There was a saying that originated from the Great War-"there's plenty of time to sleep when you're dead."
For Sally Elisha Acorn, daughter of King Maximillian Acorn and current leader of the Knothole Freedom Fighters, recent years had given the saying more credence than ever. Either you were a roboticized automaton and incapable of true sleep under Robotnik's rule, or you were an organic mobian that had to spend every waking hour in preparation for the strike on Doomsday. In this new age, death was the only guarantee of sleep and with Robotnik preferring to roboticize prisoners than execute them, was far from guaranteed.
Sally blinked, unable to believe she'd conjured such a train of thought. Still, having gone without sleep for over thirty hours, her thoughts often went on tangents and blinking had become common. Rotor had explained the effects of sleep deprivation that had prompted most of the Freedom Fighters to find other things to do, but Sally had heard enough to understand that blinking often was a good way to keep herself awake. Plus it offset the feeling that ants were in her eyes.
Get a hold of yourself, thought the chipmunk, taking a sip of mediocre coffee as she read numerous reports from the Freedom Fighter groups they'd contacted in recent weeks, the moon providing more than enough light to read them. Doomsday itself, Robotnik's ultimate plan to achieve domination over Mobius might have been concentrated in the Great Unknown, but with the pod tunnels riddling the planet, it was important to have an information network that covered as much of an area as possible.
Sighing, the princess lay back in her chair, closing her eyes. They were living on borrowed time and although Paulo's strike on Convoy G-37 would set back Robotnik's timetable for at least a week, the time would come when the Freedom Fighters would have to deal with Doomsday directly. Sooner or later the coup de grace would be delivered, either by Robotnik to all free mobians, or vice versa. And despite all the progress the Freedom Fighters had made, how isolated bands were now operating as one 'front of freedom,' Sally couldn't help but suspect that the former outcome was more likely.
So here we are. Ten years of rebellion, of endurance, and we'll be wiped out in less than forty-eight hours when Doomsday is-...
"Wow Sally, you look like shit."
Blinking, this time from surprise, Sally spun around in her seat to the intruder, only to find Rotor.
"Oh, it's you," said the princess, steadying her breathing. "You startled me."
"Um, sorry," said the walrus awkwardly. "I'm used to dealing with machines, with facts, so sorry if I-..."
"No, it's alright," said Sally, smiling faintly from a comment that wasn't composed of sarcasm or flattery, Sonic and Antoine being the two main culprits. "I feel like shit, so to speak, so I'll take your word for it."
It was Rotor's turn to smile, though obviously forced. Although Tails had shown incredible mechanical skills in recent times, the walrus was still Knothole's foremost engineer. And given the current state of affairs, he understood the Doomsday pods better than anyone else and the Freedom Fighter's chances of defeating them. And although Sonic had managed to fry one in a lightning storm in the Great Unknown and that Rotor was preparing a special form of acid that would react instantly with their metallic composition, the chances of getting enough acid bombs ready in time were somewhat minimal.
Signing the report the mechanic had brought in, Sally could see that such a status quo hadn't changed.
The farewell was short and cordial and if Rotor had uttered any words, Sally barely heard them. He looked just as tired as she felt and while a break from monotony was nice, getting back to her job was made more difficult because of it. And reading another report that had trickled in, how one of Dirk's rebels had been captured and was either dead, roboticized or on his way to either fate with no chance of rescue, it was tempting to give in to weariness then and there.
Maybe I should. There aren't any more urgent reports coming in and-...
"You Sal, you read me?"
"Well who did you expect?' came the voice of the hedgehog over the radio. "Antoine?"
In more relaxed circumstances, Sally might have berated her...friend (yeah, that's modest enough) on insulting the coyote, even if he still insisted on treating her like royalty. But close to exhaustion and relieved to hear the hedgehog's voice, the princess decided to let it pass.
"Guess not," said the chipmunk. "Though I can't say I was expecting to hear you either." She laughed faintly. "Have to admit though, it's nice to hear a voice who hasn't given into despair yet."
"...you know someone who's given into despair?"
Sally bit her lip. She wouldn't exactly call Sonic a lone wolf, even if he had been a vulpine, but given that no-one could match his speed or agility, he was perfectly capable of operating alone, even in Robotropolis. Yet it would be incorrect to say that he had no concern for what was occurring back in Knothole, especially since Tails had taken to his new position as a Freedom Fighter with gutso. Sally knew Sonic would be spending more time in Knothole if circumstances allowed it, but with Doomsday looming, he was forced to spend more time than usual in Robotropolis, hitting every supply convoy Chuck could find.
Even with his spy shack gone, Sir Charles is still an asset. But here I am, filing reports. Aurora's name, I'm useless! Sitting here while the rest of the Freedom fighters-...
"Yo Sal, you still there?"
Sally blinked. Again. This was becoming a bad habit.
"Yeah, I'm still here," she said slowly, guilt slowly enveloping her. "I'm alright."
Sonic laughed. "You're a hopeless liar, you know that? Heck, I took out a convoy singlehandedly with only a broken wrist-..."
"...and I can still tell something's bugging you."
Sally subconsciously nodded, all thoughts of sleep gone. "Yeah...I...oh Sonic, I'm so sorry!"
If there were ants behind the eyes of King Acorn's daughter, they'd drawn blood, or at least tears, given the torrent of clear liquid pouring down Sally's face. The entire situation was so wrong! She'd been sitting here, worried about sleep, when all the while people around her were fighting and dying. And operating in Robotropolis, her closest friend could have easily been one of those people.
"Sonic, I'm sorry," she said slowly, her voice cracking. "I'm sorry for your broken wrist. I'm-..."
"Hey no problem. Chuck and a few power rings should be able to fix it up, no problem."
"No Sonic, there is a problem!" Sally yelled. "In a world where people like you are risking life and limb for freedom while people like me direct them in safety, there's definitely a problem."
Static filled the line. Sonic was silent for one reason or another on his end, probably caught off guard by Sally's outburst. And as for Sally herself, silent tears of guilt and frustration didn't exactly allow for much conversation.
"Err...listen," said Sonic awkwardly after what felt like another thirty hours of sleepless night. "If it's any consolation, I know how you feel."
"You do?" asked Sally in surprise. For someone who darted in and out of laser fire for most of his life, the hedgehog was being unusually direct.
"Yeah...it's how Tails felt before he became an official Freedom Fighter.
Sally nodded, remembering the fox's efforts at Drood Henge. Efforts that not only resulted in the Freedom Fighters getting their hands on one of the Power Stones, but also demonstrated how quickly he'd grown up. How he should have been made a Freedom Fighter years ago.
And who was the one holding him back? thought the princess bitterly. Yours truly.
"But here's the difference," continued Sonic. "Tails was held back. But you...I mean, come on Sally. You've been with us from the start."
"Right," snorted the princess. "And a lot of good that's done."
"Yes, it has done good!" the hedgehog exclaimed. "You started the movement! You gave me focus for my early forays! You've planned practically every single operation we've ever made. And even now, after all that's happened, you're still doing your job. You're coordinating the efforts of numerous groups across an entire continent and if it wasn't for you, we wouldn't have lasted nearly as long."
The tears continued. The reasons however, were different.
"Anyway, that's what I think," said Sonic eventually. "Not that that probably means much, but it's my opinion for what it's worth."
For Sally Elisha Acorn, it was worth a lot.