King Max sat on his bed, clutching his head.
Where had he gone wrong?
How was it possible that, without any intention to, without any thought involved, he had brainwashed many of his citizens? Erased their memories? Changed their very thoughts to ensure their obedience?
How had such incredible power fallen into his hands without him realizing it? How had he so miserably abused power that he didn't even know he had?
But, yet...even knowing the damage he had done, he couldn't get rid of those thoughts. Those thoughts which told him that this is what he wanted. That this was what it took to keep people safe. That this could usher in better national security than ever before.
No. It's not right.
But think of the good it would do. We could keep everyone safe. Evil actions, horrible conspiracies…they could be effortlessly prevented. And…and we could do even more than that. Any evil action could be prevented. Even…every evil thought. People could be made perfect. They could be made sinless.
No. That's what Ivo thought...
Before, it had been hard for him to comprehend Robotnik's evil. Not only had he betrayed his king and country, he had used his technology to overtake everything...to transform living beings into his mechanical tools...to control them completely...become God of all he saw...
To make everyone conform to his standard. To make people "sinless"...in his eyes.
Now, it was easy to understand how Ivo had gone down that path.
He saw his daughter, Sally, enter the room. Her face was stained by tears. She collapsed into her father's arms.
"Daddy...the protesters...they're-they're all gone now...but one of them...before he left...he-he threw a weapon at me...but...Tails..." Tears poured down. "He...he took it for me...!" She began to sob uncontrollably. "It hit hi-ih-im...!"
"Sally..." Tears trickled down Max's cheek. He rested his head against his daughter's. "My child...I'm so sorry."
If it weren't for what I've done...this wouldn't have happened...
Sonic sighed and tapped his foot. "So, can I see him now?" he said.
"Sonic, you've asked that question a hundred times," said the orderly.
"And I'm pretty tired of asking it," Sonic growled.
The orderly sighed. "I'm very sorry, Sonic...I'm afraid you'll just have to be patient."
"Stuff the sorries! Just let me see my friend!" Sonic said.
"I have no control over-" the orderly started, when a blue wallaby opened the door.
"He can come in," the wallaby said. Sonic had dashed through the door to Tails' hospital room before the words had even left the wallaby's mouth. He was going so fast he almost hit the wall.
"Tut, tut! Watch the skid marks, Sonic!" Dr. Quack said in a lecturing tone, but he winked to show he was joking.
"Sonic!" Tails shouted happily.
"Tails! Are you OK, bud?" Sonic said, rushing up to his friend as he lay on a hospital bed.
"I'm fine...owww," Tails groaned.
"Correction: you will be fine, but it might take some time," Dr. Quack said. He sighed. "That weapon that injured Tails...I believe it was an Aureola Grenade. It's a unique weapon that actually uses the rings that the victim has absorbed to hurt them. If the victim has even just ten rings, they'd almost certainly be killed. Thankfully, Tails was only 'carrying' one or two. The damage wasn't too severe, and I expect him to make a full recovery...but it may take several months."
"It's a g-good thing those badniks knocked the rings out of me, right, Sonic?" Tails said with a weak smile.
"...Wow. Yeah, it is." Sonic was astounded at how things had worked out. "Don't take too long to get better, big guy!" Sonic said, ruffling Tails' hair. "You know I hate waiting!"
A familiar squirrel walked in. "Tails!" Sally shouted.
"Don't worry, 'Aunt Sally'. I'm going to get better."
Sally hugged Tails and wept.
Heavy footsteps were heard right behind Sally. It was General Prower.
"Dad!" Tails said.
"My son...I'm so proud of you!" the general said. "You saved royalty!"
Tails' expression changed to a pained one. "Umm...yeah..." He glanced at Sally.
Sally leaned in close and whispered to Tails. "Don't worry, Tails...NICOLE should finish her recovery soon. Focus on getting yourself better." She gave Tails a kiss on the nose.
"OK," Tails said with a smile.
Sally stretched, yawned and got out of bed. Yesterday was a day full of excitement, which was nothing new for a girl who was very recently the leader of a rebel organization. Still, even compared to some of the days she spent on missions in Robotropolis, it was a stressful day. At least on those days, it didn't seem like her own father was a megalomaniacal ruler willing to wipe his citizens' memories to ensure compliance. And while she was often attacked, it wasn't by one of her own subjects - not one still in command of their faculties, at any rate.
There was one matter of business she still had to attend to. She leaped out of bed and, without bothering to change out of her adorable acorn-print pajamas (seriously, just imagine them - they're adorable!), seized NICOLE.
"NICOLE, are all your repairs completed?"
"Affirmative, Sally. Some fine-tuning may be necessary in the near future, but it is not urgent."
Sally smiled. It was nice to hear her friend's voice stutter-free. "Are you ready to restore the minds of the roboticized citizens?"
"Affirmative, Sally, but..." She paused.
"Were the Robians to be restored and realize what your father had done to them, it is likely that some of them would participate in...acts of violence against you and your father, Sally. I...do not believe think it's safe for you to proceed."
"I...know that, NICOLE. But regardless of what happens, we have to do what's right! You can't possibly think-"
"I am not suggesting that we forfeit this course of action," NICOLE said. "It's just that...you must be kept safe. May I recommend bodyguards?"
Sally sighed. "I've fought before. I've even taken on Robians specifically."
"I recall that you have not always been successful in such endeavors, especially when you don't have access to backup," NICOLE commented.
"Oh, you're right," Sally said. "I'll make sure Daddy and I are protected."
"Shall I proceed immediately, or wait until you've made arrangements?" NICOLE asked.
"Go ahead," Sally said. "Do it now. It won't take long. I'm going to close you, but don't turn off."
Sally shut NICOLE and slipped her into her pocket. She sighed, strolled out of her room and walked downstairs to the breakfast table, where Daddy was already seated.
"How are you, my dear?" the king said, still sounding exasperated from yesterday's events.
"I'm fine, Daddy...NICOLE is beginning to repair the minds of the Robians even as we speak. But she pointed out that there might still be outrage over this in the days ahead..."
"I know that, darling. I've already arranged for bodyguards for both of us."
"Oh! That's good," Sally said. She drank some coffee and ate a piece of delicious, syrup-stained pancake. It wasn't as good as the palace food Sally enjoyed before Robotnik's coup, but it was still delicious.
"It really is unfortunate that NICOLE can't distinguish between a person's own thoughts and memories and Robotnik's programming," King Max Acorn said. "Any of Robotnik's programming that was removed will be put back in place, correct?"
"I'm afraid so," Sally said. "But we've seen no indication that any of Robotnik's programming remained in the Robians after their liberation."
"Robotnik is a wily one," the king said. "Don't be too optimistic, Sally."
"I won't, Daddy," Sally said. "I'll be...careful." It was painful to imagine not being able to trust loved ones and friends who had gone through so much and had done nothing wrong. If only things could go back to the way they were...
"Do you think you and the other Freedom Fighters will one day succeed in developing a safe and effective de-roboticizer?" King Max said.
"...Maybe," Sally said with a sigh. It was hard to keep up hope when all their attempts had either had only temporary effects or...were potentially lethal. "If not, maybe I'll at least be able to find a way to find and completely remove Robotnik's programming or...something. But it would probably have to be on a case-by-case basis. And I wouldn't want to do anything without the subject's permission."
The King sighed and looked off into the distance. "It's noble of you to respect people's freedom and privacy, Sally...but what about keeping people safe?"
Sally was silent for a while. "Can't the government threaten safety, too?"
The king stared at her, as if he didn't know what to make of that comment. "Well, I...it depends what you mean."
"Well, sometimes I can't help but think...that coercing people's thoughts, threatening their freedom, prying into and controlling their lives...sometimes it's worse than committing a crime against them."
Max stared disbelievingly at Sally. "Is that what you think I want to do?"
"No! No, Daddy! I just...um, theoretically..."
"Sonic has influenced you greatly, Sally," King Max said disapprovingly. He sighed. "Let's think of something happy, Sally. Something we can agree on. Like...coffee." He took a swig.
Sally laughed and smiled. "I'm not sure we really agree on that, Daddy. I can't stand it unless the coffee-to-cream ratio is about 1 to 1, and for you, it's more like 10 to 1."
"Perceptive as always, my darling," the king said. He wiped his face with a silk napkin, got up, and kissed Sally on the forehead. "Now, you really must get out of those pajamas and get ready for the day, Sally! And no playing games with NICOLE until you've finished your embroidery lessons!"
"But Daddeeee! I HATE embroidery!" Sally said in her best little-kid voice.
Daddy chuckled. Sally smiled.
She knew everything was going to be OK.