III.Scarlet on the Emerald Coast
The local police forces from Station Square were dispatched as soon as they received the report. A large squad of their best officers were deployed to the Emerald Coast within short order. The first news crews arrived not shortly thereafter, forcing the police to divide their attentions between keeping the reporters back and gathering evidence and searching the surrounding area. Several witnesses had returned and statements were taken, interviews were given. A few shaky, blurry photographs taken by a tourist made the TV networks within an hour. The names of the two victims had not been released yet.
The horror on the Emerald Coast spread almost as fast by word of mouth as it did over the networks and radios and the web. Police told their wives and husbands when they returned home, and they told their friends and neighbors, and so on, until all of Station Square was in a frantic uproar.
All this panic, fear, and outrage made its way to the heart of Station Square: City Hall and the Mayor.
His Honor Oswald Huffering was sweating heavily in his large high-backed chair and panting like a dog in the summer. Behind his back, some of his staff referred to him as "Old Huffer," a reference to his name and the deep gasps for air he would make on those unfortunate occasions when the elevator was inoperable and he had to take the stairs. Or if he had to walk down the hall. Any time he had to walk, really. He blamed it on the city pollution, though everybody knew it had more to do with his constant diet of pastries and variations of glazed ham.
He was stuffed into a suit that would have been too tight for him if he were twenty pounds lighter, his bald head gleaming under the humming lights of his office. He mopped at it with a silk handkerchief and then smoothed his bristly white mustache with it.
"This is insane! Not even a week ago, the entire city was celebrating their tiny brains out. Eggman was gone, Sonic was our hero, and tourism was already climbing back up. Now this?! I can't believe it's that mad scientist again. He normally takes at least several months before he tries anything again," Huffering said and took a deep breath before he continued.
"And they're blaming me! As if had some clairvoyant foresight into this sort of thing. It's madness, Ms. Links."
Huffering sopped up the sweat from his wide brow as he looked across the expanse of his desk as his assistant, Josie Links. She had the appearance of some kind of wild cat, with snowy white fur and black spots along her cheeks and tail and sharp tufts on her pointed ears. A pair of horn-rimmed glasses sat perched on her snout, behind which a pair of amber eyes watched the mayor with their usual detached stare. Unlike her portly employer, Links was quite trim, and filled out her dress suit quite nicely (though any stated appreciation for her figure was kept to a minimum as she had a reputation of being able to silently appear behind any lewd commentators and have them hauled away).
"It's not your fault, sir," she said. "Besides, the Captain at the police department said he thinks this may not be related to Eggman at all."
"Not Eggman? I don't know if that's good news or not. I think I'd rather have the evil I know over the evil I don't," Huffering sighed as he leaned back in his chair to look out at the city skyline. "Is there any word on Sonic's location yet?"
"I notified Princess Sally when I heard the news. She has no idea where he is, just that he was chasing after Eggman after his most recent retreat. She's currently at his home watching over Miles Prower. He seemed…especially distraught, after witnessing the homicides."
"That little fox? Poor lad."
"Mm. Would you like me to prepare another press statement sir?"
"No. One for today is already quite enough. Telling them anything else when we don't have anything solid will just rile them up again."
"As you wish sir," Links said and made a note to herself. "What would you like to do then?"
"Get piss drunk and go to bed," Huffering sulked. Links made a note.
"And after that, sir?"
"I suppose I will need to get the Captain's report and any other pertinent information from the case that the police are willing to release to the press."
"Shall I get you the Captain then sir?"
"And some vodka, please," Huffering said.
"Sir," Links said and stepped out of his office. Alone, Huffering continued to look out at his city, and not for the first time, wished it was somebody else's.
* * *
Sally sat at end of Tails's bed, stroking the fox's fur as he slept. He had stopped crying some time ago, but the streaks were still visible beneath his eyes. It had taken her a while to convince him to lie down, but once he had, he was out.
"Tails…" Sally whispered and frowned. She hadn't been able to figure out what he had been trying to tell her earlier that day. He was rambling, gasping, and when he finally did get it out, she had wished he hadn't.
Sally gave Tails a last pet behind the ear and then walked into the living room that he and Sonic shared in their expansive apartment. It was more like a small penthouse, a gift from the mayor years ago after beating back Eggman's attempted assault with his airship fleet.
She sat down on the couch and watched the news reports streaming in. Slick graphics that shouted "Eggman back again?!" and "Terror on the Coast" flashed by as the talking heads each spouted at their theories and reiterated what others had said before.
"It's not Eggman," Sally muttered to herself. It wasn't his style. Eggman was about the spectacle as much as he was about his ultimate goal. Everything he made was big and flashy, every plan he hatched was overblown and extravagant. Sally had gotten NICOLE to download some of the photos from the net. What disturbed her though was the video NICOLE had picked up over the airwaves. It was a transmission sent hours ago, at exactly the time of the attack, from an unknown camera set somewhere out in the water.
The video had shown cyborgs, hulking, grim, constructs. They had appeared to be questioning the two poor Mobians before one of them ignited the pair. It was quick, efficient, and merciless. No gusto, no flare, just two quick kills, and the pair had vanished back into the tree line.
And while she had no proof, Sally was certain who the mysterious camera belonged to. If it had been a civilian, they would have tried to cash in with the news crews or reported to the police. If it was the police or the city filming, it would have shown up when NICOLE scanned their data bases. But it hadn't.
And she could only think of one person who might place a camera hovering above the sea that would want to keep to himself. Eggman.
"But he's always on the ground floor of his own plans," Sally said to herself. He was always near at hand with every scheme he carried out. He wasn't one to idly sit far away while his "genius" plans came to fruition.
"But who then?" Sally asked herself, though NICOLE decided to pipe up from her vest pocket.
"I cannot find any possible matches to any organization or faction these 'men' might belong to. The markings I can see on their armor do not match any flags, insignias, logos, or other markings used by any countries or corporations I am familiar with. This includes the forces of Eggman," NICOLE said in her soothing monotone.
"That's what worries me. If we knew who they were, why they're here, where they come from, anything, we'd have a leg up. But we don't," Sally grumbled.
"Shall I continue monitoring any transmissions relevant to today's assault?"
"Yes, thank you NICOLE," Sally said and leaned back into the soft couch, ignoring the news while NICOLE did her thing.
"Hurry back, Sonic. We need you."
* * *
The world's fastest living creature sat on a large, moss covered rock hundreds, maybe thousands of miles away from Station Square. He was munching on some berries he had found and wished they were chili dogs instead.
Sonic the hedgehog had taken off in pursuit after Eggman after his most recent, predictable attack on the citizens of Mobius. This meant that he hadn't had much time to pack a lunch or think ahead past anything except chasing the fat tub of lard across the planet.
Worse, he had lost the trail of Eggman's eggmobile a day ago. He had followed it for a long time, a long black scar of smoke streaked across the sky. But even as fast as he was, and as battered as Eggman's ship was, he hadn't been able to catch him. When a storm had moved in two days ago, Sonic had lost sight of the sky and Eggman's trail, and there was no spotting it now.
"Stupid fat jerk," Sonic said and kicked a pinecone into a small pond. He looked down at the berries which weren't really ripe yet anyhow, and were staining his nice white gloves to boot. A small female chipmunk clambered down from a nearby redwood and looked up at him expectantly.
"You know, you remind me of somebody I'd like to see," Sonic said and placed the berries on the ground for the tiny forest-dwelling rodent. He was already a mile away back the way he had come before the tiny animal had eaten one of the berries.
* * *
Emerald Coast was usually the place to be on a Saturday night. Tiki torches were almost always lit, any number of parties would be going on, but there were also plenty of quiet secluded coves for couples to enjoy.
But tonight, it was a tomb.
Yellow police tape blocked off the main entrances to the beach near Station Square, and the harsh flashing blue and red of cruiser lights replaced the normally soothing orange glow of the torches.
The captain had made a public appearance before the press that
afternoon to smooth feathers (sometimes literally) and put on a show that the SSPD was doing everything in its power to bring these awful servants of Eggman to justice. All the evidence had been collected and the detectives and CSI teams had vacated. All that remained were a few patrols combing the beach and making small searches into the tree line.
There were sixteen officers left, and a handful of grunts from the academy who were all waving their flashlights around rather uselessly. They had split up into groups of four or five to cover more ground while still being able to cover each other's backs.
"I hate this shit," one of the officers grumbled. He looked like a cliché: big in the middle, bald up top, thick mustache, heavy jowls. His tarnished nametag read "Wesson."
"You'd think they'd let us go now that the lab rats have cleaned up and the press has gone," said Wesson's partner, Hertz. He was about as different from his partner as he could be, which suited him fine. He was a short, lithe possum-like creature that spent as much time in the station's gym as he could.
"We gotta do this kinda thing like, every day at the Academy. I don't see why it's so bad," said one of the three academy recruits Wesson had been shouldered with. He hadn't bothered to learn their names. He'd just been calling them "recruits" all night.
"Because I ain't at the academy any more, dipshit," Wesson said. The recruit, properly cowed, shut his mouth and continued to wave his flashlight over the foliage.
"How far out we gonna go tonight Wes?" Hertz asked. "I think we've gone well past the limit the chief asked us to."
Wesson looked up and cursed. He'd been so busy thinking about how much he hated this bullshit duty that he hadn't been paying attention. They were miles away from the entrance to Station Square, well beyond the search area. He could barely make out the distant beams of light and the flashes of sirens.
"Well, hell…" Wesson grumbled. "Don't let anybody say we didn't go above and beyond I guess. C'mon, we should head back. Hey recruits! C'mon!"
Two of the recruits hustled over to Wesson's side, looking very relieved. Wesson waited for a moment before shouting again for the third recruit.
"Where'd your little buddy go off to?" he demanded of the first one.
"Oh uh, he said he had to take a leak, sir," the recruit said and flinched under Wesson's glare.
"Well go tell him to shake it off and zip it up! I wanna get outta here sometime tonight!"
"Yessir!" the recruit said and dashed back into the tree line. Wesson jerked his thumb at the other recruit to indicate he should move his ass as well, and the boy took off at a jog.
"You could be a little nicer, Wes," Hertz said when they were alone.
"Yeah I could be," Wesson said in a tone that indicated he most certainly wouldn't. Hertz sighed and ignored his partner, instead looking out over the vast sea. He listened to the waves slide up over the sand, the almost silent hissing of millions of tiny bubbles popping in the surf, then receding with the waves. He'd never been here at night before. He'd have to bring his girlfriend when it was safe again.
"The hell's taking them so long?" Wesson mumbled. He hated the sea. It stank and made him sweat too much.
"Maybe they got lost?"
"Damn stupid kids. Let's go get 'em," Wesson said and began to march into the tree line, waving his light around and shouting for the recruits. Hertz kept a few yards to Wesson's right, moving his light from side to side but keeping quiet. They had gone perhaps a few dozen yards in when Hertz almost tripped on a log.
"Ah…dumb thin—" Hertz began and stopped as he looked down. It was one of the recruits. His head had been twisted completely around in a full 360 degree turn, ripping most of the skin off his neck and snapping his vertebrae to pieces. The boy's mouth was agape in a silent wail and his eyes were glassy and white and staring.
"WES!" Hertz yelled and stepped back, tripping over his own feet this time.
"What? Don't tell me you're getting the heebie jeebies Hertz," Wesson said as he began to stroll idly over. Hertz was about to add that he'd found one of the recruits when he heard a dull thump ahead of him in the darkness. A moment later a pair of glowing red eyes appeared in the gloom, eight, maybe even nine feet above the ground. Their owner stepped out and Hertz's breath caught in his throat.
"Daemonspawn," the man in the black metal armor said. He held some kind of enormous gun in one hand, the barrels of which glowed like a furnace. The other hand, some kind of robotic appendage, was coated in blood.
"Good god," Wesson muttered as he came upon his partner and the walking nightmare that faced him. He spotted the dead recruit on the ground and then turned and fled. Hertz had just enough sense left to be pissed at the fat bastard for abandoning him before the hulking brute picked him up with its one free hand.
"Grrk," Hertz gasped. The man/machine was clutching him around the middle, his hand so enormous that his fingers almost touched his palm, completely encircling the possum's torso.
"Deal with that abomination, Brother Dumah," another voice said from Hertz's side. "I will go for the heretic. He cannot escape judgment simply by running."
The second man/machine, this one with a face that seemed at least partially organic, sped off after Wesson, showing a truly terrifying speed for something of such enormous mass.
Hertz reached down at his waist and jerked out his sidearm while the one holding him was distracted by the second man. He just managed to free his arm enough to let him aim directly at his captor's face. Hertz bellowed and emptied the entire clip of his pistol not even a foot away from the man's helmet.
Hertz felt a single second of relief when the man's hand began to loosen, then disbelief as it tightened. The red eyes glowed bright and Hertz had the distinct impression that the mutilated face behind the helmet was smiling. There wasn't a single dent in that helmet. Nothing.
"Good try," the man said and then squeezed Hertz like a tube of toothpaste.
* * *
Wesson ran for his life, just breaking the tree line and spinning around as he heard the sound of pursuit. He jerked his pistol from its holster and fired blindly into the darkness, screaming as he did. The rampaging juggernaut that emerged from the jungle didn't slow one iota as the bullets made weak pinging noises against his armor.
Wesson fell onto his sizable ass and began scooting backwards into the sea as the monster approached him.
"Why does a human fight alongside these xenos?" the towering figure demanded.
"I-I-I…" Wesson stammered.
"You are a disgrace to humanity, a blight on mankind's legacy. You are traitor and heretic, mutant-sympathizer and inhuman-supporter. Tell me why you have turned against the Glorious Emperor and I might make your death a quick one."
"I don't understand. Wh-what—who are you? What do you want?" Wesson mewled, tears and snot getting caught in his mustache.
"I am Adaptes Astartes, the fist of his His Excellency, the unrelenting, uncrushable will of mankind. I am Sargeant Iruel of the Iron Hand, loyal servants to the Divine Imperium. And what I want is for all that is unclean in His Sight to be cleansed, all that is offensive to His Ears to be made silent, and all that is against His Voice and His Will to be rendered asunder.
"And that, little cowering heretic, means you."
"I honestly don't know anything! Are you Eggman's troops? I don't…is he an emperor now? Please…please…please…" Wesson begged and felt a spreading warmth in his trousers.
"Enough. I cannot force myself to speak to one such as you any longer. This is a better death than you deserve, traitor," Iruel said, and pressed the button on his chainsword.
Perhaps it was a mercy that Wesson didn't know what was happening in his final moments. He heard the roar of some great, mechanical beast, saw the moonlight glint off hundreds of whirring metal fangs, and then he felt something…curious. He suddenly felt so light, and things were spinning. The sky and the sand were whirling around him and then he landed several feet away in the waves.
He blinked twice and saw the huge man (if it could be called a man) looking down at something. It was Wesson's body. It looked shorter to Wesson for some reason, and thick gouts of scarlet fluid were dribbling from the top of it into the sea.
Did he cut off my head? Wesson thought. If he did, would I still be able to see? Am I still alive? What happened?
And so it was with confusion, and not fear, that Officer Wesson drifted away with tides.
* * *
The bodies were found early the next morning when officers Wesson and Hertz failed to report in, and the three academy recruits were found to be missing as well.
Wesson's body was found on the beach, the head missing, his blood staining the sand despite the ocean's best efforts to take it away. Hertz was discovered several dozen yards into the jungle, his body crushed by some great force, his insides forced out of his mouth and backside. The three recruits were discovered a shorter distance in, one with a broken neck, the other two with crushed skulls.
A search was made during the daylight hours, but nobody stayed to search again that night, and the Emerald Coast remained silent.