This was last order many of the Doctor's children heard before being consumed in a blazing inferno. A storm was raging outside the walls of the Egg Carrier 2, and mixed with the roar of thunder was the roar of a vengeful god.
In the time it took the flying warship to charge its main cannon, Perfect Chaos landed a direct hit across the bow, melting the barrel shut. The searing oral beam washed over the upper deck causing dozens of missile turrets to burst into flame as their incendiary contents ignited. One by one the aircraft's arsenal exploded in a chain reaction that rocked the entire vessel with crimson plumes. In a matter of seconds the explosions consumed the massive rotating central engine that provided lift. Without this crucial mechanism the ship began tilting downward, soon to collide with the half submerged city below, its thrusters still burning. From the destruction of the engine the inferno progressed to the fuel compartments of the thrusters, which went up in a raging fireball that blasted straight through the ship's interior.
In the time it took the engine to break down, the Doctor had thrown himself from the control tower to the floor of the upper deck. Lesser men would have had trouble getting up from such a fall, but in a flash the rotund scientist was back on his feet and pushing his shades back into place. Shrapnel from the various explosions flew past his head as he searched desperately for a means of escape. The sky was a haze of smoke and storm clouds, utterly black save for the light of the burning Egg Carrier. He tried to reach for the Eggmobile parked at the head of the scaffolding connecting the two ends of the upper deck, but a sudden shudder of the aircraft made him stumble down the ramp below. The Doctor tumbled to the base of the engine as it was blown apart from the inside. He was flat on his face, choking from the endless fumes, but the man forced himself up on his elbow. The ship was tilting forward, causing him to slide against the floor back towards the ramp. A familiar hemispherical shape fell from the scaffolding and started rolling towards him. Coughing, the Doctor threw out a hand to catch the Eggmobile's rim before it could collide with his body. He could hear his blood pounding in his ears, and the roar of Chaos declaring his treason to the world. It made his skin crawl. With little time left, Eggman pushed the hovercraft onto its base, before climbing into the cockpit.
In the time it took his creator to clear the blast radius of the doomed Egg Carrier 2, E-106 had its organic battery sealed within its frame by the onboard assembly cabinet. The cabinet's twin on the first Egg Carrier had seen the rebirth of E-101 Beta in a vastly superior design, and like the original it continued operating as most of the airship's other systems shut down. E-106's structure was already complete- all that was left was for the robot's programing to be finalized. The seventh E-100 unit was constructed almost simultaneously to the second Egg Carrier, and the finishing touches to its design were completed aboard the ship thanks the other E-100 units' remodeling jobs taxing the Doctor's other facilities to the limit. It was hardly a wasted effort; E-106 was designed not only with the most successful qualities of his older brothers in mind but also the most advanced defense system his creator could muster, equal only with the expenses spoiled on Metal Sonic. The computer carrying out the complex automaton's programming had nearly completed its task when the monorail car broke in half and crushed the Ring energy reactor that provided power to the cabinet. Fueled as he was by a small green bird, E-106 remained online after losing connection with the cabinet, his central processor activating and awakening him to consciousness. The first thing the robot became aware of was the dark room around him and the ship's blaring emergency siren.
While all this was going on the enormous amount of energy built up into the now fully charged cannon was looking for a place to go. The bow of the Egg Carrier 2 rammed into the flooded streets of Station Square, rupturing the outer casing of the unstable beam. With nothing holding it back the pent up energy blasted outwards in a ball of plasma big enough to consume an area three times that of the aircraft itself. Mauve light reflected off the ruined buildings surrounding ground zero, the brightest sight in the entire city now cloaked beneath the dark sky of an ancient fury. Steam ascended to meet the inky clouds as Perfect Chaos gave a cry of triumph.
Gently a pink bird landed on the broken girder of a skyscraper that was recently cleaved in two.
It surveyed what was left of Station Square with inquisitive eyes. So much destruction had taken place in the space of a few minutes that it was difficult to imagine this was a pristine city teeming with the activity of over 300,000 people just two hours ago. Chaos and Sonic had long since departed, leaving others to pick up the pieces. The Flicky's friend with the color like its own was ushered away by humans in dark suits, along with a vast procession of other people rendered homeless by the devastation. Her vulpine associate was taken elsewhere; presently the bird was trying to locate her other friends, having lost sight of them.
Down below an S.S.P.D. officer was trudging through the toxic morass that came up to his shoulders in a slow search for survivors. He was garbed in the usual attire of the city's dutiful law enforcement organization; dark boots, gloves, and ballistic armor better suited for combat situations than navigating the submerged urban environment. His head was concealed by a black helmet with a clear mask, obscuring his exhausted expression. The force was not equipped for a disaster like this. Station Square had suffered from hurricanes and flood damage before, but never anything of such a scale. The monster had appeared so suddenly there was no time to evacuate or prepare a proper response. It was sheer good fortune that most of the S.S.P.D. was on high ground when the catastrophe hit, or they would be the ones buried alive, waiting for rescue to come. Half of the officers had responded to the terrorist attack which took place merely an hour before the creature appeared and were relatively safe in the towers around Speed Highway. The other half was at City Hall guarding the mayor, and by some miracle the building was largely unharmed. He was from that particular group, and they were now fanning out to look for other people in the area that made it through the ordeal. A rescue boat would arrive soon to ferry the civilians to a safer place. The officer prayed it would get here sooner.
The water was more like sludge and wading through it felt indescribably disgusting. That storm- for want of a better word- had tossed up thousands of tons of mud when it blasted the highways to pieces. In many places the ground didn't feel solid under his feet, as if standing still would cause him to sink into the awful slime. Seaweed, trash, and shattered debris dragged inland by the tidal wave constantly got in his way, occasionally some junk in need of removal clinging to his visor. Everywhere it stank of raw sewage, an overwhelmingly foul odor that spoke of the countless pathogens and diseases that swam through this soup. It horrified him to think of all the people drowning in it throughout the city. Conditions were probably even worse on the other group's side of town, where the madman's bomb landed. They reported that the missile was crushed in the mayhem, plunging its scattered contents into the deep. Now the water in that area was probably irradiated or mixed with some nasty chemicals from the bomb, and it wouldn't be long before it flowed through the rest of Station Square.
The officer looked around glumly, sensing that there was no chance his home would ever be the same again. He saw familiar structures and businesses torn apart by the fury of an unknowable force, one it was no secret was unleashed by a madman who was still at large and could strike again at any time. People he had known his entire life were gone now. Somewhere their bodies were floating in a mess of water and garbage; the lucky ones were being moved out of the city most likely to never come back again. The worst part was not knowing who was who, or whether the next tomb he uncovered would be a friend's.
"Hay! Hay! I think I found somebody!"
He turned to see a fellow member of the S.S.P.D. waving to him from the roof of a half-buried restaurant. Immediately he recognized the place as the burger joint he used to frequent with the other officers on his beat. Debris from a taller building nearby had all but crushed it, blocking any view of the windows or doorway. The famous burger man statue was broken in half, bobbing around in the water, the only thing keeping it tied to the shop was a tangled mess of cables that happened to get washed down the sidewalk. Quickly the officer scaled the rubble to reach his comrade, who helped pull him onto the roof.
"Wait here. I'm going inside." the other man intoned before climbing down a hole into the building.
He watched through the hole as the man sloshed towards the counter-top, climbing over it to grab something behind the bar. The officer realized after a moment that he was dragging a woman out of the water, her clothing and hair matted with mud, and with a great deal of effort pulled her onto the counter-top. The other officer stood up, holding the woman as high as he could to pass her to his friend. He reached down to take hold of the civilian, yanking her through the ceiling by the arms, doing everything in his power to keep a firm grip. Once her whole body was on the roof, he rolled her onto her back, putting an ear next to her mouth.
"Good!" his comrade yelled back. "There's one more person down here! Get ready to pull them up!"
Returning to the hole, the officer reached down again to grab the second body, this time it was a man. Right away he knew this was the employee that worked the register everyday- he'd seen him dozens of times. A real nice guy. He dragged the man over to the woman's side, then reached down to help the other officer climb back out of the wreckage. With both of them on the roof, he turned back to the girl, trying to restore her to consciousness while his friend checked on the Burger Shop employee. She looked vaguely familiar. She was wearing the same uniform as the man beside her, but he'd never recalled seeing a woman employed at the Burger Shop, so she must have just started working there. Probably even this morning. He wondered what it must feel like, seeing a new life and new opportunities destroyed in the blink of an eye, before you ever got a chance to experience them. That's what happened to her and innumerable others today. Despite his best efforts it didn't seem like she was going to wake up any time soon.
"How's he doing?" the officer inquired, looking up to the other man.
He shook his head.
Soaked to the bone, their visors covered in grime from a hundred wretched places, no one would be able to see the tears running down their faces.
Some time passed before the officer pulled his radio out of a case hanging from his belt. It took a few attempts to get the thing to work, wet and dirty as it was. After some percussive maintenance he was able to contact one of his superiors.
"...so tell them to bring the boat around this way, we've got a girl."
He shut off the radio and contemplated what to do next. Cold, tired, and utterly filthy, the last thing he wanted to do was go back into the water. Yet he knew there had to be more people trapped in the buildings around them, and if he didn't get them out before the boat arrived they were gonners. Presently the other officer was standing near the edge of the rooftop, facing the south, pointing to something far in the distance.
"My God... Look at that!"
The officer heard it before he spotted it. A deafening roar began to echo across the city, emanating from the sky and causing the ground to shake. High above Station Square thundered an enormous object that dwarfed even the largest building below. Casting a dark shadow over several blocks of urban landscape as it approached, the flying battleship of G.U.N. was as magnificent as any one of the terrorist's airborne fortresses, and as it came into view their hearts swelled with hope. The man standing at the edge let out an energetic whoop.
"Yeehaw! The cavalry has arrived!"
"Set them down here."
The officer brought the woman cradled in his arms to the spot indicated, laying her down on a thin mat, one of a long row of such mats sprawling the hallway. Right behind him was the man who called him to the rooftop, helping another civilian they found reach the mat beside her. This survivor was a middle-aged, balding man with flecks of glass stuck in his face, barely able to walk and muttering incoherently. As soon as both civilians were on the floor medics rushed over to tend to them, each garbed in white coats with a stylized 'G' encircled by blue and red between their shoulders. City Hall was now crawling with G.U.N. personnel trying to assist the wounded. The roar of the airship high above them was still audible even inside.
Turning to see that his friend was heading towards the mayor's office, the man decided to go with him, figuring it would be a good idea to listen in on what the people in charge wanted them to do next. His superiors and G.U.N.'s head honcho were supposed to be in there deliberating on how to evacuate Station Square, or at least that was what he had been told.
As the officer made his way through the building his gaze was greeted with more victims of the tragedy, all piled into the halls of what was as far as he knew the only safe place in the entire city, some in better shape than others. He passed a man with his legs in splints, medics swarming around him in an effort to address his injuries. Leaning against the opposite wall was a tiny girl in a yellow dress crying for her mother, who despite being surround by strangers, looked as utterly alone as she must have felt. Just two pairs of countless eyes that lined either side of the hallway, eyes filled with grief and confusion, too many eyes that were familiar to him. On faces where yesterday the officer had seen joy or wonder or content there was now nothing but pain. Some showed scars inflicted by the ravages of flood, storm, and tremor. All of them showed the deeper scars of having everything they'd ever known taken away.
Before long he had reached the mayor's office. The doors were simply left open so the officer made no pause before entering, following closely behind his friend, who walked right in as if he belonged there. Immediately he spotted the chief of the S.S.P.D., who however had failed to notice them enter, his gaze fixed to a map spread out on the desk in front of him. Standing beside him was a tall man with short white hair in a gray uniform- unmistakably the Commander of the Guardian Units of the Nations. The mayor, a stout gentleman with thin gray hair, was standing opposite the military leader with his hand heartily grasping the shoulder of a young fox.
'Didn't know they had a kid in here' the officer thought to himself.
None of the delegates took note of the two men as they carried on with their discussion.
"Mayor, are you telling me the South Island Terrorist wasn't behind this?" questioned the Commander, his green and brown eyes expressing skepticism.
"N-not exactly, Commander!" the mayor stuttered in response. "You s-see, he tried to destroy the city, but-but young Mr. Miles Prower here-"
The old politician shook the fox, nearly knocking him over- was that a second tail?- and gesturing excitedly.
"-he stopped that vile criminal from detonating the bomb, then destroyed one of his giant mechs single-handedly!"
Still holding an air of disbelief, the Commander regarded the hero intently, wondering how a mere child could be capable of such feats.
"Is that true... Prower, was it?"
Miles was looking at the floor bashfully, but nodded his head after a moment, looking up to meet the soldier's gaze.
"It wasn't anything really... I mean, I couldn't even stop Chaos from reaching its final form..."
"Yes!" exclaimed the mayor. "That was the creature responsible for all this! It was that terrorist's doing that made the awful monster attack us!"
The fox nodded again.
"He'd stolen the Chaos Emeralds to feed them to Chaos... We couldn't stop it from taking the last one and becoming Perfect Chaos..."
"The Chaos Emeralds!?" cried the Commander in shock.
"Yeah," replied the chief, not looking up from the map. "My men recovered them from the same area where Chaos was last seen. It has to be the same creature that appeared outside two nights ago. The Emeralds must have made it bigger."
The chief held up a composite sketch of the liquid anomaly's first form, sealed in a plastic cover to keep it dry, which he handed over to the Commander. He stared at the drawing with an expression of amazement that slowly shifted to dread as the subject's familiar form began to dawn on him. His eyebrow twitched.
"This... this changes everything."
The Commander seemed to grow distant as memories from a time and place long gone came to the surface. Slowly his eyes shifted from the drawing to the chief.
"Where... where are the Emeralds now?" he asked quietly.
Wordlessly the police chief lifted a wet, beat-up duffle bag from beneath the desk by its ragged strap, passing it to the Commander. Placing the sketch of Chaos down, he took the messy bag and un-zipped it quickly. It was as if the clouds had been torn away and un filtered sun light cascaded through a window between the Commander's hands. A radiant glow eschewed from within the duffle bag, defying the gritty container and the cheerless room, defying the dark ruin that Station Square had become with indomitable light. The officer watched with wonder as red, yellow, blue, and purple lights danced across the office ceiling. His friend unabashedly trotted up behind the Commander to peer over his shoulder at the gems within. The older man made no sign that he noticed this, immediately raising his voice in alarm as he shot looks at the mayor and the chief of the S.S.P.D..
"There are only five here! What happened to the other two!?"
For the first time the chief's gaze moved away from the map to look at the Commander uneasily.
"We're not sure," he replied. "These were all close together, but the area suffered pretty heavy damage, they might have gotten buried or washed away."
The old Commander gritted his teeth as he processed this information. His eyebrow twitched again. Exhaling slowly, he attempted to regain his composure.
"Where did you find them?" he asked in a steady tone, zipping the duffle bag close.
The chief placed his finger on the map in front of him, pointing to a road that once ran through Station Square mere hours ago.
"They were on an overpass here. If there are more they must be under the rubble. We'd have to take care of the water before we started shifting through it, and even then we might not find anything."
"I'll send a team to check the area." the Commander said almost before the other was finished speaking. "In the meantime, G.U.N. will be taking the rest of the Emeralds into its care."
"Wait!" cried the mayor suddenly. "I- I mean to say, we know these objects are very dangerous and need to be kept under the greatest security, which I'm sure the military is best suited for. However, seeing as these things are S.S.P.D. property at the moment, and that we have Mr. Prower to thank for saving the department's lives- if not those of the entire city- I feel it would be- ah a- appropriate to give the lad one of the gems as a token of our gratitude."
The Commander turned to look at him incredulously.
"Leave one of the most powerful volatile energy sources on the planet in the hands of a child!?"
"This is no mere child!" replied the mayor, once again gesturing to Miles wildly. "This the companion of Sonic the Hedgehog himself! This is a great hero! He took down a machine bigger than this building all on his own and unarmed! Surely the Emerald would be safe with him!"
The S.S.P.D. officer looked at the two tailed fox with yet more wonder. Could he really be a partner of the famed youth who appeared in front of City Hall to defend them from that monster when weapons could do nothing? Who appeared again like an angel of light in their darkest hour to drive it away a second time? Suddenly the child's deeds all sounded possible.
The older man's attitude became more thoughtful as he once again regarded Miles with penetrating eyes.
"You have a point..." the Commander said. "Mr. Prower can evidently defend himself well enough to keep one of these out of dangerous hands. Perhaps it would be more risky to keep so many of the Emeralds together, where a thief could take all of them at once..."
He opened the duffle bag again to pull out a yellow jewel, brilliantly cut and larger than his palm.
"Alright, the city of Station Square will keep one Emerald to do with as they please." said he while handing the jewel over to the mayor. Quickly he closed the bag again and began to turn around.
"Gentlemen, we will address plans for evacuation in a moment. There is something urgent I need to take care of first. It won't take very long-"
As the Commander turned to leave he came face to face with the officer's friend for the first time. The other man's features were still hidden by a dirty visor, but the Commander's own were of astonishment and surprise. The duffle bag fell to the floor as his gloved hands flew to take hold of the other's shoulders.
"Good God, you're alive! Why didn't you say anything to me!?"
The officer looked from one man to the other in confusion. Did they know each other?
Before his or the Commander's questions could be answered, a haggard voice moaned behind him, causing the officer to turn and look into the hallway. Stumbling towards him was the man they'd brought in earlier, face bleeding from where doctors had pulled out glass but not yet bandaged, eyes filled with fatigue and desperation. He groped at the officer with shaking hands, unable to keep himself standing, sinking to the floor as he grasped the dirty uniform.
"Please..." the balding man croaked. "Sh-she's still out there... my daughter... I have to g- we have to go find her..."
The attention of everyone in the room nearby was arrested by this spectacle, briefly forgoing their previous discussions to listen. All other thoughts vanished from the officer's mind as he looked down on the man at his feet. Soon G.U.N. medics appeared and began to pull the patient away, dabbing the blood from his temple, urging him to come with them.
"Sir, you're not feeling well." one said. "Please come lay down."
"Wait." said the officer, stooping down to look the man in the eye.
"Let the doctors take care of you. I'll find your daughter, okay?"
Shakily the man nodded.
"Was she with you? What does she look like?"
"I- I wasn't with her..." he replied. "She went to- to the mall at the end of the h- highway..."
His left hand moved numbly towards the inside of his suit jacket- it must have looked nice at one point- retrieving from it a thin wallet. As he held it up it fell open to show the officer a picture a of a little girl, marred slightly by water and mud. She looked about the age of the fox standing in the room beyond, probably no older than ten. Her neck length hair as well as her eyes were a soft golden color. She was dressed in the blue cap and fuku that was the standard school uniform of girls in Station Square. Another picture, upside down and pinched between the man's thumb and forefinger, showed her in the same outfit, standing next to her father. The smiling parent seemed a life time displaced from the person in front of him. Slowly the officer rose to his feet.
"Chief" he said, turning to his superior. "I'm going down to the Highway to see if I can find this girl. Can you call the team on that end to lend a hand?"
Uneasy quiet haunted the ruins of the city. The once mighty and prestigious Cyber-Net Inc. building had toppled to the ground, no longer standing as a beacon of commerce for the citizenry to admire. No longer could the sound of joy be heard from once glowing Twinkle Park; its skeletal remains rose like phantoms from a mire of sewage and sea water, gutted by the first wave so its residue settled inland. No longer did the bell tower chime; at its feet rested the giant bell, now swallowed by water. No longer did the pristine fountain gurgle from the heart of the city; when the geysers of Chaos erupted the center piece was blasted apart by a column of water that over shadowed skyscrapers. No longer did the bustle of traffic fill the air with the heart beat of the community; roads and avenues vanished into a world of slime, rubble, and ocean.
Yet there was a dark patch of devastation whose quiet and stillness were heavier than anywhere else in the city. In a circle over half a mile in diameter, no buildings stood, no sizable structure peaked over the dreary plain- the inside was entirely flat. Only a pool of cooling slag and dross greeted the moist air. Buildings on the edge of the circle were sheered in half by the Egg Carrier 2's explosion, their interiors gaping at its epicenter. Here and there steam continued to rise from the crater, though much of it had become cold and hard.
Lonely walked the S.S.P.D. officer who came searching through this place. No one from the other group had arrived yet. Perhaps they knew better than to look here. Perhaps they were working outside the expanse of waste still, searching for anyone that might have gotten away, anyone lucky enough to be just out of reach. To him it no longer mattered. There was nothing to find in this spot.
He shook his head sadly. No one could have survived this.
The father would despair. There was nothing he could do about it. He'd wasted his time coming here and put other survivors' lives in jeopardy by doing so.
This was all that psychopath's fault, he thought. He was the one that brought the monster down on them, he was the one whose weapons killed all these people- he was responsible for everything, and he just got away. While innocents suffered and died, he lived. The unfairness of it all filled the officer with frustration. Without thinking he kicked a short protrusion in the crater as hard as he could.
A rumbling noise shattered the silence of the scarred city, followed closely be a series of tremors from deep beneath the ground. He backed away slowly, mentally berating himself again for doing something stupid, wondering if the vibrations had made the area unstable. No. Something was stirring.
"BLACK SHIELD DISENGAGED. TEMPERTURE NON-HARMFUL. DAMAGE PERCENTAGE ZERO..."
The officer was flung onto his back when an enormous arm burst forth from the debris beneath him. He fumbled madly for the pistol at his waist as a black and grey form began pulling itself out of the slag. A green eye rotated in its head and fell upon the human.
High above Station Square the little Flicky continued to look this way and that for a sign of its friends. The sun had since reached its peak and was beginning to curve towards the horizon. It hand't spotted anyone it recognized so far. The bird began to worry about the pink hedgehog and what had happened to her associates. What if it never saw them again?
Looking ahead the Flicky could see its family soaring in the distance. They were letting the wind carry them, but it could tell they were drifting towards the jungle. The forest. A gentler place, a more cheerful place, somewhere they could enjoy their freedom. Realizing it was time to go, the bird left its worries behind, spreading its wings to take flight.
Sunlight danced off the hero's feathers as it climbed into the heavens.