Foreword: I think we sometimes forget the full implications of Sonic's universe. Consequently, this story is very dark. You have been warned.
"Sal, what's up?"
"Hm?" Sally looked at Sonic. "What was that?"
"You're mopier than a basset hound. Somethin's on your mind."
They walked across the bridge over the stream that filled Knothole's water needs. The water ran swift and clean and true. Its eager sounds relaxed the mind and let it wander. But the mind wanders where it will…
"I was thinking," Sally said slowly, "about children."
"I think you're skipping a few steps."
She sighed, but with a smile. "Not mine, other people's. Sonic, have you ever seen a small robot?"
He cocked his head. "How small is small? Like, Tails small, or more like Antoine's brains small?"
"I'm being serious!"
"And I'm not. Balance has been restored."
"What do you think would have happened if we hadn't escaped on that day?"
That brought Sonic pause. Only one day was spoken of in those terms. The day, eleven years ago, when Robotnik took control. The day when he seized all the police and military forces and overthrew the capitol in a cataclysm of smoke and blood.
"I dunno," he said, trying to keep up his nonchalant tone and not really succeeding. "Never really thought about it."
"Well, I was thinking about it," said Sally. "And it occurred to me: I've never seen a small robot. I mean a really small one, like a kid would look if he were Roboticized."
Silence stretched out as they digested the thought; Sonic fidgeted restlessly. "Huh," he said. "You know, a small robot can fit in some nifty places. I bet Robuttnik's just usin' 'em in places we can't see 'em."
"I hope you're right, Sonic," Sally replied. She shrugged. "It was just a thought. Don't worry about it."
She turned to walk back towards the village, but Sonic lingered on the bridge. "Too late," he murmured. "Way past too late."
Eleven years earlier…
"Next," said Robotnik.
It should have been impossible to take Robotnik seriously, based on his appearance. He had a bald, cone-shaped head with metal pegs for ears and a flyaway mustache. He was grossly obese; his build was that of an egg with arms and legs attached. Not the finest examples of arms and legs, either. The legs looked like they had no business supporting that kind of weight, while the arms were mismatched, one flesh and blood, the other metal and circuitry. He must have thought his costume dramatic, having designed it himself, but in truth it was comical, bright reds and yellows with a gaudy yellow cape.
But to laugh at Robotnik strictly for his looks would have been the height of stupidity. There was nothing funny about his eyes, for example—red-within-black, cunning, cruel. His voice was treacherous as a baited snare; his mannerisms those of the raccoon, who fastidiously washes his hands even as he devours his prey alive.
Most of all, you laugh at something that is absurd or out-of-place, and Robotnik would have looked out of place nearly anywhere. Not here. Here, his appearance was that of the ringmaster at some hellish circus. Here, he belonged.
The Swatbots hauled in the next prisoner. In other circumstances she would have been quite pretty. She was a cat with tuxedo markings, glossy fur and gentle curves. Unfortunately, her fur was caked with dirt, her eyes baggy and bloodshot, and she sported bruises on her limbs that showed through her fur. Her legs were tied together at the ankle. Each of the bots held one of her arms; their superior height and strength gave them more than sufficient leverage to haul her around. As soon as they brought her into the chamber she began to buck and scream against their grips, lunging with all her strength back towards the entrance door. From that door came a high, pure sound—the cry of a child.
"Mommy?" repeated Robotnik. He held up a hand to the two Swatbots handling the woman. They stopped. Between them, the woman sagged, panting, exhausted, weeping. Her voice was hoarse—she'd been shouting like this for hours, to no avail.
"Bring in the next prisoner," he said. Only one Swatbot was necessary for this task, as the captive was a boy cat who couldn't have been older than 6. He was the spitting image of his mother and his face was twisted in desperation.
"Mommy!" he cried. "Help me!"
His voice reached the mother, and she found a new reserve of strength. She surged forward so far her arms threatened to pull out of their sockets. She had eyes only for Robotnik.
"YOU LET HIM GO, BASTARD, HE'S ONLY A CHILD, MY ONLY CHILD, MY BABY, YOU LET HIM GO OR BY THE ALMIGHY I'LL TEAR OUT YOUR THROAT YOU MONSTER, YOU SICK MONSTER, YOU BEAST, DAMN YOU, DAAAAMN!"
"Oh, this won't do," said Robotnik, stepping towards the boy. He seemed for all the world not to notice the mother at all. "Let him go, let him go."
The Swatbot released the boy, who immediately ran for his mother. Her resurgence of strength left her; she sagged again, limp as a rag, and only the (literally) iron grips of her captors kept her from collapsing to the ground. Her child embraced her side, his knuckles turning white from the effort of it, his cries filling the room.
Robotnik looked at the tableau before him. "Oh, much better," he said.
"Why?" said the mother between heaving breaths. "Why-y-y?"
Robotnik shrugged. "The answer won't really re-assure you, but… because I can, I suppose. Because I could never rule the way I *want* to rule…" he reached out a hand to caress her cheek; she jerked away as much as she could. "…if I used any subtler methods." He snarled the last few words and grabbed her chin with his hand. He felt her shiver. He released her, took a step back. Now his eyes fell upon the boy.
The mother noticed. "Stay away," she said. "You STAY AWAY FROM HIM!"
"You'll wear your voice out like that," Robotnik chided her gently. He placed a hand atop the boy's head; he squeezed ever tighter against her body, like he was trying to bury his head in her side, which muffled his cries.
"Was this like it was when you were captured?" Robotnik asked, his voice barely a whispered. "Were you clinging to mommy because you thought it would save you? Did she say hold on, so long as you stay together everything will be alright?"
The mother sobbed. Robotnik appraised them curiously, like a gold digger unsure of his find.
"Or did your mother try and hide you?" He scratched the back of the boy's neck. The boy was beginning to damage his own breathing as he tried to hide. Robotnik noticed. "Did she try to distract the Swatbots so they wouldn't find you? But you couldn't help it. You couldn't stand watching them take her. So you made some noise, or dropped something, or you just ran out of hiding… but it was okay, really. Because nothing, nothing could be worse than watching them take mommy away, isn't that right?"
A smile began to creep onto his face. "Don't you worry, child," he said. "I won't take mommy away from you."
The child's crying lessened somewhat. He allowed a single teary, bloodshot eye to view Robotnik.
Robotnik raised his right hand, a pious expression on his face. "You have my word that I will not take your mommy away from you."
The woman lifted her head. "What… what do you… is…"
The smile bloomed on Robotnik's face. "Ah, for the first time, you're admitting yourself hope, aren't you?"
"Please, please, I'll do anything, ANYTHING, just don't hurt my baby, don't hurt my baby…"
Robotnik's eyes twinkled. "Some say, since I envision a future of almost all robots, that I devalue the importance of children. Oh, but that's not so. That perspective wounds me. I understand how much parents care for their children. That's why I did so much research into how Roboticization affects children. Did you know," he added, "that some of my first subjects were a mother-daughter team? Oh yes… I learned so much."
Robotnik knelt and patted the child on the back. The mother tried to speak, but her lungs failed her, and she could only hack and cough and cry. "The results, I'm sorry to say, weren't what I'd hoped for. Young bodies are so small, and young organs so immature. Roboticization scales down very poorly."
The boy buried his face in his mother again, but Robotnik pressed on. He grasped one of the boy's arms. "The muscles that resulted were quite weak, far too weak to make good laborers. And the small body builds up toxins at an alarming rate, for it can't process them the way the mature body can. Within months the test subject needed a constant stream of replacement parts. Not long after, it was dead."
He shook his head almost sorrowfully. "What a waste that would be," he said. "I wouldn't get a laborer, I'd lose anything invested in repairs, and you would still die. I suppose I could wait five years or so for you to mature, but… is this any place to raise a child?"
He stood and returned his attention to the mother. His eyes were dangerous. "You wouldn't want that, would you?" he said, his voice gracious and subtle as the flick of a snake's tongue. "You wouldn't want to condemn your son to a slow death by poison, of agonizing months of torture, would you?"
"P-p-please, don't hurt my… my son, he's all I have… he's my whole heart…"
Robotnik reached out, grabbed her head, turned it side-to-side. "No, Robotnik," he said in a pantomime of her voice. "I don't want that."
"I… don't… let him go, let him goooooo…"
"Very well," said Robotnik. He stepped back, and gestured once to a Swatbot.
The Swatbot shot the child dead.
There was a moment of silence, and then the woman screamed. It wasn't a scream like before, which had lived entirely in the woman's mind. This scream came from every part of her. The death of her only child touched her whole being. Millions of years of maternal instinct, decades of love reserved for the boy as he grew, unlimited hope and potential, years of dotage and helpless servile love, and a tidal wave of pain that had no other outlet surged through the woman's lungs and vocal chords. She crashed against the grips of her captors, blindly, ferociously, not seeing or hearing what she was doing because the enormity of the crime occupied her entire mind and being. She screamed until her lungs had no air left in them, and after the most minute of pauses to refill she continued. It wasn't a new scream, but the same one, unbroken and undiminished.
Robotnik turned away, arms raised theatrically. "Let it never be said that Robotnik is incapable of mercy," he said. He snapped his fingers. The Swatbots hauled the woman underneath a tube. It snapped down, sealing her inside but doing little to dull her screams. What did she care where she was?
"You know," said Robotnik to the woman, though he knew she was not listening, "I've often wondered. Does a Roboticized person maintain consciousness? That is, does some part of you remain yours, and the robot body is just a prison cell that keeps the mind trapped? Naturally, from my point of view, the question is academic, but… the answer matters a great deal to you."
He snapped his fingers again. The Roboticizer began to work. "And I promised the boy I would not take his mommy away from him," he added. "Am I not a man of my word?"
Over the course of the next few seconds the lights dimmed as the Roboticizer sucked up all available power. Strange sounds filled the room, though the scream overrode them all. Eventually even the scream ceased to be, leaving an emptiness to the atmosphere it had filled.
The tube rose. Swatbots stepped forward, in case they had to lend a hand. But no, they almost never did. The machine performed as it always did. The mother was no longer herself. A robot stepped off of the Roboticizer platform, turned, and marched out of the room to join its fellows.
And Robotnik stood, obese body taut as a bowstring, eyes rolled back in his head, wallowing in a near-orgasmic state of bliss.
Time stretched out. Eventually Robotnik sighed contentedly, slowly relaxed back onto his feet. He waited until the Roboticizer checked out as ready to operate again, until the corpse was cleared away, until only a hint of burning smell remained in the air. He licked his lips one last time. He spoke.
Disclaimer: characters and situations in this story copyrighted one or more of the following: SEGA, DiC. This story copyrighted Bryon Nightshade.