried and failed at this test, but would Mecha get it right?

He needed to examine more closely. What did he know about it so far? It was a cube, center of gravity in the center, electronic...

Electronic.

What was he doing now?

Slowly, Mecha cut through the surface of the cube with his claws, and examined the hardware therein. More disassembly was needed. He quickly disassembled the device and noted the circuit structure. Which button activated...

Ah.

He reassembled the device and pressed the button, and a large door sprung open in front of him. He passed through, and found himself...

In another room.

Had he been an emotional biological, a scream of rage would have passed his lips. As it was, he merely examined his new surroundings.

A cylindrical room, six meters across, steel, and the roof had lines radially expanding from its' center. So he had found the exit. He set his feet and jumped for the roof.

He hit it enormously hard, and it popped open like it was made to, for it was. He was back in the twisted wire-filled mess of the command room, and there...

Was Robotnik. Good. He had escaped the maze and proved his efficiency. He would continue to function.

"Greetings, Mecha."

"Greetings, Lord."

A long, slow silence prevailed as Mecha considered what to say next. Should he express confidence? Relief? What emotion should he express among the thousand that there were, none of which he knew? Robot to human communication between nonhostiles was a difficult equation. Microsecond, millisecond, decisecond...

"I am pleased to have the opportunity to serve you again."

"Good."

Microsecond, millisecond...

"What is my next assignment, Lord?"

"It's very simple..."

20

Catch and fly, fly and catch. Snag and swing, swing and snag. Back and forth it went as Sonic went through the variable height bars, round and round, speeding up with every repetition. Sometimes he would use his hands, sometimes he would catch it with his feet, and sometimes he would catch it in his legs or elbows. With his reflexes and speed, it didn't much matter.

Sonic was a Superorganism; one of three on the planet Mobius. Before the Grand Reform of Robotropolis, a government genetic engineering program code named WADNT, pronounced "Wouldn't" because it was the only thing people could say, was put in to effect, taking the best and brightest of Mobius and mixing their DNA. Their offspring selected for one of three roles: breeder, civilian, and organ bank, for those children stuck with parents of incompatible species. In six generations of In Vitro fertilization and retroviral treatments, the Superorganisms were made.

WADNT stood for Where Angels Dare Not Tread.

They were all blessed with strength, speed, intelligence, reflexes, honor, glory, and all other things that befit both warrior and civilian. Sonic was the only one currently known. There had been ten when the Reform came; seven were killed, two lost, and only Sonic was known. Sonics' parents were still alive, although he hadn't seen them since he went to war. While not as impressive as he, they were still among the best his species had to offer. His mother, Bernie, was a genius, artistically, emotionally, intellectually, and maternally. She was the nicest person you could care to know. Very fit, too. His father, Jules, was similar, but almost a mirror image of his mother. Physically, he was very impressive, even to his peers. He could bench over a half-ton, run a mile in a minute, and jump a thirty-foot jump, though not without effort. He was also a wonderful person, and was very bright in all intellectual pursuits. Extraordinarily smart and very fit; Extraordinarily fit and very smart. Their DNA, when spliced, created the first true superorganism, light-years beyond them in all aspects. Sonic was astoundingly powerful. He could break the sound barrier easily. He could crush steel alloys between his hands. His mind... no one knew how his mind worked exactly. Sonic actually appeared less intelligent than his mother Bernie did. But when you really sat down and talked with him about something intellectual, he seemed to shift gears in to genius mode. He had often enjoyed the reactions of people to his intelligence, and he had a few patents himself - nothing major though, just some circuit designs and a solar generator. It generated almost a gigawatt a day.

He landed on the bamboo floor with a crunch, as he crushed it beneath his feet. Nice warm up, but he needed more than this. Time for his personal bars.

He stood at the top of the canopy of the Great Forest, looking down upon the void below him. A metallic glimmer, far below, was the only sign of the variable bar. To the east another glimmer, and another to the west. In all directions, over hundred different variable bars, all reinforced to withstand massive impact.

Not only that, but they were all moving.

The branch he was on bent slightly under his weight, then sprang back up as the weight was removed.

Sonic fell, for a long time. The wind whistled in his ears as he sped towards the variable bar...

Speed up...

The world flowed around him like jelly through a strain. Slowly, oh so slowly, he reached out and caught the bar that was moving past. He swung.

Slow down...

He flew east, towards the glimmer, through the path in the treetops he trimmed once a week. Once again, he sped up, caught the bar, and swung left, slowed down.

Catch and fly, fly and catch. Snag and swing, swing and snag...

21

Bunnie DeNesh ran through the forest, shouting Sonics' name. She was from the marshlands of the Great Forest, and was a victim of the worst weapon in Robotniks' arsenal; The Roboticizer.

It was a horror to behold. First, the victim was placed inside a harness within the devices' core and sedated. Then, they were cybernetically enhanced by an automated surgery system, and within three minutes half their body mass was machinery; But there was price.

Their soul.

Trapped within an electronic shell, the brain of the creature was enslaved by a series of electronic nanoprobes that attached to the neurons. The probes served two purposes: activating and suppressing synaptic impulses. As a result, the creature was reduced to no more than an robot; mind and body enslaved. It was not a pretty sight.

Bunnie, however, had been lucky. Three years ago, she had been captured by Robotniks' robots for the crime of public violence and taken to the Roboticizer to be... rehabilitated. She had slapped a man.

Halfway through the process, Sonic had saved her, and she was very loyal to him as a result. Her left arm, both legs, and half of her torso had been enhanced. Her mind however, was free, and she was one of the rebellions greatest soldiers. She had started a group of brave souls who had been willing to go through cybernetic augmentation to aid the rebellion; the 1st Cybernetic Platoon of the Mobian Species Coalition. And she was the Commander.

"Sonic!"

Something exploded in front of her, kicking up dust, like a meteor hitting the ground.

"What?"

It was just Sonic jumping from his variable bars. She brushed the dust from her ears.

"Sonic, you quit doin' that, you heah me? Land at least three meters away," she said, gesturing a few meters ahead of where sonic landed.

"Well, excu-u-use me!" said Sonic. "What do you need anyway? I thought I had this place reserved."

"Rotor wants to tahk to you about the smelting incident, whatevah that is."

His forehead furrowed. "Did he say why?"

"Nope. Just told me to go get you."

He sighed. "Got it. Plug your ears." He braced him self to accelerate as Bunnie hurriedly folded her ears down over her head in attempt to block out the noise. A sonic boom ripped the air as he vanished from sight.

22

Rotor sat at his desk in his thoroughly air conditioned office, digging at a clam with his tusks. He adjusted his cap as he examined the equations on the desk.

BOOM.

"Hi Sonic. Ahead of schedule as usual."

"Hey, if I'm not, call the morgue. What is it you needed to ask?"

"I did some work on the incident with the smelter, and I found out something that I think you'll like to hear."

"If it's that I'm fast, powerful, elegant, and durable, I already know."

Rotor whirled around in his chair and fired his pistol at Sonics' head.

Sonic hung in the air, like a puppet who strings had just been cut.

"OW-OW-AY-AYayayayay! What the hell was that for?!?" said Sonic. He grabbed at the bruised and bleeding forehead.

Rotor blew on the barrel of his magnum, making a noise similar to that when you blow over the top of an empty bottle. "Just a test."

Sonic picked him up and slammed him against the wall of the hut, bending the bamboo - a light thump by Sonics' standards, but more than hard enough to hurt.

"Test of what?" His eyes were starting to get intense again...

Rotor cringed beneath the glare, but he swallowed and continued.

"Simple. I fired a gun at your head. It hit. You didn't die. Tell me that isn't something new and wild!" He was obviously very excited.

"And to check that, you tried to kill me..." He was getting angrier.

"Well, yeah, basically."

Sonic slammed him against the wall again.

"Don't ever do it again or I'll cripple you for life. Got it?"

Cringe. "Yes."

"Good." He dropped him.

Sonic contemplated this development. He was far more powerful than he had previously thought.

"So, Sonic..."

"Quiet. I'm thinking."

He had taken a bullet to the head. No, too wide a range. He needed more precise data.

"Give me your gun."

"But Sonic.."

"Right now, please. Science is at stake."

Rotor handed the gun to Sonic, who promptly fired.

The walrus recoiled, but found himself unharmed. Sonic had not aimed for him.

Sonic held the bullet in his hand. It had been moving Mach 1.13269 when he caught it. What was its' mass? He needed to know how hard it had hit him.

"Rotor, do you have a triple beam balance? I need to know the mass of these bullets."

Rotor pulled himself up, and brushed himself off. "If you need to know how hard it hit you, it hit you with about 300 pounds of force. If it had been moving 20 miles per hour faster, you probably would have died."

"Joy. So what does this mean, that I'm invulnerable?"

"Not quite, but it does give us a few other options. Do you know how hard your bones are?"

"How?"

"A little harder than titanium at a fraction of the weight. Anyway, there's a reason I wanted to try this."

"Which is?"

"I think we can clone your bones."

Silence. This was probably Rotors' silliest idea yet. Better respond. Over a millisecond's passed already.

"Why?"

"Armor. Cheap, strong, light weight armor. For you, or any soldier who could wear the stuff without falling over."

Sonic rubbed his head. "Great."

"I'd like to do a few other tests..."

23

Sonic lay on his belly on the operating table, wondering what the hell he was thinking when he agreed to this.

He ran through the procedure in his head. Dr. Quack would extract three grams of fat from his upper thigh; Then, using a drill, he would remove approximately four grams of bone matter from his pelvic girdle; And then a square centimeter of skin would be removed from the same place where they got the fat. After that, he would be sewn up and revived.

Madness.

Dr. Quack walked in through the door, his long, delicate, bony hands freshly scrubbed. "I hope you're ready for the surgery, Sonic?"

"Remind me. Why am I doing this?"

"Three reasons. First of all, we need a sample of your bone matter to clone armor from. Secondly, Rotor thinks your fat may have explosive properties. Third, he wants to test the properties of your skin. According to him, it should shed heat better than Space Shuttle tiles."

"Got it. Knock me out, Doc..."

"So how do you feel?"

"Like I've been hip deep in driver ants for an hour."

Sonic had just come through the surgery; a minor one, by Mobian standards, but messy none the less. His hip and his leg hurt like anything.

"How did you do on the test?"

"Pretty well, but I'll have to study for the next one."

Sonic and Tails relaxed in Sonics' private hospital room, along with Nicolae, who came for sympathetic reasons. It was a pretty good one, but Sonic still preferred the medical systems at Robotropolis.

Sonic sat up in bed. "Nicolae, just why did you come here any way? We hardly parted on friendly terms. Fact, I was considering stalking you for a while to see if you would attack me. Nothing personal," he added.

"Chill. From what I've heard, all superorganisms act like that."

"Yes, we're somewhat paranoid. Think so fast we feel somewhat obliged to make sure of everything. Actually Tails," he sheepishly admitted," I've stalked you more than your fair share since you got back."

This was no shock to Tails; he knew Sonic better than anybody, and he would stalk any one who had been captured, in case they had been reprogrammed by Robotnik. It had happened once or twice. "No biggie. I already saw you."

"Hey, what data did Rotor get? I don't want to have gone through that for nothing."

"Well, last time I saw him, he was throwing a party. So he's probably pretty happy," Nicolae said.

"Good."

The door burst open, with a very happy walrus behind it. He looked like he was about to burst, and he had confetti stuck in his whiskers.

"Sonic! Good to see you. You won't believe the data I got! It's incredible, it's stupendous, it's awesome, it's..."

"Shut up Rotor. Was the hypothesis confirmed?"

Rotor was hopping around in circles now, with his layers of lubber moving back and forth hypnotically. "And how! Do you have any idea how much heat your skin can shed?"

"About three hundred degrees Celsius per second."

"No! It's..." He paused. "How did you know?"

Eye roll. Rotor was a little flustered, but no less enthusiastic. "Bet you can't guess how explosive your fat is!"

"No, I can't. Never seen the stuff. How much."

"Four and a half TNT's! Three kilograms could level a city block!!"

"Big deal."

Rotor was stunned. One-upping was OK, but that was unacceptable! "What do you mean, big deal?!?"

"Where in hell, or should I say in me, are you going to get three kilograms of fat... Wait a second, I'm a walking bomb, aren't I?"

Rotor grinned ear to ear. Sonic hadn't asked him a question since third grade.

"No, that's the wild bit. It won't explode unless you strap a detonator cap to it! Your fat is the coolest stuff I've ever gotten my hands on. And your bones!"

"What about them? I know I drink my milk, so they ought to be pretty hard." Tails chortled at the joke.

"Hard, heck! I could NOT break the sample."

"So hit it harder."

"I hit that thing with an axe, no damage! Astounding! Didn't even crack, incredible, wild, stupendous..."

"Then how did you get it out?"

"Laser saw."

"Will you ever stop pointing guns at me, Rotor?"

Meanwhile, Tails and Nicolae were quietly being ill.

"Er, Rotor," said Nicolae, "Let's can the viscera for a bit, shall we? I don't think you've met me. I was the guy in the church with Sonic, remember?"

"Oh yeah," said Rotor as he turned around, "I remember you. Quite an entrance you guys made. What's your platoon?"

"Red Strikers Infantry. Yours'?"

Red Strikers. The elite strike force of the Rebellion.

"R&D. Never seen field combat."

"But he has good aim with a pistol," said Sonic, rubbing his forehead.

24

"So how did you do on the test?"

"Er..."

"Tails..."

Acorn Boulevard, Knothole's Main Street. Center of commerce, entertainment, and restaurants. Sonic always ate at one place. The food wasn't that good, and the service wasn't that good, but it had one feature that made it irresistible to him: Food by the pound, cheap.

Steve's All You Can Eat Chow Bar.

"Tails," Sonic said, downing his sixth chili dog, and going over Tails results, "If you don't even know how to stop a SwatBot, how in the dickens did you expect to be able to rescue me? I mean, Robotropolis is crawling with stuff much nastier. You've got to be prepared."

"I know..."

"So you're retaking the test."

"What?!?"

"Tails, you're going to take all the tests until you can ace all of them, whether or not you're healed. You need to know this stuff, you're a soldier. It's your job. And right now," he said, slapping the papers down on the table, "I wouldn't hire you as a mercenary for more than minimum wage."

"Oh, come on, that's cruel!"

"No it's not." He downed his eighth dog, heavy with slugs. "It's accurate. I'm never cruel."

Tails sighed. It was true. "Why do we always go here for lunch, and every other meal for that matter? It sucks."

"Yeah," Sonic said, garbling it through his eleventh chili dog, "But it's the only place I can afford. Superorganisms need a lot of food. All that diamond hard bone, you know, along with the super high energy state fat, and the skull that can deflect bullets..."

"You can't deflect bullets."

"Sure I can. I either catch em, or they bounce off."

"Yeah. Right."

"Sonic!" Princess Sally.

Sonic perked up his ears and quickly scanned the crowd for her location. There she was, and she wasn't carrying thirty pounds of clothes for once. Rare occurrence in this part of town.

"Hey Sal, come on over!"

The princess shimmied through the crowd and pulled a chair from a nearby table, sitting next to Sonic.

"So, Sonic, how did the surgery go?"

"Oh, it was all-good, babe. What have you been up to?"

"Contacting Knuckles."

Sonic gave a start, shocked at the mention of Knuckles name. He hadn't seen Knuckles since the incident on the Island before the Reform...

"Why, Aunt Sally? I thought he had become a hermit or something. He hasn't come down since just a couple years after the reform, hasn't he?"

"Pretty much, Tails, although according to him he came down once or twice on other business. The Floating Island gets attacked more often than you'd think."

"Sally," Sonic said, "You still haven't answered the question."

"First of all, I have to admit a few things. I've been keeping him on constant notice of our state in the war. He said if it ever looked like Robotnik was really going to win, like for good, he would intervene, and not until then."

"Well, I can understand that; he's one of our most powerful allies."

"Anyway, I sent him Rotor's data on you..."

"And..."

"He wants you to come up to the Floating Island."

Sonic raised one eyebrow. "Why?"

"Didn't say."

"Hmm." Sonic considered the matter for about a second. "Sally, I've never been one to dither. Here, take these tests, yell at Tails for me, okay?"

"Hey!" Tails said.

"Sonic, where are you going?"

Sonic simply jumped to the Airport, in one leap. The cracks in the sidewalk were considerable.

"I hate it when he does that, Aunt Sally."

"Can't blame you. It's a little annoying in a parent... Tails, these scores are atrocious!"

"Oh, come on Aunt Sally..."

25

"I need to borrow my airship."

"Do you have a ticket?"

"I'm not coming to ask for it, I'm taking it back. Just thought you should know."

Sonic stood in the lobby of the air port, trying to sensibly notify the authorities of his upcoming theft.

"You can't do that."

"Yes I can. I just keep it here for storage."

"We re-poss-esed it. You can't have it..."

Blur.

"...back."

Silence.

"I hate him."

Sonic flew towards the floating island inside his jet, considering the possibilities of why Knuckles would have summoned him to the Floating Island. Was it under attack? Nah, Knuckles could handle that. Knuckles wanted to to do some tests of his own? Maybe. Knowing Knux, it was probably something much weirder.

There it was. The Floating Island. The greatest miracle of Echidna technology ever seen. A continent in the sky.

Only a select few knew what held it up. A massive chaos emerald, deep within it's depths, fueling massive anti gravity reactors, keeping the island from falling deep in to ocean, shattering its surface and the surface of the planet. It was seven miles across.

Miraculous.

He landed on the surface of the island, a good thirty feet from the edge. Opening the hatch of the vehicle, he climbed out on to the roof an observed the beauty around him.

Rain forest, far as the eye could see. Far off in the horizon, he saw the savanna and Mount Rayan. It was untouched greenery, a creation produced by the perfect melding of nature and technology.

At least, it should have been.

But where was Knuckles? He couldn't see him.

He waited. Knuckles would show. He always did.

"Hello, Sonic."

Knuckles the Echidna, Guardian of the Floating Island, stood above Sonic as he slept. He was a tall, bright red creature, with large, digging claws on his hands. Big nose, too.

Sonic awoke.

"Hi, Knuckles. I got your message."

"I noticed. Come, we need to talk."

"Got any food?"

"Hope you like protein slurry with bread. That's all I'm going to give some one who eats as much as you do."

"Aw."

They walked a long period of time without talking.

"Where are we going?"

"Control Center."

"Where?"

"Last home of high technology on the Floating Island. I use it for surveillance, experimentation, and training."

"What could you possibly train against? You're just so powerful!"

"Well, that's part of why I asked you to come..."

26

"So the deal is this:"

"You will engage in single combat with me," Knuckles said. "In return, I will give you some thing very powerful, to be revealed later."

"You want to fight me just to you can train?"

"Yes. I am the Guardian of this whole island, and have to effectively replace an entire military force. Right now, you're the only thing that can begin to challenge me."

They were walking down a corridor inside a deep crystalline cavern, quartz compounds spurting from every wall, and occasionally from the steel plated floor. Time and chemicals did amazing things.

"Knuckles, I have to ask you something."

"Ask."

"What on earth do you guard here?" Sonic said.

"Something very powerful."

"Could you be a little... ahhhh. You're going to give it to me?"

"One of them. Any more would be overkill."

They stood in front of a featureless black wall, rising straight up from where they stood. It was at least ten meters tall.

"Knuckles," Sonic said. "Knowing you there's some secret passage in here. Would you tell me where, so we can go on?"

Knuckles stood still.

"Knux..."

"Quiet. This is very difficult."

Sonic raised an eye brow, wondering what the problem was. Knuckles didn't appear to be doing any thing, but he was humming and moving his lips like he was chanting. Magic? Some weird teleportation thing? He never knew with him.

"Hummmmmmmmmmmmm......"

What was he up to?"

"HUMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMM...."

"HAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA...."

"YAAH!"

The crystals glowed with an unearthly light, pulsing with power. Sonic drew back in horror as Knuckles was seemingly electrocuted by arcs of light shooting from the gems. But he was unharmed, and he too began to glow - first at the eyes, steaming like cauldrons of iron, and then his mouth, and then his skin, glowing a bright blue.

He exploded.

Not literally, but power shot from him at every orifice, wrapping around him like a cloud of dust from a dead star. Steam, or something very much like it, blew out his tear ducts as an animal-like cry of pain escaped him.

Sonic clung to the wall, trembling in fear. When Knuckles power got out of control, shit happened.

Knuckles hovered in the air, trembling in effort; and slowly, the black sheen raised with a thunderous rumble to reveal a small wooden door behind it.

"Ooooopeeeennnn iiiiiiit. Quuuiiicklyyyyyy."

Sonic didn't listen to many people, but Knuckles was one of them. He moved quickly to the door and opened it, shivering at the rush of cold, sterile air that came through. He rushed through, and Knuckles followed behind him, glowing like a nebula.

27

Knuckles deenergized and dropped to the floor, wiping the sweat from his head. He was a little wiped, but nothing out of the ordinary.

"It's going to be a doozy fighting you." Sonic held out his hand for Knuckles to grab. Knuckles didn't take it, deciding at this point he ought to start intimidating Sonic. He would need everything he had to beat him. Most likely he would lose, but Sonic didn't need to know that yet.

Sonic looked about the featureless steel hall they were standing in. Humming fluorescent lights hung from the ceiling, and the feeble whir of an air conditioner signified climate control. Not high high tech, but reasonably advanced. Another wooden, or plastic, door waited at the end of the hallway with a simple door knob opening mechanism..

"Knuckles, are you all right?"

"Fine. Just give me a sec." He grunted and stretched, then quickly got up and strode down the hallway, opening the door. Sonic followed.

He followed Knuckles down a series of passageways, with doorways to everything from a simple surveillance center (with a large television) to an Annual Mobius games size swimming pool. Sonic was astounded.

"Knuckles, how on Mobius did you build this place?"

"I didn't. It's been around for ages. I just inherited the thing."

"Well, clue me in. I haven't been on the Floating Island since the first time Robotnik showed up."

"After the fight."

They got to a massive steel door.

Sonic was having second thoughts about this. Fight Knuckles? That was insane! Knuckles could tear him apart like wet tissue paper.

"Having second thoughts, Sonic?"

"No."

Standing in the massive steel room, more like a ball room than anything else, Sonic considered how in the heck he was going to survive this. It was just a featureless steel box. Not much of an arena, but this was a more practical fight.

Knuckles began to draw in energy as Sonic considered his next move. Straight on assault before he got to full power? No, it was already too late for that, Knuckles could at least hold him off now. He was starting to glow. Fast, unpredictable movements until he could move in and attack? No, Knuckles could just blast the whole room. Dodge and weave, occasionally coming in with a hook? Yeah, that would be pretty effective.

Knuckles exploded again.

Sonic ran, whirling across the floors, ceiling, and walls as energy slagged the steel where he was just instants earlier. Bouncing from wall to wall like a child's rubber ball launched out of a cannon, he quickly moved in and struck, like a bullet hitting its target. Knuckles staggered back, and before he could continue the attack, Sonic moved in with a flurry of jabs and punches.

It was futile. In a massive shockwave, Knuckles sent Sonic smashing back in to the walls. Sonic continued to fly about the room, and this continued for a while.

Sonic considered how durable he was supposed to be. Maybe an alternative strategy would be better...

He moved in again and hit Knuckles in the gut as hard as he could, following with a hook to the jaw and a jab to the throat. Same thing happened as last time. Realizing he couldn't hurt Knuckles, Sonic switched to playing defensive.

A blast of blue lightning crushed Sonic against the wall.

No.

Sonic, much to his surprise, began to absorb the energy in much the same way Knuckles did. The power - it was incredible! His body felt like... like... he had no idea. Like a coffee buzz mixed with the feeling you get when you eat really good chocolate. He staggered towards Knuckles, who had stopped attacking to consider what to do next. He was hungry for more power. He had to have more!

Astounded, Knuckles hovered in to the air, out of the feral Sonics reach. But not for long. Sonic jumped at the fleeing echidna, and began to suck him dry, drawing the energy from him like a leech from a vein. He had to have more power!

Knuckles considered his predicament. He was being held against the wall with a raging Sonic absorbing chaos energy and going through transition sickness. Best thing to do would be to just stop absorbing energy and wait for Sonic to burn himself out.

Sonic drew energy until Knuckles was just another organism, and Sonic felt himself burning with unnatural flame. God, the power. It hurt, but it was a good hurt; like when you were exhausted after a race. It hurt... a lot. Something was wrong. He was burning. He couldn't breath. He... he...

Sonic collapsed against the floor, burning with chaos energy, writhing blindly in pain.

Knuckles picked himself up, brushed himself off, and drew the energy from Sonic. He could be taught how to use the chaos, but right now he needed to be protected from it. Knuckles released the energy in a shower of light, and picked up Sonic and took him to the infirmary.

28

"Ernnn...."

Sonic lay on the bed, grimacing, considering the barren shadow of life he now inhabited. He was so weak now, like some rag doll in a puppet show. No power. No real power... Just another effect, not a cause....

He took the tray of food from Knuckles, eating it quickly as though wishing he didn't need to. He crushed the tray in his arms, crumpled it up, and threw it to the wastebasket, thinking how to escape his pitiful weakness.

"Sonic, what you're going through is called transition sickness. It happened to me, too; now you know why I guard this island. You're going to have delusions of inadequacy for about a week before you regain sanity, and I'm going to have to keep you sedated until then."

Sedated... drugs... more weakness. Why bother to resist. So weak...

"I'll put on some music if you like, and I'll bring in the TV after my surveillance shift. You just STAY HERE, okay? It's not safe for you to go wandering across the Floating Island, and perhaps all of Mobius. If you want any thing else, call me."

Knuckles left Sonic to himself in the room, an IV with nitro, vitamins, and tranquilizers in his arm.

"Chaos..."

A week passed.

"So that was the real reason you wanted to fight me?"

"Yes. To see if you could do that."

"Knuckles, you say that happened to you, too?"

"Yes."

Knuckles was back in the infirmary room with Sonic, talking about the sickness he had suffered over the past week.

"And you didn't destroy the world, obviously."

"Neither did you."

"Well, I had someone to suck the power back out, afterwards. You didn't."

Knuckles sipped his tea, savoring the warmth and taste. "Who says I didn't?"

Sonic sat up a bit further, quite interested. "I thought you were the last echidna, or something."

"Hardly."

Sonic sat straight up, and rolled off the bed. "Ok, then I want some answers."

"I am the last echidna on Mobius. But elsewhere..." He gestured vaguely.

Sonic cocked an eyebrow. "What are you saying?"

"Echidnas colonized space long ago. We have habitats orbiting all seven moons except Deos."

"Deos?"

"You call it Solaris. It means Hell in Echinaki."

"Ah."

"Anyway, we have to leave a few people back on Mobius to keep an eye on things, and one of them," He said, gesturing towards the emerald chamber, "is the Guardian of the Chaos emerald."

"Buh?"

"The Chaos Emerald," he explained, crouching down and gesturing wildly with his hands, "is a powerful artifact we found on Deos. Deos, as recently as three hundred years ago, had a powerful and enlightened civilization of siliconoids who didn't breath, ate rock, and moved very slowly. Deos is very far from the Sun, so it doesn't get a lot of energy, aside from its rather hot internal furnace."

"Mm-hm."

"SO, the planetary core was beginning to cool by tens of degrees kelvin, due to their tapping it for so long for power."

"Tens?"

"It's a bigger problem than it sounds. If it had gotten much cooler, volcanic activity would have depleted enough to destroy their silicon based ecosystem. They needed a new energy source."

"Got it."

"One of their scientists had discovered an interesting effect of a certain crystal formation he had grown: it radiated small amounts of energy."

"How small?"

"A few watts, not a lot. Anyway, he worked at this, eventually optimizing the crystal and getting terawatts of power from it."

"Where did the power come from?"

"Any thing convenient."

"Scuse me?"

"It simply sucked ambient energy out of the air and nearby space, cooling on a large scale but heating on a small scale."

"Wouldn't that really mess up the atmosphere and the ecosystem?"

"It did. In three years their planet was a molten glob, incapable of supporting siliconoid life, or carbonoid."

"Wouldn't it freeze?"

"No. It was pulling energy from space, as well."

"God."

"So we brought it to Mobius."

Sonic jumped out of bed, quills bristling and twitching. "What?"

"There was only one, and there was a reason."

"...All right."

"Energy absorbed from carbonoid life has the effect you saw in the battle between us. It could dramatically increase the power of any organism who knew how to tap it with out going insane. My job is to keep an eye on this planet and make sure no one takes the emerald. Heck, the emerald we have isn't even fully optimized. It's a rather interesting job."

Sonic stood, having calmed down.

"That is the weirdest story I ever heard in my life."

Knuckles sipped his tea, grinning.

"It is, isn't it?"

29

"Lord, this is a difficult assignment. Are you sure it is necessary to assassinate this organism?"

"Yes, Mecha. He is more than an organism - he is a superorganism, and is too great a threat to the Reform to allow him to continue to live."

"I see."

Silence.

"How shall I go through with his assassination?"

"I will equip you with a weapon more fitting fore his death."

"He did survive a drop in to liquid metal. It must be a weapon of considerable power."

"You will have it. I also have an idea to give you a psychological edge over him."

"Which is?"

"You will see..."

"Sally, come in. This is Knuckles. Return call as soon as possible."

Knuckles leaned back in his chair, considering how to ask Sally the question. Sonic was important to her, emotionally and militarily. She wouldn't want to take any unnecessary risks. How to ask for permission to keep him for while for training?

At the time, Sonic was concerning himself with getting some grub. True to his word, Knuckles had offered him what Sonic dubbed recyclocrap, possibly the healthiest and least appetizing thing in existence. Barring any other source of food from Knuckles, he went out to forage, taking a comm device after being urged to do so by Knuckles. What would a good place to get slugs? The jungle? Probably.

He ran towards the jungle area, considering the recent changes in his life. He was invincible, and he could channel chaos energy like Knuckles could. Pretty cool. He vaulted over some rough terrain and moved on.

How to best aid the rebellion with his newfound skills? He had a few ideas. If he could store up some chaos energy and hold it long enough to get to Robotropolis, he could probably fry the entire main computer with an energy surge - impossible under normal circumstances, due to energy shortage, but with chaos energy... He dropped off a cliff and jumped ahead.

Ahh, the jungle. Home to hedgehogs.

He sniffed the air, looking for the familiar briny scent of mollusks. There it was. But what was that other smell? Kind of sharp, and oily, and metal...

He threw himself to the ground as a rail gun slug flew over his head, shearing off some of his quills. Mecha Sonic. Robotnik spared no expense.

Crisis situation. Jump up, swivel right, rotate around fast, attack - Good God.

It was his brother, Samson. Partially roboticized. The other superorganism.

"Greetings, Target. Are you ready to die?"

The horror Sonic felt was incomparable. His brother was Mecha Sonic. God knows how long he had been under Robotniks control. His armor had been removed, revealing a pale, eerie skin that had probably never seen the sun. Rammed through his chest lay a jet engine, efficient and powerful. It came out the other side. His ends of his arms had been removed, replaced with modular attachments that allowed any form of weapon or hand. His feet had been stripped, replaced with miniaturized steering boosters. His left eye had been replaced with some sort of camera, and his spikes had been sheared off and replaced with what looked like low efficiency chaos emerald prototypes.

Jesus.

Sonic slowly stepped back, paralyzed with horror. Samson hadn't died or been "lost" Robotnik had captured him and roboticized him!

"I'm afraid this time you WILL die Sonic." Pure hatred shone from the hybrids eyes. "Robotniks will demands it! YOU WILL DIE!"

His gun arm raised as Sonic stood, dumbfounded.

FOOM.

30

Mecha Sonic flew against the ground, smashed against it by the force of Knuckles' blast. He thrusted up and aimed for the Knuckles entity - one shot and he was gone. Aim...

Something flew from the ground - Sonic, and shoved him a good four feet up, causing him to miss Knuckles. Blast it. He slashed Sonics' already scarred face with his claw hand, which did not cause him to fall, or do any thing but get angrier. He grabbed his gun arm and simply pulled it off.

This was a very bad thing, from Mecha's perspective. But he had no time for any such frivolities any way. He drew back his blade and slashed Sonic across the eyes. This time he fell.

Mecha dropped to the ground and quickly dashed to his left to avoid a flare from Knuckles, who had just detonated. He jumped and slashed and...

Knuckles decharged and looked at the rapidly receding speck on the horizon that was Mecha Sonic, who apparently actually was a roboticized Mobian. Might even be Sonic's brother from what he looked like.

Sonic lay on the ground, bleeding from his forehead and eyelids. Knuckles hurried over and lifted him. He needed medical attention badly. Time to get back to Hidden Palace. Pray Sally doesn't call.

"God."

"Yes. It was my brother."

They stood in the surveillance room, a bandage around Sonics head. The alarms were silent - Mecha was nowhere near the island right now.

"I didn't even know you had a brother."

"Well, I never told you. It was sort of a repressed memory, except it wasn't repressed - I just don't like to brood on it. I thought he was dead. For all these years, I thought he was dead."

"When was he captured?"

"It was 2576, April 10th, about nine in the evening. It was a bombing run on his fusion plant; we were to drop power, and while he was switching to backup, Bunnie was going to break through the high security zone."

"How high?"

"I couldn't get through if I was covered in high powered inertial dampener shields. The place first fills with a lethal nerve toxin, then with whirling, slicing blades, and then with flammable gas. Then it lights on fire..."

"I get the idea. How did you see this and survive?"

"Commlink. First guy to enter, and the last."

"So I take it Bunnie didn't manage to get in to the High Security area?"

"Nope."

"What were you after, any way?"

"Some sort of prototype crystalline power source was being developed. Probably a chaos emerald."

"Good Lord..."

"Don't worry about it too much. Robotnik may be evil, but he isn't stupid. In fact, he's probably smarter than me. He won't use them too much."

"I hope so."

"Any way, we had just planted the explosives, when a Tank robot rolled behind us and started firing without so much as a by-your-leave. I got away, but the last I saw of Sam he was pinned down by Gatling fire. When he didn't come back for a week, we had a funeral, but I still hoped. But after a month, I just... stopped thinking about it. I didn't see Mecha for six months after that."

"You never suspected?"

"I did a little. But I was under a lot of stress at the time. Same date as the Purging, remember?"

"Oh, yeah."

The Purging. Before that, biologicals were alive and well in Robotropolis, although subjugated as slaves. Many were escaping, on a regular basis, and Robotnik thought the best method of stopping the escapes was to simply roboticize them all.

"So what are we going to do about this?"

"Nothing."

"Hmm?"

"He's been enslaved. He's gone. We can't do anything to help him. So do me a favor - stop thinking of him as Sam and start thinking of him as Mecha again."

"But... But Sonic, he's your brother!"

"Not any more."

"We can't just kill him, that's crazy!"

"Yes. We can."

"You're crazy."

"Just the way I am."

Knuckles glared at Sonic, anger in his eyes. "You're not even going to try to save him?"

"How?"

"We could capture him and deprogram him or something."

"Capture Mecha Sonic? Why don't you try to herd protocats?"

"Sonic, you can't just give up on him, dammit!"

"Yes I can. I have to."

"Why?!?"

"It's the best thing to do."

Knuckles took a step towards Sonic.

"Is it the right thing to do?"

"No. But that doesn't matter in this case. Doing the right thing would destroy us all."

In all this Sonic never rose his voice.

31

Knuckles sat on the edge of the island, feeling the dirt crumble beneath him. Every so often it would collapse, and he would fly back up. It was rather relaxing.

He considered Sonic. His superorganism traits were becoming more apparent. Knuckles had never really understood the way Sonic thought before.

He considered a book he once read by some human author, with a giant ring ribbon in space, with an ecosystem and a weird species that had three life stages. It had infancy, breeder stage, and protector stage. The first two were stupid animals, but the third was so intelligent it basically had no free will. It always knew what to do. It couldn't bring itself to do the wrong thing. They were slaves to their species.

Sonic was almost like that. He was a slave to whatever loyalties he had at the moment, either the Rebellion, his family, his own skin, or simply all life in general. Interesting thought.

Far away, Sonic clung to Mount Rayan, climbing the treacherous slope. Had to keep in shape. Slowly, he raised in height, as he climbed to the top. He considered what he was going to do.

It was the most foolish thing he had ever done.

He was going to try and parley with Samson, to stop him from serving Robotnik any longer. Madness. He was a slave now, an automaton - but it didn't matter. He had to try. He was his brother.

He hauled himself on to a ledge near the top and sat down. Mountain climbing was exerting, more so than he was used to. He had been climbing for only two hours and he was already tired.

He looked out upon the island, gazing its patch of beauty. It had a massive jungle in what was now the northeast edge of the island that covered at least four square miles. South of that, a lake, filled with crystal clear water. And on the rest of the island...

Dust.

He remembered the attack on the island by Robotnik, the napalm and the poisons, designed to rub all life from the island in one massive swipe. He had very nearly died in the hell of fire and arsenic, killing all plants and animals. He had seen animals burn in front of him, and birds fall from the sky at his feet. By the Halo, was there no end to Robotniks lust for power?

He considered what he had seen above the Death Egg, and decided to stop considering for now. He continued his climb up the mountain.

Gripping the rock face, he pulled hard and flew up the cliff face, zipping from hand hold to hand hold like a gecko on a hot rock. He reached another cliff and flew over the top much as a cannonball shoots from a cannon, and landed on the crumbling platform jutting out from the cliff face.

In front of him stood a cyborg, lying on the ground, sleeping away his nightmares. On his arm lay the gun, reattached in the night. Here he would have been safe from most anything while he recharged. Except, of course, Sonic.

Sonic walked over to the cyborg, who lay dreaming his dark dreams. Sonic kicked him, hard, in the stomach. Samson spasmed, then blurred to his feet, rifle at the ready.

"Sam, you don't have enough energy to fire your rail gun."

The cyborg lowered his gun.

"Correct."

"Let us not fight this time. I want to talk, Sam."

"Talk."

"Do you remember what happened back at the sabotage mission when you were captured?"

"Yes."

"Will you tell me?"

"No."

Silence.

"Why not?"

"-ttz- You don't need to -ttz- know."

"But you do need to know. This is important, Sam. Try to remember what happened."

"I.. I.. No. Get away or I will attack you. I don't need power to rip out your throat."

"I don't think you will, Sam."

A visible shudder passed through the cyborgs' body, and his nostrils flared like some cornered animal. "Don't..."

"Don't what, Sam?"

"Don't.. call me.. SAM!"

He leapt forward, swinging the large, scythe-like claw on his left arm. Sonic caught him and threw him back against the cliff face, knocking the wind out of him and shattering his right arm, crushing the feeble metal.

"Damn it... my name is Mecha... S100.. not SAMSON!"

"Yes it is Sam. Come on, remember!"

"I do remember."

He said it calmly, not in the least bit feral.

"Hmm?"

"I remember... that it is my job to kill YOU!"

A glint of metal flashed through Sonics vision and suddenly he chest was on fire, burning with pain. He shrieked and staggered back, holding his lacerated chest.

"I told you you would die, Sonic..."

Mecha stood up, flexing his mechanical claws as the emeralds on his back glowed a hot red, then stepped forward with his claws pulled back for a swing.

"Now, I will hold to my promise."

He stepped forward, but suddenly, a surge of energy passed through his head, and he dropped to the ground like a stone.

Sonic looked at the prone figure in wonder, still clutching his chest. Nervously, he stepped forward and touched Samson where the mind control implant was, and got an electric shock for his trouble.

Sonic considered this. Something was going wrong with the mind control. Could Samson actually escape his bondage? Not bloody likely.

He crouched down next to Samson.

"Sonic."

As the words came from the cyborgs mouth, Sonic leaped a good twelve feet in to the air, but the shock quickly subsided.

"What, Sam?"

"Sonic, I haven't much time. I think I've managed to overpower the mind control temporarily, but it.. it won't last long. Just listen."

Sonic nodded.

"Sonic, the other superorganism... is still alive."

The hedgehog considered this.

"Who is it?"

"A rabbit... escaped north. Try and find him. If you can find him, you might be able to turn the tide of the war."

"Sam, what about you?"

"Save me after the war. An EMP will temporaily restore the natural mind of a roboticized orgainism."

Or course! Why hadn't he thought of that?"

"Sonic, in about a minute, the machine is going to take over again."

"Got it."

"Sonic..."

A tear trickled from one anguished eye.

"Please don't... kill me..."

He began to spasm as the electronic beast regained strength.

Looking behind him at the dilapidated edge of the cliff, he thought of his options. He didn't think he could bring himself to kill Samson any more, although that had been a distinct possibility when he started this climb. He just... couldn't do it.

He heard a crack behind him as something cleared the cliff top. Whirling around, he prepared to face whatever it was; but it was only Knuckles.

"Knuckles, I need your help."

Caught off guard by this, Knuckles was considerably surprised. "I was listening for a while, then everything got quiet. I thought you were dead; what's..."

"No time to explain. Start charging up."

"...Alright."

As Knuckles concentrated on his goal, Sonic continued. "When you get to full power, Mecha will be just about up and running. At that point I need you to fry his memory circuits."

"...Got it..."

"At that point, you must get him to Robotropolis, and try to get him there alive. Dont worry to much about him, he's durable. Can you do that?"

"...Yesssssss..."

But like most plans, this one, too, was flawed. Knuckles was just starting to shine as Mecha Sonic rose to his feet.

32

"...Knuckles, keep charging. I'll handle him."

Knuckles did not reply as energy crackled aroung him. Sonic wondered what went wrong with his plan - the timing was right - as he realized that they were a good mile from the emerald. This would take far longer than it should.

Slowly, Mecha raised his gun arm, and he uncharicteristically smiled, a vicious grin on his face.

"Bang, baby."

He fired.

In the few milliseconds of flight between the launching and impact of the slug, several things went through his mid. First, he thought of the war, and of how it would be crippled by his permanent abscence. Could they possibly win? It wasn't likely. He, as he had realized before when he had returned to Knothole, was the back bone of the war effort.

As the rod grew closer, he thought of his parents and how they would miss him, and vise versa. They had always loved him, and he them. It would tear them apart when they learned of his death, assuming they were still alive.

When it was about ten feet from his head, he realized that Tails would be orphaned again. Would he be able to take it?

No, he wouldn't. He had to survive this - for the war, for his parents, for Sally, and for Tails.

He felt himself begin to burn, and he caught the slug in his hand.

For a very long time, nothing happened. Knuckles, having transfered the power to Sonic, fell to the ground, exhausted from the effort. Mecha merely stared in astonishment. And Sonic just stood, burning with a bright, terrible flame.

"No, Mecha. Today, you die."

Fire poured from Sonics hand as he gripped Mecha Sonic in his ethereal power. But Mecha merely laughed.

Grinning, he said, "Sonic, don't try to intimidate me. I know you wouldn't kill your brother, and you can't stop me without killing him!"

Triumphant, he aimed for a second shot at Sonics head.

"Yes. I can."

And Mecha burned, as the power from the emerald tore through his circuits, disrupting the OS and destroying his software. He shrieked as his persona was destroyed, and fell limp, as his silicon soul was snuffed out like so many of his victims.

Samson opened his eyes, suspended in air by the power of Sonics will.

Epilogue

Samson slept in the surgery bay, resting and dreaming his dreams.

"So, Sally, you say he won't ever to be deroboticized?"

"I'm afraid not, Sonic. His forearms were removed to allow for the snap on attachments, and if we removed those, well... he would have no arms. And if we remove the power cables and circuitry, his legs wont be able to move."

"I knew that engine was going to be trouble."

He looked out at the cyborg, who had had all of his armor removed, as well as his helmet. In a few months, he ought to have some decent hair. He still had crystals sticking grotesquely out of his back, shunting power in to the cables.

As they looked through the glass wall in to the surgery bay, a knock on the door beind them signified a visitor - Tails. He walked over to the viewing room and looked at the cyborg.

"Never knew you had a brother, Sonic."

Sonic paused.

"Neither did I."