CHAPTER THIRTY THREE: Epilogue
About a week passed before Shadow felt up to walking again. Each step ached in his bones, and his muscles strained. It wasn't like him, and it frustrated him to no end. He was the Ultimate Lifeform; he was designed to withstand armies, to outlive pandemics, to survive the worst this world could throw at him. And Doctor Eggman managed to find the one thing that could take him out. Feeling so weak, so useless, was unbecoming, and with each painful movement he found himself grow angrier and angrier at his situation. Still, moving with pain was better than not moving at all, and for some reason, he could ignore it.
Of course, part of that might be because of the person he leaned on.
"Are you sure that you wouldn't just be happier with crutches, Shadow?" Sonic asked, shifting Shadow's weight over his shoulder with a small oof. "I know how you like to be all self reliant and stuff, and you're being kind of heavy."
Just like him to be complaining because of the task he put on himself, Shadow thought with a smirk. "Gee, I'm sorry that I took away all the artificial Dark Gaia from you and am now bearing the effects for you," he replied sarcastically, giving Sonic a slight glare.
"It's no big issue or anything, and believe me I'm indebted to you, but why does that mean I have to lug you around?"
"Maybe because you love me, you idiot."
"Ha ha, yeah, probably. But still, you could stand to lose a few pounds."
Shadow looked at the blue hedgehog helping him stay aloft and smiled at the silly grin on his face, white teeth shining under the building's florescent lights. Tails had insisted on the two of them living in the Spagonia lab until he could fully understand A) what was happening to Shadow and B) how to fix it. He said something about how the interaction of the Dark Gaia and his inherent Chaos was "deeply fascinating," and he'd been running tests nonstop. After all, Dark Gaia should have killed Shadow by now, yet here he was, very much alive. And like a good scientist, when Tails was presented with this enigma, he worked tirelessly to understand it. Sonic brought him food every once in a while, and Shadow himself had to intimidate him into actually sleeping, otherwise he would have probably wasted away in the lab.
The other person that was helping him was Maria. Though she wasn't quite at the same level as Tails, she proved to have a highly advanced mind, and she picked up on scientific concepts and practices quickly. Tails had been wary for the first day or two, but then she started to grow on him, and now she worked as his assistant in the lab. "She's just like her cousin," Tails told Shadow once, "except that she doesn't really care about power or fame. She just wants to help people. I can respect that."
Which brought the two hedgehogs to that hallway, walking towards his main workspace. Apparently the two of them had reached some sort of breakthrough, and
"So what do you know about the new development? Has he found a cure? Or maybe a way to make the stuff work to your advantage?"
"I know just as much about this as you do," Shadow paused.
"Well I don't know anything."
"Exactly. I don't know why you always treat me like I'm privy to so much information that you are not."
"I don't know, maybe because you have that whole 'I worked for the government' vibe. It makes you seem like you know what's going on."
He rolled his eyes. "Well, I don't. Now would you mind shutting up?" Shadow was only pretending to be annoyed; in reality he was just glad he and Sonic were still here, talking, bickering even. Sonic met his pretend annoyance with an exaggerated pout, sticking his tongue out.
"You're such a child."
"You know you like it."
Shadow leaned over and kissed him. "Yes, Sonic," he said, letting himself smile. "Yes I do."
Tails and Maria were in the inner lab, Crudele's old room. The schematics for various machines were strewn about the room, almost a flashing beacon saying 'Tails was here.' His inventions were practically his trademark; in what little free time, he liked tinkering here, countering the negativity of the room's past with things to help others in the future. He hadn't built anything since the three of them came back from the ARK, however. He had been too preoccupied.
"Are you sure I should be the one to talk to them, Tails?"
The young fox looked at Maria, small bags under his eyes. Sonic and Shadow had been pushing him to sleep, but the constant work showed in his body. "You'd be better at telling them the bad news. Shadow tolerates me, but he really does love you. He'd trust you. Besides, I feel like I'm close to a breakthrough," he said, trying to stay as positive as possible. It didn't work, though; his hand trembled as he handled a blood sample slide, barely keeping it between his fingers.
"Maria raised an eyebrow at him. "That's what you said last time," she said matter of factly, "and you didn't sleep for a day and a half."
"Yeah, but I mean it this time!" Tails said, standing up. The slide slipped out of his hand and shattered on the floor. He sighed, walking towards the closet and grabbing a broom and groaning. "In any case," he said, "I'm being kind of selfish too. I mean, I don't want to tell them that Shadow is supposed to be dead by now, or that what's keeping him alive is dependency on his boyfriend." He knelt down, smirking a little. "Especially considering Sonic doesn't remember even telling me about how he feels about Shadow."
The girl in the blue dress knelt beside him. "Tails..." she said, trying to find the right words to day, ultimately failing.
"No, it's okay," he said, trying to put a smile on his face. "They'll talk to me in their own time. I don't want to force anything. Just tell them that the positive emotions they feel around each other inversely correlate with the activity of the Dark Gaia construct. Shadow will get it, at least, and that's what really matters."
Maria laughed. "It's not like Sonic is leaving him much these days anyway."
"Yeah," Tails said, finally finishing his sweeping. "I just hope I can find a cure, a real cure, in time. Sonic may love Shadow, but he doesn't like to stay in one place for long."
Meanwhile, deep in space, the evil doctor observed a mass of flesh and a whimpering man strapped to a table. Unlike his usual brightly colored garments, he adopted those of the former physician on the ARK, a white robe with an almost stereotypical stethoscope, even though there was no purpose for it. Then again, Doctor Eggman wasn't typically one for practicality in the first place.
The man on the table was whimpering, but couldn't say a word. The chip in his head ensured it; to ensure that those it effected would not rise against him, he redesigned the chip to minimalize activity in Broca's area, the part of the brain in charge of complex planning. However, Broca's area also controlled the ability to speak, so the effects of the chip left its victims mute. In the doctor's mind, that was fine. He'd talk enough for the both of them, and it was a welcome change from his two companion robots, who currently were scouting behavior of others on the vessel. "Ha ha!" he said, readying a scalpel, "leaving me up here was the worst mistake those hedgehogs and the little girl could have made! They forget that though the technology is old, there's so much potential here to build, to grow!"
The doctor adjusted a dial, and the man's whimpering settled into faint panting. "Ah yes," he said, quite fond of his own voice, "from up here, I can perfect my two pet projects. Sonic couldn't kill everyone, which means there are plenty of people with chips that I can perfect, and with my grandfather's research I've already made some significant headway!"
Twisting the dial even more, the man's eyes glazed over. "Stand up," the doctor demanded, and with an ease of body envying that of a dancer, the man rose from the table and placed his feet firmly on the ground. "Ha ha ha, excellent!" Eggman cheered, clasping his hands together and grinning from ear to ear. "Motor control, at least, is possible. If I wanted to, the entire world could be my slaves!"
A scuttle of machinery entered through the door, distracting Eggman from his minor success. "So why don't you, Doctor?" said Orbot, just returned from his patrol. The doctor was not amused.
"Gah, you're done already?" he asked before turning to the man and adding with a wave of his hand, "and you, don't move an inch, no matter what happens."
The robot nodded it's head - well, CPU. "Not much to report, sir. The chips that you have not tampered with since boarding the ARK still have the original effect of making the users more docile. They are utterly incapable of doing anything about your plans, which is good because you are likewise incapable of carrying out your plans..."
"What was that, you piece of scrap metal?"
"Only using data I have gathered, sir, I have come to the conclusion that you still have not made any progress with your, ahem, scientific study."
Doctor Eggman gripped the edge of the table. "Well, prepare to be recalibrated, because you are here just in time for the next big trial of Objective Two."
"Ah, so you finally fixed the aging problem?"
"He he he..." Eggman laughed nervously, twirling his mustache, "Well, um, no. Not exactly."
"So you have, as usual, failed?"
"That's not what I said!" His fist pounded against the table. "It's true, I haven't fixed the problem. Every prototype thus far has died from the accelerated aging... the clone of my cousin shouldn't last much longer, either..." The doctor paused a moment. Remorse? No, he was just in thought. The standing man shifted his weight slightly, knocking Eggman out of his stupor. "But I got one better! A way of getting around the pesky aging problem, and a face and body that Sonic cannot resist!"
With a flourish, he produced a syringe out of his pocket and stabbed the mound of flesh on the table. It shifted and took shape, a very familiar shape indeed.
"Congratulations, sir," Orbot noted as black quills produced themselves, "you just reinvented the Shadow android."
Instead of replying to Orbot's sarcasm, the doctor simply smiled to himself. "Ah, but you see, he is an exact copy. There is no difference in ability or body from the original thing. I've recreated him to the T. And the best part?"
Turning towards the recreated hedgehog, he spoke forcefully. "Shadow?"
The form nodded its head.
The form smirked before approaching the man, readying his arms. The man still seemed completely docile and at peace, even as the creature firmly placed his hands on his neck and snapped it in two. The body slumped to the floor, and the doctor began laughing. "Yes, it would seem that I have the chip in working order!"
The body began to twitch and the face winced. "He appears to be in pain, sir," Orbot added.
"That is because his body is unstable. I still need to find a way to add more stability, and maybe let him speak."
"A tall order, sir. And do you believe you will accomplish this?"
"Oh, I wouldn't worry about that. After all, with Sonic and Shadow out of commission and thinking I'm stranded," he said, putting his hands behind his head, "I've got all the time in the world."
It had been a difficult evening for Tails in general. The voices from upstairs sounded upset, and with good reason. Shadow was supposed to be dead. In order to keep him from being dead, Sonic couldn't be away from him. And Maria herself wouldn't last long either. Such was the state of things; there weren't any manipulators of Chaos around that could help Shadow, Sonic already tried, and despite days of study, there was nothing Tails could find. There would be no cure. There was no way to cure this biologically.
If only there was some other way of fixing things, Tails thought. I need to think outside the box. Be creative.
Stepping away from his computer and his books, Tails looked at the box of mementos he and Sonic kept from their adventures. Fishing through it, Tails brought out one of his oldest objects: the screwdriver he used when he fixed Sonic's biplane for the first time. It was small in his hands; he'd grown up so much since then. Sonic's been like a brother to me for years. He saved me all those years ago, taking me away from bullies and treating me with respect. He helped me get an education, see the world. And now it's my turn to help him and I can't do anything! The box had several other items; some leaves from trees on Angel Island, old copies of storybooks Sonic borrowed from Shadow and never returned, a few trophies from local governments for helping out, and the bracelet Sonic got from Chip. The bracelet couldn't do anything against Dark Gaia, Tails knew that - when he said he'd try everything, he meant everything - but he still picked it up and twirled it in his hand.
If only we could go back and talk to Chip. He'd probably have a few ideas... Then a spark flickered in the foxes eyes. That's it! If we could use the Time Stones, or be pushed in time with Time Eater, then maybe...
Tails picked up the bracelet and ran out of the lab into the main room. His face had a plastered smile on, and for the first time in days, he seemed really, truly, happy. "Guys! We can do it! We can fix everything!"
((So here we are. The end. I've been writing this story for almost a year now, and it's finally done. Thank you, everyone who has been reading for so long. It's very encouraging, and it makes me glad that someone likes what I do.))
((In a few weeks, after finals are over, I'm starting work on a sequel if you'd still be interested. It has a few twists, and unlike this one, it's more planned, more deliberate. I think you'll really like it. Again, review and rate and everything, and thank you all again so much for reading.))