Author's Notes: Sorry about a shorter, very dialogue heavy chapter, but this was necessary for story advancement.

Chapter 13 - Shadow Knows Best

With a burst of steam, the high vaulted door slid to the left, allowing Shadow to enter the GUN briefing room. Standing in the room and chattering busily were a dozen or so scientists, military officers, and agents. A collective hush came over them as the obsidian hedgehog entered the room, his air shoes clicking softly against the matte black floor.

"Agent Shadow, you've been called here due to a matter of the utmost importance to our national security," the Commander began, as those surrounding the long table sat down and faced a large projection screen.

Shadow took his place towards the far end of the table, noting furtive glances from some of those seated.

"Yesterday, at 2100 hours, satellite imaging detected an anomaly appearing about five hundred miles off the western seaboard. These anomalies were catalogued and sent for analysis this morning at the Dobbson facility nearby."

"Commander, if I may, anomalies of all sorts occur across the globe every day. What exactly about this particular incident is worth our attention?" one of the scientists protested, as if he were anxious to return to an experiment.

"If you'll be patient, gentlemen, I'm getting there. The laboratory analysis showed the anomalies to be massive fluxes of energy spreading out from one location in timed concentric circles. The periodic nature of these fluxes suggests that they're not naturally occurring."

Another hush fell over the room, as the image on the projector showed a feed of the location where the anomaly had been detected. No-one seemed to be willing to state the obvious: that such energy fluxes, if not natural, must be artificial. Logically, if artificial, they could only be created in such perfect synchronization by a machine, and the only two forces with the technological prowess to build such a machine were themselves, and Dr. Robotnik.

"In other words, the energy is being emitted by some sort of device?" one of the higher ranking officers pronounced, allowing everyone to begin mentally panicking instead of merely waiting for someone to speak doom.

"Now, we can't be sure of anything yet. All that we know is assumptions based off of the readings of long range scanners. I suggest we send a capable team to investigate the source of the emanations," the lead scientist chimed in, pulling his lab coat tightly around him as if chilled.

"You don't need a team," Shadow stated blankly, for the first time, everyone focusing their attention on him. "I'll go."

"Gentleman, as I'm sure you're aware, Agent Shadow is one of our most competent operatives. He was instrumental in helping to restore a relative state of order to Westopolis. But apart from this, he is particularly qualified for the current mission. Shadow might be considered the leading expert on Chaos energy - he possesses the unique ability to manipulate and interpret the energy field himself," the Commander explained with an air of confidence bordering on affection.

"So little is known about the energy field. Perhaps a team of scientists could accompany-" a walking labcoat was cut off by Shadow raising his hand for silence.

"Tell me, doctor... If someone stands and watches a fighting match, and studies the fighters' techniques; observes them... does he understand how to fight?" Shadow stood and walked the length of the floor, coming towards the display screen.

"Well I-" the hapless researcher began, only to once again be cut short.

"Of course not, he has only seen fighting. It is not until he bloodies his knuckles and bruises his body that he will truly understand how to fight."

"Look, I'm not sure-"

"Precisely. You're not sure. You have no idea what you're dealing with here. You can run all the tests you like, but ultimately your knowledge is merely skin-deep. I don't need a team of researchers slowing me down, I am Chaos Control," Shadow finished, a look of victory on his face. "When do I leave?"

The council seemed momentarily stunned by his outburst, but as their surprise faded, they seemed only to be pleased by his vigor and determination. Smug smiles spread across the room as the Commander folded his hands neatly in front of him.

"Be here tomorrow at 0600. We'll have some special preparations ready for you. For now, you're dismissed, Agent Shadow," the Commander nodded stiffly, as Shadow turned without a word to leave.

Just like every day, when he arrived home at Rouge's apartment, she had gotten back slightly before him, and inquired curiously abut the details of his daily duties. Some days were more exciting than others, being a GUN Agent meant equal measure of bullet casings and file cabinets.

Thinking nothing of relating to her what had transpired as he did every other day, Shadow recounted the briefing session that had discussed the energy anomalies appearing in the deep sea, and his own mission involving them. Rouge was deathly silent for some time after hearing the news, and bit her lip slightly.

"Uh... is everything okay?" he asked at seeing her odd reaction to such routine talk, raising one eyebrow in suspicion.

"Yeah, I guess. It's just... this doesn't sound right. I mean, you and I both know that whatever is making these energy fluxes is massive... it's probably going to be very dangerous," she added slowly, aware that questioning Shadow's strength would only alienate him from her perspective.

Unfortunately for Rouge, despite her attempt at conveying her stance tactfully, Shadow still was offended by the idea that it would be too hazardous. "Danger? Rouge, do you know who I am? My middle name is danger!"

"I thought that it was Dexter," Rouge interjected teasingly, hoping to dissuade his vexation.

Shadow froze. He turned around stiffly, eyes narrowed. "Who told you that?" his voice was a low deadpan.

"Oh, I read it in your file ages ago when GUN assigned me to investigate Project Shadow," Rouge giggled.

Shadow was silent for a moment, before continuing. "Since I had GUN destroy my file... I'm denying that. Anyways, as I was saying before-"

"Shadow, you don't need to prove anything, I know that you're the Ultimate Lifeform," she cut him off, "But maybe you should let GUN handle this. Sometimes you get in this cocky mood, and you might make a mistake."

Utter and complete silence fell over the room. Imperceptibly, Shadow's right eye twitched slightly.

"Cocky?" he growled slightly, before clenching his fists. "If anybody has reason to be cocky, it's me, not that blue moron!"

"Shadow, I wasn't comparing-"

"Really? Then why use the word cocky? Everyone knows Sonic is cocky. But why must everybody compare him and me? We are nothing alike!" Shadow was making himself more infuriated by the second, and Rouge was at a loss for how to soothe him.

"C'mon Shadow, I didn't mention Sonic. You don't have to be so jealous of him when he's obviously weaker than you are," she said before she realized the words were out of her mouth.
"Jealous? Of that blue moron and his idiotic grin? There's nothing to be jealous of! But I know one thing..." he paused and inhaled deeply, beginning to bring his emotions under control, but not less determined to have his way. "Sonic would never turn down this mission."

"Sonic's even worse in water than you are."

"I don't have any problem with water besides not being able to breathe it. I can swim just fine, I'll have you know," Shadow crossed his arms and faced away from her.

"I've just got this nagging feeling..." she realized mid-sentence that logic would not convince him; he was stubborn and determined. She would have to take a different approach. "Shadow..."

Shadow's eyes widened slightly at hearing the sudden sultry turn her voice as taken, and he glanced backwards out of sheer curiosity.

"You know... you could always say you were sick..." she said slowly, allowing the words to drip off her tongue like molasses.

"But if I'm not-" unable to finish his sentence he froze as Rouge reached forward and draped one hand on the patch of white hair on his torso.

"We could stay home all day... But believe me, you won't be bored."

Shadow gulped slightly, his throat feeling dry and constricted. His mind raced with involuntary fantasies of precisely what Rouge had in mind. Jolting himself back to the present by shaking his head roughly, and gently removed her hand from his chest. He cleared his throat to try to regain his composure, before continuing.

"Rouge, you know how I feel about you. Nothing could change that. But your concern is unnecessary. Only I can do this mission, so I will do it."

He left her standing there alone with the icy feeling in the pit of her stomach, her thoughts filled with dark wonderings of what her premonitions would portend.