Everything Changes (part 1) [2/2]

From: Joseph Delacroix <hk512_at_cleveland.Freenet.Edu>
Date: Sun, 29 Oct 1995 20:03:26 -0500

Everything Changes [Part 1]

by -- Joseph DeLaCroix

This story is based on characters created by Service and Games (SEGA), and
on characters created by Archie Comic Publications, Inc. Any resemblance
to actual characters are not coincidental. ;)

Joseph, Bahb, and all other independent creations of Joseph DeLaCroix are
the copyrighted property of JoCo Inc. All rights reserved. Etc.

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"The more things change, the more they stay the same."

  -- Anonymous.

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Timeline: A month or two after Doomsday.

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It was nearing noon over the Great Forest. The day's activities were in
full swing for most of the world, and save one--nay, make that two--places,
it was bathed in a glorious yellow tint from that world's local star.

However, the place we shall be focusing on would soon be bathed with light
as well. When the sun reached its zeinth above it, focusing mirrors would
bounce an amplified beam of light off a series of mirrors and focusing
devices, until the light was a tight, hard beam of energy. Then, it would
be shot down from the final mirror, and hit an energy port on a certain
still figure laying on a slab in the center of the area. For 3 minutes,
this beam would strike the port, raising the object's energy levels back to
its full capacity. Then, the mirrors would fall out of alignment, and the
area would return to its normal, dim state.

Seconds later, the sun reached its full height above that area of Mobius'
horizon, and beams of the life-giving orb fell upon the Dome's clear
skylight. The beams reflected off a series of mirrors, through a myraid of
lenses, and finally struck the lifeless figure's opened abdomen. The ray
crashed into a ultraefficent, recently-installed solar panel, and created
gigawatts of energy within seconds.

It continued like this for several minutes, gradually raising the
temperature inside the glassy structure to an almost unbearable,
fog-inducing high. Finally, the sun started to descend toward the other
parts of Mobius, causing the beam to weaken, dim, and finally die.

As the abdomen of the figure closed up, the ventilation system kicked in
and started pumping the hot air out of the structure. It traveled through
a long pipe along the forest floor, and finally was permitted to escape
several yards away, into another glassy structure. This one, however, was
rectangular, and was completely opaque. It was the size of a small hut,
and appeared to have no door in or out of it. The mysterious structure
released nor admitted a single particle. Its purpose is only known to
Joseph, and he has yet to choose to explain its purpose to the common

Meanwhile, Joseph was beginning to regain his senses. His power levels
were back where they should be, and the Dome had cooled off rapidly.
He felt pleased with himself over the device he had constructed, and the
deroboticizer was coming along nicely. So, since he had worked so hard the
last few days, he decided to allow himself a day of leisure. He took a
cleansing breath of the charged air, and set himself to the remainder of
the pressing work that he had to accomplish before going out to `play'.
Thus, after he cleaned up the public area in which he now stood of the
Dome, and doing some minor body maintanence, he emerged into the warm
sunlight of the forest floor.

It was a lovely afternoon around Knothole, he noted. The wind was blowing
toward the wreckage of Robotropolis, so one couldn't smell it. The sun
shone through the forest in places, illuminating parts of the well-trod
path to Knothole irratically. A few non-evolved rabbits hopped by,
looking for clover or grass to eat. In the distance, he could see the
secret entrance to the village, with a few Mobians lurking around it
on guard duty.

Smiling slightly at the rustic scene, he blasted toward the secret entrance
at nearly full speed, and stopped just short of flying through it. His
control over his new form was improving daily. Who knows, he thought,
perhaps it was an even better form than his initial one?

Meanwhile, the two guards were gradually getting used to Joseph's blazing
entrances. It was usually the way he entered the village, because it was
the way Sonic usually entered it. The two were becoming more alike than
either of the hedgehogs would like to admit. Yet, Joseph's behavior was
still more unpredictable than Sonic's...he was slightly more mature than
his blue twin, and far smarter. But before either guard could muse on this
topic further, the orange hedgehog nodded at them and shot through the
stump with a flourish; to a lower clearing in the forest where
Knothole was located.

He popped out of the log, and rolled to a halt upon the pile of hay that
served as a cushion for incoming Mobians. He slid off the pile and brushed
himself off. Few were around the entrance today...security had become
slightly more lax since Robotropolis was mostly destroyed. The mood of the
village had also become lighter, and a bit more hopeful. More roboticized
citizens wandered into the Great Forest daily, and they almost all
regained their free will within days...thanks to a quick hack called a
`Cerebral Re-Activator' Charles and himself had created.

However, the newly-reborn roboticized citizens' reaction to Joseph
occasionally was not always positive, he ruefully mused. After someone
that had been in the village relayed the story of Charles and Joseph to
one of them, the odd cold stare could be felt creeping up his neck by a
few irate roboticized citizens. They didn't dare say anything, of
course--Sonic would zealously defend his new intergalactic `brother'
as if he were Tails--but he could feel their hatred. He honestly couldn't
blame them for it, either...his guilt was not to be purged until the
deroboticizer was running, and all damaged were healed. And even then, he
thought, it'd still be there, albeit weaker than before. Sighing at this,
he walked toward the hub of Knothole, hoping to snag a chili dog or two
off Sonic.

He walked (he preferred walking within the city limits) into the town
square, where Sonic was leaning against a tree, munching a chili dog. When
Sonic saw Joseph wandering into the village, he waved him over to him, and
tossed over a chili dog.

"Yo, Joe!" he hollered, and continued to gnaw on his pork product.

"Hello, Sonic," Joseph said, and started eating his. "Anything new?"

"Nope, just havin' some of Unc' Chuck's chili dogs." He looked at the one
which he had almost completed, and sighed. "Mmm, I didn't know how
much I missed these--" He polished that one off in a single motion,
and began eating the other, half-eaten, one. "--chili dogs."

Joseph nodded. He sometimes envied Sonic's simple approach to life;
running fast, thwarting `badniks', eating chili dogs, and pursuing the
mutual affection of the Princess. No guilt, no internal demons gnawing
on his soul about someone else's mistakes, no constant, nagging feeling
that he's going to fail miserably, or that one of his mistakes could
destroy the entire world. No loneliness, no yearning for a home that was
annhilated centuries ago, or even one pang of misery from the cold looks of
a roboticized citizen that would make his eyes sting from woe. Just speed,
heroism, and the fufillment of carnal desires. Oh, how that life appealed
to him! He wished he could just return to nature; go feral, live in the
woods, eat berries...but, alas, his new form demanded technology to
survive. He was no longer a simple organic construct, he was the last
remaining creation of his father, his world, his entire culture...he might
as well wish for a purple sky instead of wishing to escape the
technological plague that his mind, body, and soul were infected with.
Both were about as likely!

It didn't stop him from wishing, tho. That's all he had; hope, wishes, and
dim memories and the collected knowledge of a world that nobody could ever
see, ever again. He actively despised the last part, especially. If he
was just blind to what had happened, and was just a rogue being crusing the
galaxy for cheap beer and cheaper women, his soul would be far purer.
But the knowledge made his soul blacker than night. The evils that his
world had perpetrated, the curses they had heaped upon themselves...they
laid only on his shoulders now. It was his only inheritance.

At night, he looked for the star that Ur'thae used to orbit, and waited
patiently for the one moment when the light of the explosion would
finally reach Mobius. Only then would he believe it was actually gone.
He didn't want to believe it was dust...he so wanted to blame the live body
of his father for this, just to get the hatred away from him. But his
father was dead, as was his world. He was the only target left for Mobius'
anger, so he would take it all upon himself. He was glad his father
couldn't see this world now--

"Joe! Snap out of it!"

Joseph returned to his normal mental state. "Sorry," he embarrassedly
said, "I was thinking about something."

"You think too much." was Sonic's reply.

"Yes," Joseph said, "I do."

Sonic kept eating his chili dog. "Anyway, nothin's up now." He smirked.
"It's just another boring day in Paradise."

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Meanwhile, in the smouldering wreckage of Robotroplis:

Snively flew around the perimeter of Robotropolis in Robotnik's hovercraft
(which gave him a great deal of satisfaction) assessing the progress of the
reconstruction of Robotropolis. For the most part, the progress was
positive; without bothering to rebuild all the useless, smoke-belching
factories, and only rebuilding the essential parts of Robotropolis, the
reconstruction would only take another 6 months or so. SWATBot production
was up, so soon regular patrols could start again.

However, Snively was becoming progressively more irritated with the lack of
Worker-Bots remaining to do the menial work of Robotropolis. Apparently,
most of them were simply wandering off into the Great Forest. Also, a good
portion were being abducted by Freedom Fighters. This was really beginning
to bother him, because he was forced to call in other platoons of
Worker-Bots from other installations all over the planet. If this kept up,
soon Mobius would be liberated from sheer lack of an occupying force.

But Snively let not this bring him down. After all, he was Snively the
Great, Ruler of Robotropolis, Conqueror of Mobius, Master of All He
Surveyed! No problem could hold *him* back for long. He'd just think of a
way around it! He laughed fiendishly. And soon, he'd destroy the Freedom
Fighters once and for all!

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Back in Knothole:

Sonic and Joseph were leaning against a tree, and they were up to about
their 4th chili dog each when Charles walked over to them and greeted them.

"Hello, boys," Charles' metallic voice spoke, as he took a seat on a nearby
stump. "What are you up to today?"

Sonic shrugged. "Not much, Unc. I'm chillin' until Sal needs me for
somethin'. Maybe I'll get to go to ex-'BUTT-nikland to kick some more
SWATBot tail!"

Charles smiled. "Son, at the rate you kick 'Bot butt, we're not going to
have a single one left standing for target practice."

"I know! Isn't that Way Past Cool?!"

Charles laughed. "Yes, Sonic, it is." He turned toward Joseph as Sonic
started into another chili dog. "How about you, lad? Are you just going
to take a break today...you should, considering you haven't left that dome
in 2 weeks." The metallic hedgehog smirked. "I'm surprised you haven't
discovered the secrets of the universe yet; you've not stopped work in
all this time to go out and relax."

"I'm not quite the vacationing type," smirked Joseph, "and besides," He
regained a more serious expression. "it's important to all of Mobius
that I perfect this device. Then, Robotnik will truely be dead."

"Well," said Charles, "give yourself SOME time to relax. We don't want you
to have a nervous breakdown or anything like that. We do have a good chunk
of time left for you and I to work in."

Joseph nodded somberly. "It's as much for your benefit as it is mine."

Charles understood this silently. "Look, just don't work yourself to
death." He smirked. "You're the other resident expert on the roboticizing
process, so stay alive long enough to finish the deroboticizer, okay?"

Joseph chuckled. "Okay, okay, I get the idea."

Sonic chose then to complete his dog. After gulping it down, he said,
"Anyway, how're you doing, Unc?"

"Me? Oh, I'm fine. I just completed work on the Cerebral Re-Activator
Ray--something I had in the works after Joseph and I completed the
nonmobile chamber--and it should greatly raise the number of roboticized
citizens we're able to return here. All you have to do is make sure the
beam hits the head of the target, and their mind will override the
programming Robotnik put in them." He smirked. "And I'll have it in the
stores by Christmas."

Sonic smiled. "Way Past Cool, Unc! That'll make Sal happy."

Joseph nodded. "Affirmative. That will really be a big help."

Charles bowed. "I try."

Then, Bunnie wandered over from a nearby hut. "Hi, sugahhogs!" she shouted,
and hopped over to the tree. "Anythin' new?"

Whenever Joseph looked at Bunnie--ever since he learned of the true nature
of the roboticizer, that is--he always felt a pang of sorrow for the
damaged rabbit. Her body had been cursed with those ugly steel limbs, yet
she continued to be as she always had been. His awe of her sheer will to
be happy was only exceeded by his shock of her lack of external bitterness
toward her life. She was a survivor, and she still considered herself
(publicily, anyway) beautiful...yet, Joseph could not help but feel a
dagger plunged into his psyche from the sight of her. He knew it wasn't
his fault for any of this, but he still felt responsible...she was one of
the main reasons he worked so hard on the deroboticizer. It was one thing
to see someone who was totally roboticized: at least that person had lost
all of their external links to nature. But Bunnie still was warm to the
touch, still had sparkling blue eyes to admire the world with...and a steel
arm to touch things with, and metal legs to walk across it. He felt
that she was a metaphor for Mobius; damaged, sick from the contaminants
that seeped into her; yet still strong and determined to be well again.

Sonic shook his head. "Nope." He smirked. "The metalheads are just
talkin' shop."

Charles and Joseph laughed. "That we are," said Joseph, suddenly breaking
from his internal anguish.

Bunnie smiled. "Well, god forbid Ah keep y'all from yaur work."

Joseph shrugged. "Well, we're not accomplishing a whole lot now." He
smiled at her. "How are you doing? Are you doing anything interesting?"

"Nah," she said, "Ah'm jus' killing tahm until Sal needs muh." She looked
around a bit. "It's a slow day in Knothole today, sugah. Nuthin's gonna
happen 'til tonight, when we'll get s'more people outa Robo-tropolis."

Joseph raised an eyebrow. "There's gonna be a mission tonight?"

Bunnie bemusedly looked at him. "Yah, sugah, there's been a mission ev'ry
night. Didn'--" Then, she realized something. "Oh yah, you've been
inside the whole time. You wouldn' know."

While Joseph mulled this over, Charles broke into the conversation. He
smiled, and said, "Excellent. Now my new device can be tested!" Before
Bunnie could ask, Charles explained what he had made.

"Y'all better tell Sal about that, sugah." She waved to Sonic and Joseph,
and took Charles by the hand. "She's planning the mission now," she said,
"So c'mon, let's go." She dragged the disoriented Charles off to see the
Princess, while Sonic and Joe looked on.

"Well," Sonic said, "if that thing works, it'll be Way Past Cool! No more
dragging spastic 'bots back to Knothole!"

Joseph nodded, and smiled. "It'll certainly save you a lot of time."

"I hope so," he said, "Joe, how I hope so."

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Snively sat down in the large green chair that was the main piece of
furniture in the control center. He observed the various screens that
displayed live video of areas all over Robotropolis, not to mention Mobius
itself. It looked quiet today; the Freedom Fighters still only became
overtly active at night.

He pushed some buttons, and reveled in the fact he was sitting in
Robotnik's chair. He spun it around a few times to gloat. After growing
tired of that, he talked into the intercom.

"Attention all SWATBots!" he piped, "roboticize all remaining prisoners,
and send them to work in Sectors 5A, 6G, and 436A-5."

A metallic voice on the other side acknoledged his transmission.

He smirked evilly. "And do it slowly."

A quiet beep was heard from the speaker, and it fell silent.

Satisfied with that, he thought of other things he needed to do that day.
He had covered Robotnik's usual itinerary; He'd surveyed the landsdscape,
ordered the daily robotization, had lunch, sneered at the Great Forest,
brooded about the domination of Mobius, and abused a SWATBot. The
Worker-Bots and SWATBots were able to handle the actual repairs by
themselves, and the refinaries would do just fine without any
Sniv-intervention for a year. He sighed, as bored badniks are wont to on
occasions such as these. What to do, what to do...

Then, his eyes brightened as he realized what he could do to pass the time.

He walked over to a R&D laboratory close by to the Control Center. He
entered it, and gazed upon an object he was keeping in here for its own

A Worker-Bot on the far side of Mobius, while in a crystal mine, hit the
large stone while trying to dig out a particularly tenacious formation.
It broke the pickaxe on contact. So, following its programming, it called
over a SWATBot for assistance. It blasted the stone out, and when it could
not determine its nature, sent it to Robotropolis a few days after
Doomsday had miserably failed (...as expected).

Since then, Snively was trying to figure out exactly how this stone,
the Amber Chaos Emerald, worked.

He decided against trying to make it power Robotropolis...Robotnik had
tried something similar once, and Snively thus reasoned that that course of
action would be suicide until the Freedom Fighters could be eliminated;
they would notice the sudden lack of smoke being belched out of the city,
and go to in to investigate, and then they'd find some way of stealing the
emerald from him.

So, he decided to pick a less obvious use for the emerald, yet one totally
predicitable to any individual familiar with Snively's mind: convert it
into a weapon that could destroy the Great Forest, and reveal Knothole.
However, this course of action was mysteriously difficult to accomplish.
The Emerald Ray would destroy non-natural things completely; SWATBots,
Worker-Bots, garbage, anything that was manufactured. But if it was fired
at a tree, or a small animal, it'd heal it and make it stronger.
That annoyed him to no end. But, he was determined to bend the emerald to
his will, no matter how difficult it would be to do so.

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The sun was beginning to set, which signaled Knothole to begin to prepare
for the night's activities. The Mobian village put away its things from
the day's work, ate its dinner, and cleaned up everything else before
preparing for a restful sleep. Everyone, that is, but the Freedom Fighters
who were about to go out for a night's mission.

Sonic, Sally, Antoine, Charles, Dulcy and Bunnie were standing
around the updated holographic depiction of Robotropolis, planning their
route in and out in order to get as many people out as they could in a
night. The Cerebral Re-Activator Ray dramatically increased this number,
so they figured on getting (at the least) about 20-25 people out that

While they were discussing their plans, Joseph sat outside the hut,
silently listening to their plans. He'd never been on a mission, and he
always had wondered how one had been organized. Quite well, by his
observations. Maybe they'd ask him to tag along one day...

He heard movement in the hut, and disappeared up a tree. Using his martial
arts training, he slipped into the shadows without a sound. Sonic was the
first to emerge. "I'm gonna bag a ring, Sal," he said into the hut, and
ran off to the Power Ring Pool. A few seconds after he left, the rest of
the Knothole crew went outside the hut. They divided into teams, and
the leader of each team recieved a pistol to zap roboticized citizens with.
A second later, Sonic arrived with his ring.

"Charles, you're with Antoine," Sally said, "and Bunnie, you're with me.
Sonic will provide the diversion, and we'll ship the roboticized citizens
out on you, Dulcy." She looked at the dragon. "Do you remember the
rendezvous point, Dulcy?" The dragon nodded. "Good." She took another
deep breath. "The last ride out is at 00:00, at the predetermined
rendevous point." She looked at her watch. "Okay, sync your watches
at 21:00.....now!" A round of beeping later, everyone had the same time.

"Everyone ready?" A round of nodding. "Okay, everyone on Dulcy but
Sonic." They boarded the dragon. "Sonic, you rem--"

"Like the recipe for Unc Chuck's chili dogs, Sal."

Sally smirked. "Then go!"

Sonic, with a wink and a flourish, took off toward Robotropolis. After
waiting a minute or two, Dulcy got a running start, and also took off
toward Robotropolis.

After they had left, Joseph lept out of the tree, and landed quietly on the
ground. He vaguely considered going home, and waiting for them to return,
which would be what a logical, rational person would do. But, for some
reason, he had a yearning to pursue them. He wanted to kick 'bot butt as
well. (Such feelings were becoming more common as the hedgehog DNA began
to sink deeper in to his genetic makeup.) He pondered for about 5 minutes,
but finally snapped. He was going to follow them. But he wouldn't
interfere; he'd watch from a distance cloaked. To study Mobian guerilla
warfare. That's it. He would *study* them. It wasn't tagging along when
he was forbidden to, it was science! He checked Bahb's energy levels.
Once he was sure they were up to 100%, he took off toward Robotropolis as

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Snivley stared into the control center's screens. So far, the Freedom
Fighters hadn't shown up for the night's attempt at freeing Worker-Bots.
He had, like he had done for the last several nights, dedicated himself to
killing them all tonight. He put Robotropolis on full alert, and had
his aerial forces circling the perimeter, as usual. There would be no
mistakes tonight.

I(vos)H(yper)A(c)T(iv)ET(rackerof)H(e)AT(fromthe)HEDGEHOG (Robotnik's
last joke. The acronym is I.HATE.THAT.HEDGEHOG. He always did make
really, REALLY stupid jokes, Sniv thought.) radar beeped, detecting
Sonic roaring in to start the eternal diversion. Sniv wondered what he'd
hit tonight. He was running out of things to destroy...Robotropolis
wasn't much now to begin with. The lazer fire he heard, and the
SWATBot calls for backup seemed to denote that Sonic was assulting one of
their primary refineries again. Snively growled. He either let the
hedgehog weaken Robotropolis further by destroying the refinary, or let the
hedgehog weaken Robotropolis further by his abduction of Worker-Bots.
Snively was beginning to DESPISE these Catch-22s. Resources for SWATBot
production was going from 300% to 500% tomorrow, he vowed annoyedly.
Then, Snively angrily activated the intercom.

"Attention all SWATBots! Hedgehog alert! Report to Refinery 24-A!" he
bellowed, "AND SHOOT TO KILL!"

Snively realized that this was going to leave the Worker-Bots in Sectors G,
H, and I unguarded and ripe for FF attack. But the refinery was more
important to Sniv, so he forced himself to tolorate the FF damage of his
labor force. (Needlenose isn't the brightest bulb in the box, y'know.)

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Sonic raced through the refinary, smashing the hell out of anything that
looked fragile or important. Dodging SWATBot fire, he swerved to and fro
inside the building, spin-dashing through the metallic menaces. It would
normally take him maybe 5 minutes to totally disable one of these
establishments, but he needed to buy lots of time for the rest of the FFs
who were rescuing citizens. So, he simply continued to race back and forth
irratically, damaging and destroying as much stuff as he could.

Meanwhile, the first 5 people they were able to grab and zap were loaded
onto Dulcy, and were flown back to the Great Forest as fast as Dulcy
could manage. They were disoriented, but they got themselves together
enough to hang on to the dragon for dear life.

Joseph was watching the whole scene from a safe distance on the eastern
limits of Robotropolis. He'd tapped into the security system, and was
getting a Sniv's-eye view of what was happening. (He was also blanking
certain screens at random times, so to make it appear like simple technical
problems as a result of Doomsday, to keep Sniv from knowing where the FFs
were...but it wasn't directly hurting anything, so it was okay!) It
appeared to Joseph that what Sonic had told him about Snively was correct.
He was a freakin' moron. He was concentrating a majority of his forces in
one localized area to fight one Freedom Fighter from destroying something
that would be vital in the short-term; while the majority of the
Freedom Fighters were all over Robotropolis, taking a resource away that
would be vital for the long-term survival of Robotropolis.

His brother would have a cerebral hemorrhage from watching this.

Joseph smiled when he thought of his brother. Jhack was a big, tough
high-ranking member of the warrior caste, a master of all things tactical.
He always kicked Joseph's butt in jed'ar (a game similiar to chess). He
would have loved to watch this conflict unfold; it was a classic example of
unconventional warfare toppling a conventional regime. He missed him
sometimes. Sighing, he went back to watching the chaos unfold...

Then, he noticed something. There were no SWATBots around the Command
Center. Nary a one. They were all either at the Refinary, or guarding the
prison blocks. Sniv left his front door wide open, but locked the back!
Quickly, Joseph debated how to utilize this information. Should he sneak
into it and directly sabotage the command center, and risk capture, or
should he try and tell someone else? He shook his head. No, telling
someone else would endanger the mission. If anything was to be done, he'd
have to do it himself. What to do...

He took a 25 Mobium coin from the side of his boot. He examined it. The
side he was looking at had a grim-faced King Acorn on it, with some writing
along the side. "Heads, I go, tails, I don't." He flipped the coin, and
caught it in midair. He opened his hand; heads. He smiled. "Very well,
I go." He quickly removed all evidence he had ever been there, threw the
coin over his shoulder, and stealthily stalked toward the egg-shaped
Command Center. The coin flipped over again when it hit the ground; on
that side, Acorn was smiling.

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Sonic was beginning to tire of bouncing off the refinary walls. He was not
only running out of things to smash, but the whole thing was getting old.
He just wanted to trash the damn thing, and move on to something more
interesting. But what? This was the only distraction Sally had given him.
He didn't know what other targets to hit. There wasn't much left!

Then, it occurred to him that he could drag all the SWATBots into the
center of 'BUTT-nikville by attacking the control center. Then, the rest
of the place would be nearly empty, and Sal could grab LOTS of guys and
gals. He was rather pleased with himself for thinking at such a supersonic

So, the next pass by the control room, instead of blasting past it, he
blasted into it. This bought him a few precious seconds while he pressed
every button in the room, pulled every switch, and generally started
trashing the place. Alarms upon alarms went off as the entire plant went
AUTODESTRUCT. 29. 28. 27. 26. 25...." Sonic took that cue to juice
on outa there. He engaged a little bit of power ring, and left a
deafening sonic boom to be the harbringer of the larger orange-yellow
explosion seconds later.

Snively went spastic. Now not only had the Freedom Fighters gotten several
more Worker-Bots than usual out of Robotropolis, his favorite refinary was
totally destroyed. He screamed and pounded his fists against the chair, a
la Robotnik. "I HATE THAT HEDGEHOG!!" he hollered as he ordered every
resource he had available to stop the hedgehog from escaping.

But meanwhile...

Joseph approached the central entrance point for the egg-shaped
control center. As more SWATBots streamed out of it, he quickly snuck in
against the flow of traffic and got past the 'bot dispatch point without a
hitch. Sniv was too irate at the recent destruction of some installation
he liked to put up floating spybots inside his own inner sanctum. Joseph
took this as a good omen, and traversed his way up the access stairs.

After walking for a few minutes (and hiding from a few SWATBots that were
rapidly streaming down the stairs as well) up the stairs, he finally came
to the outer fringes of Sniv' innermost sancti sanctum. This was obviously
where all the really important stuff was. Various sensitive and fragile
computers were hidden all the way up here, not to mention Sniv's R&D labs.
He was really losing a lot of respect for Needlenose. And since he didn't
have a lot to begin with, that's saying something.

He walked into the center of the room, and observed some monitors. Ooohing
at the stuff he saw, he extended his dataspike from his right arm and
started downloading all of it. After an incredibly short period of time,
he got it all. 200 virus checks later (2 seconds), he compiled it and
mulled over the information. The latest version of the roboticizer
software, plans for everything Robotropolis had, locations of bases, codes,
everything Sniv didn't want anyone to know about he had. Joseph cackled
quietly. This would certainly be useful--he heard a noise. Quickly, he
hid behind a pile of old boxes, and waited to see who drew near...

Snively stomped down the stairs, and rushed into his R&D room. He
*thought* he heard the sound of rapid downloading, but there was obviously
nobody there. Quickly, he ran to the back of the room to fetch his Emerald
Ray. He kicked some boxes out of the way as he reached the zero-energy
field in which he kept it--a shadow--he turned to look behind the pile...


Nothing. Sniv shuddered. He must be so angry, he thought, his mind was
starting to play tricks on him. He took a breath, and took the gun from
the field. He wanted to be sure that he had it with him if the hedgehog
tried to attack him tonight, and he believed he'd figured out how to make
it kill. He didn't know, tho, but he didn't want to have it laying out,
anyway. He rushed out of the room and shot back upstairs to the central
control center, beginning to snarl somethin' fierce.

After he had left, Joseph cautiously poked his head out. Sniv had taken
some sort of weapon from the far side of the room, and rushed back
upstairs. Obviously, it was meant to attack Sonic with. He hoped he'd be
able to evade it once Sniv started pursuing Sonic actively.

Either way, he had what he basically needed. Now, he'd just set up a nice
cat's-cradle program within the Robotropolis computer system OS, and...


Alarms! Had he been discovered? Arrgh! He had no time left now. Quickly,
he looked around for an exit. He couldn't take the door--footsteps! Shit!
He spotted a vent and jumped up and through it, closing it behind him.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

But it was not Joseph that set off the alarms. It was the first
Mobius-biased Freedom Fighter hedgehog, Sonic, who set off the alarms.
He managed to set off every alarm system that Sniv had downstairs, calling
every SWATBot in Robotropolis back home to defend it from the blue blaze of
vengence that was Sonic. He started his usual smash-and-run technique
there, attempting to take down the central Robotropolis SWATBot dispatch
grid, the food machines, and anything else that looked somewhat valuable.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

But Snivley knew the alarms to be the work of the hedgehog. Immediately,
he rushed down the stairs, through his lab, and to a secret minihangar.
There, Snivley kept *his* new pride-and-joy, Robotnik's old hovercraft.
He'd dug it out of the wreckage, and refurnished it himself. It looked as
good as new, and now he'd add one more accessory to it; his (hopefully)
new Emerald Death Ray.

He slapped the turret into place in front of the hovercraft, and jumped
inside of it. Wasting no time, he started the formitable craft and blasted
out through a nearby wall.

The unexpected explosion was felt all over the remains of Robotropolis.
When the Freedom Fighters spotted the hovercraft, several of the
weaker-hearted (namely, Antoine) quickly panicked.

"Aaaa!! It is zee Robotnik! Ze has come back from ze dead to make us
dead like heem! Aaaaa!"

Charles didn't even try to calm him down. "Run!" shouted Sir Charles, and
took the petrified Antoine by the paw as the remainder of the rescued
roboticized bretheren followed suit.

Meanwhile, Sonic rushed out of the building, dodging some irksome SWATBot
fire, and was observing the hovership's flight path. He was apparently
circling the center of Robotropolis, looking for where the hedgehog might
have hidden. He quickly came to the conclusion that he'd give the ship
something to look for.

He rushed over to the center of the street, and started yelling.
"HEY, NEEDLENOSE!" he yowled from the streets below, "YEAH, YOU IN
RO-CLUCKNIK'S RIDE!" This sucessfully got Snively's attention.
"PREPARE TO DIE, HEDGEHOG!" he bellowed, and started firing amber beams
down upon him.

"Uh-oh." Sonic thought, and swiftly began swerving through the center of
Robotropolis to avoid the beams. "Stand still!" Snively muttered as he
continued aiming, firing, and missing the hedgehog.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Joseph was watching the battle unfold from inside the intake vent for the
Control Center, high up on the remains of the `roof' (if an egg-shaped
structure can have a `roof'). He had noted that even though Snively
believed he was weaving around as irratically as the hedgehog, he passed
through a certain area of space every few seconds or so. Joseph was
working on refining the exact target area, and was beginning to time his
envelope so he'd know when to....now! Snively had passed through a section
of space every 2.3 minutes. In another 2.3 minutes, he'd be there again,
and then would be the time Joseph would enact his plan.

He watched silently from his perch, continuing to watch the battle
unnoticed. Sonic was irritating Snively rather efficiently. Apparently,
whatever sort of `ray' he was using was constantly missing the hedgehog,
and he was making sure Snively knew it. "HEY SNOTLEY! NICE AIM!" "YOU
WILL EAT THOSE WORDS, HEDGEHOG!" And then another barrage of firing from
the hovercraft, even more badly aimed than the first.

He prepared himself to enact his plan. 30 seconds. 20. 10...9.....

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

At the exact moment Snively first entered an area directly below Joseph's
vent, he jumped into the hovercraft, taking the repugnant imp by surprise!
With a smooth movement, Joseph grabbed Snively by the neck, and started
throttling him. "Die, you hideous excuse for a semi-evolved simian!" he
shouted into Snively's ears, and attempted to take control of the craft.

But Snively didn't fight fair. (Or well.) He kicked at the hedgehog's
stomach, only to fracture a few toes on the android's chestplate. Yelling
in agony, he pulled a small dirk from his belt, and tried to shove it
through the hedgehog's armpit. It penetrated it, but didn't even seem to
slow the creature down...then he got a good look at him, and then that's
when he really became frightened.

He looked like Sonic's body double, aside from the bright silver eyes.
Also, the hedgehog didn't look like he took prisoners. After a quick
assessment of the mood of his attacker, he came to the conclusion that he
was about to--

Joseph knocked the little rodent out with a single punch. He tore the
knife from his armpit, and threw it out the window. Now, while trying
to regain control of the odd craft, he was also attempting to disarm the
strange weapon, which seemed to be approaching overload levels.
Apparently, whatever this thing was powered by, it was too much to be
withheld by the weapon for very long, once it was fired up. He feared it
was going to explode, and he was still far too high up to jump--he quickly
pulled hard to the right, barely missing a tall buidling. He was still too
high to jump, and he didn't know how powerful the power source was. As he
fumbled around with the access port for the fuel cell, he mused what Sniv
could have found that was so powerful? Some sort of radioactive isotope?
Alien technology? Perhaps a Keld'yrian had lost something again...

All this time, Sonic had been hanging out, watching the aerial battle.
He was surprised to see his `brother' here, but he was glad he'd shown up.
Joe'd given Snotley the pounding of his life. And soon, he'd just bring
the ship down to Mobius, and then they'd REALLY have him...

He finally fumbled with a octogon-shaped thing, and quickly removed it from
the gun. He threw the powerless weapon off the ship, and tossed the stone
casually into the back seat, not bothering to examine it (steering a
unfamiliar ship tends to discourage scientific discovery), and continued to
attempt to regain control of Robotnik's round hovership. He tried to make
it go lower by cutting the power, but all that suceeded in doing was make
the ship slow down. That wasn't the effect he'd desired, but at least he
could concentrate on the altitude control. As he fiddled with the lever,
he realized he was now drifing around on the eastern outskirts of
Robotropolis. He was rather surprised. This vehicle travelled rather
quickly. It must be the lack of its usual load. He snickered at his joke.
Robotnik must have needed a whole lotta thrust to move this thing, he
pondered, and took the lever in his hand. Then, taking a breath, he began
to slowly pull the lever down...

While Joseph had been trying to regain control, Snively had slowly regained
consciousness, and gradually came to the conclusion that this passenger was
not wanted in his hovership. Reaching silently under the seat as the craft
started to come to a halt, he pulled out a short pipe Robotnik had kept
under the seat to club things with if they came too close to him in flight.
With a slow, purposeful movement, he raised the club above his head, and
swung just as Joseph was starting to lower the ship slowly to the ground.

The impact from the club didn't hurt Joseph as much as it surprised him.
The metallic `thud' from the club attempting to damage his right lobe did,
however, make his teeth rattle unpleasantly. He fell forward from the
blow, suddenly sending the small ship on a course straight up into the sky.
As it rocketed upwards, it began exerting strong g-forces against the
contents of the craft. Snively, being a runty little weakling, was
immediately forced to the floor of the craft after the second g, while
Joseph (being an android and having more resistance to such things)
merely readjusted his stance a bit, and desperately tried to regain
control of the reddish blur before it entered a low Mobius orbit.

Sonic watched the ship bob downwards, stop, and then scream up into the
upper stratasphere. Needless to say, this surprised him. Obviously, Joe
wasn't the world's greatest pilot. Or maybe he was going to fly all the
way up there to drop Snively, or--lazer fire from behind him. Uh-oh.
The SWATBots had wised up, and now had figured out where he was. He
quickly poured on some speed, and raced away from the area, hoping to buy
Joe some time...

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

With a small degree of difficulty, he stuck out his hand and took hold of
the lever. Not wanting to be thrown out of the craft, he slowly started to
pull it back down; and slowly, the ship began to stop. It came to a halt
again near the center of the lever's pull-area, to just about the limit of
the Mobian atmosphere. Taking the opportunity to relax, seeing that
Snively was too weak at this height above Mobius to put up any sort of a
fight, Joseph looked up to note this unique perspective. He could see the
darker areas with almost no ozone above it from the lighter, bluish areas
that had a higher level. It was odd to observe such a thing; one comes to
believe after long examinations of the sky on a clear day that the sky
seems to be an impervious bubble from which the rest of the universe is
seperated. But, he thought, as one gets closer to the fringe of the
atmosphere, one can see the small gaps that are formed as air currents
cause the air to flow around in erratic patterns, leaving for minutes at a
time small holes in the atmosphere; yet, from the ground, the sky always
appears to be a solid blue bubble. It brought to mind a proverb his
grandfather had taught him... "Even the strongest wall has a hole." He
waved his hand around in the small, black gap. "A hole." he logically
said, and exhaled a breath into the hole, filling it. "Filled."

After looking into the sky some more, he decided to return to a more
Snively-compatible altitude, before the now quite-cold and weak human went
and died. He was sure that Sonic could figure out what to do with him.
Probably put him on trial and lynch him, or maybe throw him in Ironlock.
Either way, it was an affair of state, so he'd try to stay out of it.
He was probably in enough trouble as it was going off to Robotropolis
without telling anyone. Ruing Sally's potential wrath, Joseph pulled
the lever slowly back, and gradually brought the hovership back closer
to Mobius.

As he got nearer to the blackish cloud above Robotropolis, Snively began
coughing himself back to consciousness. As he entered the murky depths of
the pollution cloud, all vision became temporarily obscured. After
penetrating the center of the cloud, Snively gasped out a few words.

"Where... *cough* are you tak-- *cough* ing me?"

"You're going back to Robotropolis, Snively."

"*cough* Huh? *cough*"

"Yeah, you're going back to Robotropolis, and Sonic is going to decide what
to do to you next."

The ship broke through the cloud, and the air slowly began to clear up.
They were still high above the tops of the buildings, tho, but they could
now both see each other clearly.

"The hedgehog won't have the chance to. My SWATBots will finish him before
we even hit the ground!"

"Oh, really?" Joseph snarled, and grabbed Sniv's green collar. "I don't
think so, Snotley." He lifted the protesting Snively outside the
hovercraft. "You're going to call off your marauding SWATBot armies right
now." He grabbed the microphone for the com-unit with his other free hand,
and shoved it into Snively's face. "Aren't you?"

Searching for any sort of retort, Snively could only gasp. After a second
of hanging precariously over the ground, tho, he finally stuttered,
"Att-t-tention all SWATBots!! Cease Priority One pursuit and await
further orders!"

Joseph clicked the microphone off. "Good work, monkey. Perhaps we'll keep
you around to read commercials." Snively could only stare blackly at his
obnoxious orange opponent of his overtaking of Mobius. "Now, stop
squirming around, or I'll save Sonic the trouble and snap your neck right
here." The human stopped wiggling. "Good."

The ship finally came to a slow halt 3 inches above a stretch of road
somewhere within the center of Robotropolis. Joseph dragged the whining
Snively back into the ship, and took him with him as he dehovercrafted out
the other side. Looking around, he realized that it was almost time for
the Freedom Fighters present to go to the rendezvous point on the outskirts
of town, and then return to Knothole for the night. Quickly, he realized
he'd have to get their attention in order to bring them back here. So, he
shook Snively again. "Flares! I need a flare gun! Now!"

Snively quickly gesticulated to the glove compartment, where there was a
loaded, largish flare gun. Joseph quickly grabbed it, and fired the device
into the air. It shot into the sky, and into a bank of explosive gas that
one of the factories had recently set off. The ignited phosphorous in the
flare reacted with the various methanes in the cloud, and created a large
explosion that quickly became a massive one.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Meanwhile, Sonic and the rest of the Freedom Fighters had assembled with a
large group of recently renewed roboticized Mobian citizens. Sonic was
attempting to explain what had happened to him as quickly as possible.

"...and then, Joe comes flyin' off the roof of Sniv's command center, right?!
He must've said something cool like me, and done some of that wicked
kung-fu stuff he does, 'cuz Sniv went down for the count in a Sonic Second!
Then, he starts joyriding in 'BUTT-nik's hovercraft, and was tryin' to land
but Snotley musta done somethin' 'cuz Joe fell forward and hit some lever
and then the ship went screamin' up, up, Way Past Up into the sky,
right about--" and just as he pointed to where it went up, a small flare
went up into a small cloud. Within seconds, the whole sky seemed to be
on fire. "--there."

"He must be in trouble!" Sally said, "Sonic, go--"

When Sonic heard the word `go', he figured out the rest for himself.
Quickly (which is the way he did most things), he took out a power ring and
ultra-juiced toward the center of Robotropolis.

As he entered Robotropolis, the usual entourage of SWATBots arrived, and
began chase. Normally, he'd be pelted by lazer fire, but this time they
only followed him. Sonic found this odd, naturally, and came to a
temporary stop a few blocks from the flare's origin. The SWATBots came to
a halt about 30 feet away, and floated in mid-air omniously. They stared
at each other for a few moments. Then, Sonic broke the silence.

"Hey, bucketheads! Why don't you shoot me?! I'm the Hedgehog Priority
One! Your JOB is to shoot me!"

The SWATBots looked at each other for a few moments, obviously relaying
information back and forth. Then, the bot on the pursuit module closest to
him said, "Snively has overrode our programming, and has ordered all units
to pursue, but not damage or terminate Hedgehog Priority One."

Sonic looked puzzled. "Why?"

"Unknown," the 'bot said.

"Way Past Weird," Sonic thought, "maybe Snively's captured Joseph, and
wants me as ransom."

With that, Sonic took off again, toward the center of Robotropolis. A
second later, the 'bots took off after him.

Joseph was beating Snively's head against a wall to sedate him when Sonic
arrived seconds later, being trailed by the oddly non-violent SWATBots.
Sonic's view of the situation changed rapidly after that. "Yo, Joe!" he
shouted, and ran closer to the orange doppleganger.

Joseph stopped clobbering Snively for a moment, and allowed his stunned
body to slump to the ground. "Hey, Sonic."

Sonic looked at Joseph, then at Snively. "I see you've been busy," Sonic
smirked, "but you didn't leave a lot for me to play with!"

Joseph shrugged. "The opportunity presented itself, so I seized it."

Sonic kicked Snively lightly in the chest, which didn't seem to phase him.
"Looks like he's just about ready to die."

"You want to do the honors, Sonic?"


"Do you," Joseph plainly spoke, "want to finish him off?"

Sonic looked at Joseph strangely. "You mean..."

"Kill him. Yes."

Sonic's face went blank as he considered this. If he killed Snively, it
would finally put an end to all of Robotnik's legacy in one blow. No more
roboticized people. No more pointless deaths. The world could be
beautiful and clean again. Joseph would make a deroboticizer, Uncle Chuck
and Bunnie and everyone else would be well again, and they'd find a way to
bring back King Acorn. And everything would be beautiful and clean again.

But Sonic had never killed anything before. He didn't think he could....

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

He remembered when he was a young hedgehog, and he'd built a small rabbit
trap. He'd built it because he'd overheard Uncle Chuck complaining to one
of his friends about how rabbits kept getting through the fence he'd built
somehow, and eating his produce. So, Sonic decided he'd make Unc Chuck
proud of him, and kill the rabbit that kept getting in the next time it
tried. He thought of the proper way of constructing such a trap, collected
enough stuff to make it out of, and snuck into Uncle Chuck's workshop to
build it.

He'd been proud of that trap, he recalled, and he'd tested it throughly to
be sure it'd work. It was a small wooden cage, held together with bits of
twine. The front of it opened up with hinges, and a small stick would hold
it up. A little piece of string could then be attached to it, and close
the cage. In retrospect, it was a pathetic, primitive device, but it did
the job...

He'd set it out in the back yard, in the middle of the garden. In it, he'd
put a carrot, covered with a layer of peanut butter. (Uncle Chuck had told
him once that small animals loved the taste of it, so Sonic put it on as
additional `bait'.) Then, he covered the string with a thin layer of dirt,
so to be sure the animal couldn't see it, and hid in a bush.

About 15 minutes later, the rabbit hopped into the yard. It sniffed
around, nibbled on some lettuce, and then noticed the peanut-butter carrot.
As planned, it hopped into the cage. The second it was all the way in, he
pulled the rope, and closed the cage. The rabbit frantically tried to push
its way out, but it was far too weak to push open the door.

Sonic cheered upon capturing the rabbit. Uncle Chuck would be so proud of
him! He'd get a few extra chili dogs for this! But, he thought, he'd have
to finish the job. So, he found a large rock that would eclipse the cage,
and difficultly picked it up. By slowly walking toward the cage, he was able
to keep the rock above his head so to more easily smash the rabbit. He
finally arrived close enough to the cage to see the rabbit.

The pathetic look in its eyes drained Sonic of its resolve. No matter how
much vegetables it had eaten, Sonic had thought, it didn't deserve to die
for it. He just threw the rock in the opposite direction, toward a small
creek, and ran away from the cage.

A minute or two later, he was able to find Uncle Chuck at the chili dog
stand. He waited until he was done serving a customer, and then explained
the situation to him.

Oddly enough, Charles had said, "Sonic, I'm proud of you for not
killing that rabbit."

Sonic blinked. "I don't get it, Uncle Chuck. Why? I chickened out. I

Charles put his hand on his shoulder. "Sonic, you didn't kill that rabbit
not because you're not brave, you didn't because you felt it was wrong.
Your conscience told you not to, because you know it is wrong to kill.
That's not a bad thing. In fact, it's good. If more people were like you,
Mobius would be a perfect world."

"Really?" Sonic said.


And then, Uncle Chuck gave him a hug, and they walked back to his
garden. Charles picked up the cage (after commenting on its handiwork
positively) and wandered over to a neighbors' house and borrowed a small
burlap bag. Then, he carefully dropped the contents of the cage into the
bag, and put the wooden construction down.

After that, he signaled for a PeaceBot via a special watch he had on his
arm for that purpose, and gave it some very specific instructions on what
to do with it. The PeaceBot beeped in compliance, took the bag carefully,
and zipped off to parts unknown.

He'd remembered hearing Uncle Chuck tell him later that the rabbit was
released on a different part of Mobius, where it wouldn't eat anyone's
garden up. He smiled when he remembered that Uncle Chuck had always been
proud of him for never killing anything, and that he'd promised never to...

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

But, if he didn't kill Snively, he could escape from whereever they'd put him,
and return to Robotropolis. Then, he'd keep hurting people and destroying
things and doing things that were Way Uncool. Maybe he'd get lucky and
kill one of his friends. Maybe he'd even kill Sally! Or him! Then,
something or other would cause Joseph to NOT make a deroboticizer, and
everyone who'd been roboticized would die...Uncle Chuck...

No, Sonic thought, he'd have to break his promise. The cycle had to end.
If he didn't, too many more lives would be put in jeopardy. He had the
chance, and he had to make the most of it.

"It would be," Sonic said, "a pleasure."

With a fluid movement, he grabbed the semi-unconscious Snively by the
collar, and threw him against the wall. He punched him a few times in the
stomach, yelling and cursing at him the whole time. He'd occasionally
shout out, "This is for--", nail Snively in the face, and then yell a
name of a FF, friend, or just some innocent person who had been killed
or roboticized.

After a while, Sonic began to sense that Snively was just about to buy it.
He knew if he was going to complete what he had started, he had an
obligation to make it impressive. Then, he knew what he had to do.
He curled up into a ball on the ground, and started to power up a
Sonic Spin Dash Attack...

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

The rest of the FFs around arrived there seconds later. Dulcy had returned
home, with the last load of citizens they'd get that night. Antoine had
also been taken home as well, because he was just too mental at that time
to even join the rest of them to find out what had happened to Sonic and
Joseph. So, just Bunnie, Sally, and Charles arrived at the scene.

Needless to say, they were surprised that Snively was nearly dead on his
feet, and his large nose (not to mention the rest of him) looked all bloody
and bruised. However, they were more surprised to see Sonic getting ready
to do a Sonic Spin Dash Attack right into him!

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Charles knew he had only seconds to act. While the rest of them were simply
struck dumb with shock, he rushed toward Sonic and shouted "STOP!"

The shout distracted the hedgehog just long enough for him to slow down
to a low enough speed so Charles could rush into him to knock him over.
"No, Sonic!"

This was one of the times Sonic was simply struck speechless. He tried to
form a complete sentence explaining why he was about to kill an Enemy of
the State, that it was worth a life to save a million others, etc, but he
simply could open and shut his mouth and make the articulate conjunction,

But Charles was far more verbal. "Sonic, it is not for you to decide who
lives or dies! I don't care if Snively *has* nearly destroyed this world,
and I wouldn't care if Robotnik was in the same position Snively is in!
Killing is wrong! It would make you no better than Robotnik to destroy
this pitiful creature!" He pointed at the area that Snively was occupying.
"We will take him back to Knothole, and--"

But when he, and everyone else who had been intently listening to Charles,
turned to look at the spot he was pointing at, he was gone!

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Sonic broke the silence with "Oh, man..."

"Where'd the smeg he'd go?" Joseph said.

"Never mind that," Sally said, "we better get out of here before he finds
out where the...uh...smeg WE went!"

"Agreed," Charles said nervously, "we can discuss this back at Knothole in
the morning."

Sonic, silently damning himself for blowing it, let everyone join hands,
each person linking to another in a chain, and grabbed the last link in the
chain, Sally. He looked back, checked that everyone was attached, and took
a ring from his backpack.

He looked at Joseph, but said nothing. Joseph understood his silence, and
spoke softly. "No, Sonic, I'll run interference," he said to the blue (in
more ways than one now) version of his body, "You just get everyone
safely back to Knothole."

The hedgehogs nodded, and Sonic fired up the ring, albeit grimly,
and took off out of Robotropolis. Distant lazer fire was heard seconds
later, but none of it seemed to hit its mark, as usual.

However, Joseph chose to stay behind not to run interference, but to get
the rock that he had taken out of Snively's weapon. He grabbed it from the
backseat of the idling hovercraft, and examined it closely for the first
time. Within seconds, he realized exactly what it was; Snively had somehow
gotten the Amber Chaos Emerald from somewhere. He didn't even want to
guess, tho. What was important now was that he had it, not him.

He was already thinking of all the good ways he could use it when lazer
fire started raining toward him. SWATBots! Now he was in `the deep
merde', as Antoine might have called it. He quickly turned on the hedgehog
drive, and zipped away at a rapid pace.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Meanwhile, a familiar figure was tapping some buttons on Robotnik's chair,
and ordering various SWATBot batallions out to capture the stone from the
orange hedgehog...

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Joseph dodged the lazer fire as best he could. He wondered how Snively had
recovered so quickly. Or perhaps this was an automatic program in case of
the injury of either Robotnik or Snively. He didn't know, and didn't care
a whole lot at the moment, either.

He tried to devise a plan of escape. If he could get free of Robotropolis
proper, then he could lose the 'bots in the maze of garbage. The only
problem was that there were a LOT of SWATBots left, and Joseph couldn't
stop to fight them, or risk the Chaos Emerald falling back into Snively's

He continued to dodge some 'bot plane fire and the pursuing platoon of
SWATBots. He was able to trick one of them into flying into a wall, and
another by splitting it in twain on the corner of a building. But there
were still a lot of them around! And they were *gaining* on him!

Quickly, he knew he had to really throw on the speed, or be overtaken by
the SWATBots. But how? He didn't have a power ring or anything. He
certainly couldn't fly away; he had neglected to bring his antigrav belt.
Returning fire was right out because he was plasma cannonless. And
surrendering meant death.

Then, he remembered the glowing Chaos Emerald he had in his hand.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Sonic had told him a week or two ago how he fired up a power ring.
"It's like...well, imagine having a chili dog in your right hand."
He lifted up his hand to demonstrate. "Now, imagine the dog's chili and
sauce starting to run over your hand. That's the energy from the ring.
Now, you certainly can't *eat* the power ring...it'd blow off your jaw."
He smirked. "Besides, they don't taste very good."

He lifted his empty hand higher in the air, like he'd hold a power ring in
his hand. "Now, try to imagine the chili starting to run down your arm,"
he said, starting to trace the path with his left hand. "tingling over
your forearm, elbow, and finally all the way to your armpit." He paused to
let this sink in, and moved on. "After it's covered your arm, imagine the
flow of chili starting to move down your ribs, becoming stronger after
jumpin' over each one. After that, have it fall down your stomach, and
finally have it dribble down your leg."

Sonic resumed a more relaxed posture. "After that, your body should
probably take over. It's reflex to me, but you should be able to do it
right one day. It's a Way Past Cool feeling, like you're a big blue--"
He smirked. "--well, orange, in your case. A big, orange lightning bolt."

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

And if that could be done with a power ring, he thought...

As Joseph ran, he began to lift the emerald above his head, in his right
hand. He imagined the chili dog....

The figure in the chair watched the orange hedgehog lift the emerald above
his head, seeming to begin some sort of meditation ritual. The figure
wondered what the hedgehog was trying to do.

As he began to visualize the chili dog beginning to drip down his hand, the
emerald began to glow brighter and brighter...seeming to power up for
the occasion.

The person in the chair was entranced by the brighter-glowing emerald.
Could it be that a Chaos Emerald could also be used as a power source for
organic beings?

Down his arm....and the emerald's light went from orange to yellow to green
to blue to indigo to violet and beyond in under a second. "Wow," Joseph
said, and continued to visualize the chili dog exercize.

The figure quickly kept up with the emerald's frequencies, altering the
scanning units to counter.

He imagined the power flowing down to his ribs, lapping over each one.
The emerald was now giving off strong x-rays. This was beginning to
frighten him. But he could not stop. Even if there weren't any SWATBots
chasing him, the feeling was intoxicating. He was high on the sheer amount
of power he had in the palm of his hand.

The figure was glued to the screens. The level of power from the emerald
was far higher than had ever been calculated in such a small crystal.
It could be even more powerful than the total collective energy from the
Mobian sun...

When the energy rolled onto his stomach, the crystal started giving off
gamma rays. If it wasn't for the fact Joseph's body was designed to be
spaceworthy, it would have instantly killed him. This led him to the
conclusion that only he would be able to safely use the emerald in this
way. Of course, he was too busy trying not to fly into a dead end to mull
that thought over further.

The figure was passionately awaiting what would happen next. The SWATBots
had almost steered the hedgehog right into a dead end, where'd he either
stop, or become a greasy spot on a wall. Either way, he'd get what he
wanted. He laughed at the simplicity of it all...

Joseph kept running. The final stage of powering up must take the longest,
he noted, and ran down an alley.

Oh no.

The alley ended in a wall. There wasn't enough room to turn around. The
SWATBots were pursuing him, and were now firing at him with extreme

The power hit his legs.

The wall stretched before him now, and in one second he'd--

All reality snapped away in one blast of light.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

The figure in the control room screamed, and pounded his fists against the
armsrests. No! That was impossible! Nobody could bend reality! How?!
Why?! He couldn't think of an answer, which even made him madder, and just
contented himself with screaming, and bludgeoning things.

The hedgehog had powered up the crystal to a level that his instruments
couldn't even measure, been surrounded by an ultra-powerful version of
Sonic's usual nova effect, and shot *through* reality. The wall had
literally bent IN, and he had blasted through it. A second later, the wall
had normalized, like nothing had even happened, and his platoon of SWATBots
slammed into it, destroying them instantly.

The night had been a tour de' force by the Freedom Fighters. They'd not
only gotten about 25% of the remaining Worker-Bots out of Robotropolis, but
they'd destroyed a few good refinaries and somehow (and the figure had no
explaination for this) downloaded the sum of the main computer's knowledge.

That fact just made him madder. And the figure didn't even have a Chaos
Emerald left to experiment on, to boot!

However, even this horrid experience had an upside. He smirked
unpleasantly as he turned the chair around, toward a slab in the back of
the room. The figure looked over at the unconscious form of Snively, who
occupying the slab, and was plotting a way to give Snively a very,
VERY unpleasant surprise when he woke up....

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Meanwhile, back at the ranch:

Everyone had arrived back at Knothole but Joseph. The night's activity had
exhausted the Freedom Fighters, and they still had to instruct the new
rescuees on basic procedure. But that could wait until the morning.
They gave all who needed it temporary lodging somewhere, reunited as many
families as possible, and put the rest of the village to sleep.

Two hedgehogs, however, were still awake. They sat by the Power Ring pool,
staring out at the ripples that formed in the water. Occasionally, one of
them would skip a rock over the surface of the liquid, attempting to break
the tension.

After a while, one of the hedgehogs spoke. "Sonic?"

Sonic nodded. "Yeah, Unc?"

"Do you want to talk about this now?"

Hesisitation. "Well, if you want to."

Charles coughed. "Yes, I do." He paused. "I'm not angry at you, boy.
Not in the least. If I had been in your place, and Joseph had given me the
option, I would have done the same thing. It was just that I didn't expect
you to think of doing that..."

He sighed. "In retrospect, I suppose killing Snively might have been a
feasible option; seeing that he escaped somehow. However, I still feel it
would have been morally wrong to do so, no matter how evil he is."

Sonic put his face in his hands. "I'm confused."

Charles put his hand on the hedgehog's shoulder. "Boy, so am I. These
kind of situations are always the worst. This war....god, this war...it's
starting to take its toll on you kids. I wouldn't wish the position you've
been in on Robotnik. All this death. I'm surprised you didn't crack
earlier; you've had the opportunity countless times, when you could have
just killed Robotnik and/or Snively, and ended it."

Sonic mumbled, "It was because...because I would have endangered others if
I woulda killed 'BUTT-nik or Snotley in those situations. Yeah, I coulda
spin-dashed 'BUTT-nik open, and finished off Snively a few times, but I
always had to save someone else, or stop a berzerk machine from destroying
somethin' important. This time, I had a Way Past Clear shot, and I knew I
might not get another."

Charles nodded. "Sonic, it's okay...everyone is entitled to act on impulse

Sonic stood up and angrily pointed to himself. "But I let you down!
I became as bad as Robotnik when I got pumped up to kill!"

Charles' eyes glowed a surprised red. "You certainly did not! Your father
would have done the same thing, and he was the finest man I ever knew!"

Sonic's resolve fell as Charles said this. "H-he would?"

"Yes, he would have. Your father was so much like you, boy, that I
sometimes have to remind myself not to call you by his name."

Sonic dazedly sat back on the ground, and stared back over the water.
"Everything's gone crazy."

Charles scooted closer to Sonic, and gave him a hug. "It will be right
again some day, boy. It will."

Sonic whimpered softly, and let his head fall upon Charles' shoulder.
"But what if I go crazy like that again? What if I lose control, and--"

Charles comforted the confused hedgehog. "You won't."

Nothing more needed to be said. Nothing more could be said. All that was
left for Charles to do was to hold his nephew in his arms, watch the sun
rise in the east, and make him right again...

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

It was the gap between realities. It had been called the `Void' by some,
`Creation' by others. But it was everywhere and nowhere, at alltime and
notime. It was the universal nexus, where all dimentions combined.
This is where Joseph found himself after breaking through the alley wall.

He drifted through nothingness for a moment while the emerald idled down.
It took an incredible strain on him, but he was able to return the mighty
object to orange status again. He felt weak, and he so wanted to sleep...

He saw the floating crystal `iceberg' a few miles....feet....inches?
Length, width, height, volume, mass, location; they meant nothing here.
Everything was as close as anything else in this strange semi-universe.
Either way, he drifted for some period of time before finally pulling
himself onto it.

He looked around. There was a small crystalline home here. He wondered
what else could survive in this odd omnispace...he walked over to the door,
and knocked upon it a few times. A voice. "Hold on, Nagus, I'm coming."
So there were at least two other people here, he thought, and stepped a
polite distance away. The door opened.

He looked at the figure. He was dressed in a outfit that looked like it'd
seen better days. It was kind of ratty, and there were stains on the
lapels from what looked like a few years of dinners. Yet, it appeared to
have once been regal, and it denoted authority. The figure was tall for a
Mobian fox, about 4' something rather than the usual 3'. He had a
tarnished, dented crown on, and his eyes gave the impression he'd been to
Hell and back again on several occasions.

"You aren't Nagus," he said, evaluating the strange creature. "Who are
you? How did you get here?"

Joseph bowed. "Greetings, citizen. I am Joseph. I seem to have ran a
hole through the time/space continuum. Would you have any idea how to
leave this strange world?"

"That depends," he said, intrigued. "Where did you come from."

"Mobius, specifically around Robotropolis. Time 'round 3237."

The figure was surprised. "Oh? Well, I'm from Mobius too. In fact,

"Look," Joseph interrupted, "excuse my rudeness, but it's vital I get back
to Mobius before my friends start panicking and go back to Robotropolis to
look for me. You understand, right?"

The figure looked a bit hurt, but quickly got over it. "Yes, yes, of
course. Now," He pointed to a bluish hole on the horizon. "go over to
that hole, and run through it as fast as you can. And KEEP running through
it. After a minute, you'll pop out in the Great Unknown. The Great Forest
is to the east."

Joseph nodded. "Thanks, citizen!"

"Please," the figure smiled, "just call me Acorn!"

While running off, Joseph smiled, and yelled back, "Sure, Acorn! See you
some other time!" With that, he fired up the crystal, and shot through the
hole as fast as he could.

As the figure zoomed out of sight, King Acorn smiled. "Oh, you will,
orange one. You will." Then, he walked back into his hut, and closed the
door quietly behind him, leaving no evidence of any activity there at all.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Snively groggily awoke on the cold, hard steel plate in the back of the
semi-operational control center. He pulled himself to a sitting position,
and hopped off the uncomfortable table. He rubbed his head. The hedgehog
had beaten the crap out of him. He wondered how or why he had either
escaped from them, or was rescued...

He walked over to the wall-intercom, and pushed the button. "Please send
some aspirin up to the command center, anyone." It beeped, noted the
order, and set to work delivering it.

He walked over to the drink dispenser and poured himself a cold glass of
water. Chugging it rapidly, he felt some of his memory returning....

He'd been tottering on his feet while Charles was yelling at Sonic for
attempting to kill him, with the unknown orange hedgehog looking on.
Then, someone had snuck up behind him and roughly grabbed him, pulling him
into the shadows. He remembered someone ordering a SWATBot battalion out
to capture the Freedom Fighters--

"Hello, Needlenose!" a too-familiar voice shouted.


He turned around to look for the source of the voice, and saw someone he
did NOT want to see. He screamed upon recognizing the evil features of...
Commander Packbell?!

"Miss me?"

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

                             THE END...?

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

                                                        -- That cyberpunk.

         -- Joseph deLaCroix -- Professional Idiot Exterminator --
  Information wants to be sold for exorbitant fees, then totally devalued
     An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, an account for an account
 "Act like a dumbshit, and they'll treat you as an equal." -- "Bob" Dobbs

Received on Sun Oct 29 1995 - 20:24:52 PST

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