Everything Changes (part 2) [1/1]

From: Joseph Delacroix <hk512_at_cleveland.Freenet.Edu>
Date: Wed, 29 Nov 1995 21:04:24 -0500

Everything Changes [Part 2]

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. Commander Packbell is the property
of David Pistone. All rights reserved. Etc.

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Timeline: That next morning.

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Daybreak over Knothole was its usual glorious self, if not somewhat busier
than usual. The multitude of rescued Mobitropolis refugees were basically
wandering around, trying to learn their new routines. Order was something
that could be achieved later, and confusion shortly became the rule.

It had started, of course, with Sally's usual speech about what had
happened in the last 10 years, about how Way Past Cool the Freedom Fighters
were, etc etc. The usual propaganda, Joseph mused, as he watched the
various parts of Knothole from deep within his control room, yet inspiring
in a way...

He went back to flipping through the selections he had available. Every
sector of his fortress, and the surrounding lands around it, looked
relatively peaceful. The occasional roboticized citizen would wander in,
look around, and walk back; either that, or someone would escort them
back...it had been learned that Joseph did not like uninvited guests
roaming around his property.

However, it was relatively quiet around Knothole today, because everyone
was trying to readjust to their new surroundings. So Joseph finally grew
bored with looking around, and began the day's work. He would upload the
information he had taken out of Robotropolis the night before, and then
begin creating an antidote for the roboticization process...and then, he
could rest. He walked over to the input port, and activated his dataspike.
He balled his left hand into a fist, bent it up toward the ceiling,
and...clik. Clik. Clik. Clik.

Nothing happened. His arm looked like it did before. Normally, the top of
his forearm would open up, and a 3" long spike would pop out. Then, he
would insert it into the port, and begin a direct interface with the
computer. But all he got now was an error message and a metallic `clik'.

Obviously, something was wrong with him. Perhaps the Emerald had somehow
overloaded his arm, and it had just fused shut. That could be fixed rather
easily, so this didn't start to bother him...yet. All he did was to go up
to the repair level, and started a full diagnostic on his body.

As he walked on to the pad, as he had done many times before, he realized
he felt odd as the plasma rings went up and down his form, doing a routine
circuitry check. Normally, he'd feel nothing. But today, it was a
tingle...that was slowly turning into a stinging...that forced him to shut
off the scan out of self-preservation!

He quickly reviewed the results of the scan, and suddenly realized what the
problem was.


He was flesh again.

He pondered this for a moment. This was not necessarily a `bad'
thing...this was merely a very strange, abnormal thing. He had a basic
idea of what the `why', `what', `who', and `when' was; obviously, the use
of the Amber Chaos Emerald figured into it somehow. But the `how', the
`how'...a freakish nanite failure? Impossible; nanites can't make metal
flesh again, and his repair systems would have kicked in to stop it.
A late-forming side effect of the DNA mutation from the power ring?
Highly improbable; the nanites were able to neutralize the reaction
after the initial change.

"So, hotshot," he muttered to himself, "what's done it?"

He hated to admit it, but the hated word `magic' seemed to be the `how'.

Joseph did not like the whole concept of magic. It was like getting a
desired result without knowing -why- or -how- or -what- did it. He did not
like just having blind faith in anything; his father had taught him that,
as his father taught him. But this was the only (and he hated admitting
this) logical answer.

He sighed. This situation was getting more annoying by the minute.
Maybe doing an internal diagnostic would help get his mind off of it.
He closed his eyes, and concentrated on reactivating as much of his former
abilities as possible...if there were any left. But since he still had use
of his brain, that meant most of his android form's mental abilities would
be left...

He thought hard and unwaveringly about his task. Normally, he could
activate all of his sensors and other powers in a nanosecond. But
something had gone wrong due to the emerald.

He finally opened his eyes again. It was hopeless. He was 100% Mobian
hedgehog now, and there wasn't anything left inside of him to change
that--but outside...

"Bahb," he said, "prepare a brainscanning unit, to the following

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Back in Robotropolis:

Packbell sat in the Control Center, overseeing the repairs of Robotropolis.
Snively's utter failure in running the city was obvious. Only 25% of the
total possible SWATBot units were operational. 12% of the city had power.
Just over 35% of the Worker-Bots remained, and a good portion of it was on
fire. Typical.

However, the repairs were going as well as could be expected. He had
employed a large portion of the SWATBots with the Worker-Bots to increase
productivity, which was working out about as he'd predicted. A few of the
refineries were going back online that afternoon, which would keep the city
operational while he worked on finding an alternative energy source.

For the time being, Packbell noted, the city would pretty much take care of
itself. There was no need for him to sit and stare at it while it put
itself back together....so he could allot himself some leisure time.
Turning away from the monitor screens, he smiled evilly at the thought he
had recently created. He pushed the intercom button, paused for a moment,
and bellowed with all of his might into it! "SNIVELY!!!!! GET IN HERE
*NOW*!!!" He released the intercom button and laughed fiendishly, and
waited for the sound of Snively's footfalls rushing up the stairs.

Snively rushed up the stairs from the 3rd basement in the Command Center,
where Packbell had put his new room. He knocked the filth and rubbish out
of the way as he clawed his way up the the lobby and rushed up the stairs.
He knew very well why Packbell was doing this, but if he wanted to live
another day, he would have to obey...

Packbell listened in silence as the short, large-nosed human desperately
threw himself up the stairs, probably taking some minor damage as he
climbed. (Packbell didn't even begrudge Snively a stairrail...he had to
run up the stairs completely under his own power.) After a few more
seconds, Snively burst in, falling at Packbell's feet.

Snively panted as he pushed out the words that Packbell forced him to say
every time he saw him. "*pant*...Hail *pant* Supreme Commander *wheeze*
Packbell, Total *gasp* and Omnipotent *cough* Ruler of Moebius *pant*,
Conqueror of *wheeze* Robotropolis, and my *gasp* Almighty Lord."

Packbell kicked Snively out of his way. "Good boy, Snotley." He stood up,
looking down on the cringing human. "Now, here is your task for the day.
I want you to go back downstairs, and run to the other side of
Robotropolis. There you will find a soda machine." Packbell threw two
golden coins at Snivley, which hit him in the chest. As he grabbed them,
Packbell continued to speak. "Purchase a can of Fizz, and open it. Then,
run back here, and hand it to me. If so much as one drop is missing from
it," he stated, smiling evilly at Snively, "you die."

Packbell snapped his fingers. "I want to see you back in...oh, let's make
it 5 minutes this time. Now go!" Snively quickly rushed out of the
room, running for his very life.

Packbell laughed, and sat back down. He giggled as he started his internal

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Joseph stood in his lab as Bahb put the finishing touches on the
brainscanner he had instructed it to make. It was similar to the neural
transfer device, but merely made a backup of one's memories and preserved
them on a storage device. It was ideal for this situation's delicate
position...he didn't know how much time he had.

It was a rather nodescript device. Basically, a long pipe that was
connected to the computer ended in a plunger-shaped scanning device, that
fit around Joseph's head with room to spare. When the device was
activated, a slowly scanning ring of energy would pass up and down his
skull, taking a 3-D scan of his brain and replicating its design into a
file. It would capture any thoughts he had since he was born, was having
now, and could predict what he was going to think 10 seconds later.

He sat down under the device and allowed it to surround his head. He
started to clear his mind of any thoughts, and ordered the scan to begin
when his mental activity was at its ebb. He focused--and for 5 seconds,
his entire existance was blinked out.

A minute later, the device lifted, and Joseph's mind was returned to
normal. He stood back up, shook his head a bit to reorient himself with
reality, and walked over to the console.

"Bahb, give me an ETC on the compliation of the brainscan."

Bahb hummed for a moment, and then emitted, "Estimated time of completion:
one solar cycle."

Joseph nodded. "Very well. I am going to go check on the Emerald, and
then I shall go outside to interact with the populace. Give me a status
report hourly."

Bahb beeped obiediantly, and set itself to its work. After a moment of
silent contemplation of this development, Joseph opened the secret stepdisk
that led to the power core and rode down to examine it.

The sight of the emerald made Joseph feel better already, for some reason.
He had placed it where his old ship's power core had been, which he had
used to power the complex when he first arrived. It glowed with a warm,
orangish light, and made him feel younger and stronger. The room was
beginning to grow greenish energy crystal around the sides of it as well,
but only in a few isolated patches. Either way, Joseph found the
development intriguing, and sought to encourage it...and perhaps, even
understand it.

The annoyance toward the crystal could not be manifested here. He simply
was too invigorated by its presence to be angry at it. It was only an
inanimate object, after all...it couldn't hurt him...in fact, he rather
liked the glowing, warm emerald. It radiated an almost maternal love and
happiness (perhaps an airborne antidepressant is created from its reaction
with the oxygen here, he mused) for all living things... Occasionally,
a swirl of a different color would be visible in it, but it would
quickly fade back to its normal amber state.

Joseph found the object beautiful. He liked to look at it, feel its power,
and be near its warmth. But he had a responcibility to check on his
various experiments on it; so he tore himself away from gazing on it, and
examined the readings that were taken of it instead.

The readings still made no sense to him. He could detect all sorts of
radiation coming off of the emerald, yet still could not find any energy
signatures that could tell him what the emerald was made out of. On scans,
it showed the emerald as a black area, denoting an unknown substance.
But it gave off energy that could come from hydrogen up to element 534.
It contradicted itself. According to most sciences, this object shouldn't
even exist in this universe...he decided he should probably give up on this
for the day. Sighing as he walked away, he looked at the emerald one
last time before he took the steppad back to the surface.

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He squinted somewhat as he stepped out of the Dome. Normally, his optical
sensors would adjust within nanoseconds to the light change, but organics
took a bit more time. He cursed them as he slowly adjusted to the photon

The Great Forest looked as it always did. The trees were still there. He
could hear the sounds of his creek in the distance, with the occasional
fish jumping out of the water. It was `pretty' to most people, but it gave
Joseph a different sort of feeling. All it was to him was a series of
subconscious distractions to keep people from getting too close to his
home. But still, he enjoyed being around them.

He wandered to the creek, and sat down on a rock. He gazed into the water
for a few moments, collecting his thoughts. His life was spinning out of
control. He had no family, no lover, no hope of escape. From the moment
he set foot on this planet, it had started taking things from him. His
ship. A few droplets of blood, which must have wetted its thirst for more.
A clean conscience? Good bye. Even his last reminder of home, his own
body, had been taken from him. All because of this damn planet.

But it was a good world, he mused. There were nice people on it. What was
happening here happened on his own world long ago; perhaps by helping it,
he'd help himself. Besides, his was a black and cold culture...the
universe probably is better off without it.

He stood up. Nay, he thought, it is gone 300 years now. As the universe
has forgotten it, so shall I...they would have wanted it that way.
"Progress over the antiquated, and those that lead the march shall live
forever in the hearts, minds, and actions of the next generation." His
grandfather had said that all those years ago when he had given the Empire
the power of roboticization. And he knew now that his words applied here.
He needed to evolve. He was a outdated model of a line that had gone out
of production. He pounded his fist into the palm of his other hand.
It was time to make the leap to the new model year!

He sat down again and thought. He wanted to be able to return to his fox
form; might as well not reinvent the wheel. But the form of the hedgehog
would come in handy, too. He also wanted some of his old android abilities
back, and especially some sort of neural net. And, of course, he wanted
to be able to utilize the Chaos Emerald again. But, how could he do all
three feasibly?

He pondered for a few moments. He would have to design a body that could
do some limited shapshifting, but with resistance to powerful gamma (and
above) radiation. Also, he would have to patch in cybernetics with it that
could handle the shifting and adjust quickly. It would be a challenge, but
he was sure he could figure out a way to pull it off...

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The spacecraft glided silently over Robotropolis, cloaked to all known
scanning devices on Mobius. It quietly landed on the appropriate pad in
the center of Robotropolis, making no noise or signal that it had arrived.
A small hole seemed to open in reality as a figure emerged from inside the
cloaked vessel. As the figure walked away, the hole closed, making the
ship completely invisible again.

The tall, slim creature quietly walked up the stairs, ignoring the various
SWATBots that ordered him to halt. They fired at him, but their lazers
refracted off of the figure's personal shield. After a while, they ceased
fire, and made way for the commanding, yet silent, figure.

Upstairs, Snively had just arrived, and was cowering before Packbell.
The figure, wanting to observe what was going on, arrived at the open door
and phase-cloaked. While invisible and untouchable, he listened to the
banter that went back and forth...

"Well, Snively," Packbell exclaimed faux-happily, "you've gotten me my can
of Fizz!" He grinned in an unpleasant way. "*Thank* *you* -so- much."
He then snatched the can from the cringing underling's hand, and threw it
violently out the window. Upon seeing Snively's shocked and horrified
reaction, he laughed. Then, his expression and tone became infuriated.
"Now get out of my sight!" After Snively had run off for his life,
Packbell sat back in his chair and had a good laugh.

"I see that you've inherited Ivo's sick sense of humor, tinkertoy."

Packbell sat up in his seat. "Who said that?"

"It is not for you to know. Tell me where Robotnik is."

Packbell blinked, and looked around. "Where are you?!"

"Tell me where Robotnik is. You have 30 seconds to comply."

Packbell stood up. "I don't need to tell you anything. I am the ruler--"

"20 seconds."

Packbell became irate, and pushed the intercom button. "SWATBots! Report
to the Command Center *immediately*!"

The voice grew increasingly more annoyed. "10 seconds, tinkertoy."

SWATBots streamed into the Command Center as Packbell began shouting at
them to find the voice. The voice even whistled quietly so to assist them,
but they couldn't seem to get their hands on him.

"Time's up, tinkertoy. Where is Robotnik?"

Packbell cursed and angrily looked around for the voice. "Show yourself!"

"Very well."

In the center of the room, about 3 feet from Packbell, a humanoid figure
began to materialize. It was about 6'4, about 190 pounds, and was vulpine.
He had reddish fur, with hints of orange in it. His silver pupils glared
at Packbell, and his silver canines glinted against his otherwise
natural-appearing teeth. He was clad in a black trenchcoat that went down
to his calves, and was wearing a uniform-like suit under it. His black
boots went over his pants, and his white fingerless gloves gave him a
distrubing appearance.

"I seek Robotnik. You will tell me where to find him, or you will be

Packbell looked at the figure. "And why should I tell you anything?"

The figure grabbed Packbell's throat at an unnatural speed, and began to
squeeze it tightly. "Because, tinkertoy, I said so."

The SWATBots tried to move to act, but collectively realized that movement
to assist Packbell would most likely result in his termination. So they
simply stood at attention as the figure continued to speak. "If I didn't
have a liking for Robotnik," it said, "I'd simply break you in half right
now, and use your entrails as materials for a selection of post-modernist
art." He moved his face uncomfortably close to Packbell's. "So cut
the attitude and tell me where he *is*."

Packbell tried to squeak out an answer, but the figure had closed off his
windpipe. Realizing this, the nameless one threw Packbell back into his
seat. "Tell me -NOW-!"

Packbell took a few breaths, reacclimating his lungs so to be able to
produce an answer. "Robotnik," he wheezed, "is dead."

The figure looked temporarily surprised, but resumed his normal demeanor.
"So, Ivo finally managed to get killed... I told him his idiotic Doomsday
project was doomed to failure."

Packbell looked at the figure confusedly. "You'd been communicating with

The figure resumed his cold stare at Packbell. "Yes...my people have an
interest in this world. We would...well, would have liked to acquire
it from Ivo." He paused. "So I suppose you have possession of it now?"
Packbell nodded, and started to speak, "But..."

The figure raised his hand for silence. "Very well. We will simply
continue the negotiations with you. But first, we will require an updated
manifest of your possessions. Would you happen to have the latest one

Packbell nodded, thinking. "Give me 30 seconds to produce one." He walked
over to the console, pushed a few buttons, and displayed a file on the main
viewer. "I had wondered what this was..."

He rose his hand again for quiet, reading... "You've suffered some losses
recently, haven't you?"

Packbell nodded, silently cursing the idiocy of Snively. "A minor
catasthophe occured when one of my underlings took control of the main city
while I was on a brief hiatus."

The figure mused. "Yes...was it the hedgehog again?"

"You know about Sonic?"

The figure looked over at Packbell. "I'm beginning to despise that
accursed vandal as much as Ivo...did." He muses. "Well, have you tried
using nanites to get rid of him?"


"Tried making a robot version of his little girlfriend and have her kill


"Tried to use his ego against him?"

"Tried it."

"Broke his will?"


"Killed some of his friends?"

"Several. Hasn't phased him."


"Many, many times."

The figure hmmed. "Well, you're on your own, then." He looked back at the
monitor, and tsked. "My, my, my. You've lost over 75% of your Worker-Bots
in the past 3 years. This won't do at all. This planet was already a
fixer-upper, and now most of its work force has escaped."

He looked back at Packbell. "I'm afraid Ivo's original price for
this world is just too high."

Packbell blinked. "Price?"

The figure looked surprised. "He never infor--oh yes, silly me. He didn't
want the possibility of a Freedom Fighter finding out that he was going to
sell this planet to the highest bidder."

Packbell stood there, his positronic brain temporarily locked up. He could
not justify in his mind a reason to sell Mobius. After all, it was Ivo's
home, right...?

"And, naturally, this development is simply going to lower what we are
willing to give. We were hoping to convert this planet into a colony
world...it will take a bit longer, now; we'll have to recapture the already
roboticized citizens, and polish off the rest. But I assure you, you'll
still get a very nice package for this..." He smiled evilly. "very rustic
little world."

Packbell snapped out of his lockup, forming a plan. "Understood. What are
your new terms?"

The figure started to turn away. "I will have to update my people on this
development first. I will return in about 2 of your Mobian weeks. For
now, we will leave the promised...gift below with your SWATBots."

As he faded from view again, Packbell got to his feet. "Wait! I don't
even know your name!"

As he slipped back into the shadows, he whispered, "Call me...John."

With that, he disappeared, leaving behind a confused and puzzled Packbell.
After a few moments of processing this new influx of data, he pushed the
intercom button. "SWATBot Squad 34-G: retrive the crate left by our
visitors, and bring it to me." A compliant beep was heard, and then the
intercom automatically shut off.

The SWATBot squad went down to the pad, where a small crate was being set
out by some lowly-looking red foxes. They scurried back inside the
light-hole, and disappeared. A few moments after that, a dim hum was
heard, and something seemed to leave the area. A hole was poked in the
clouds, allowing the outline of the saucer-shaped craft to be seen before
it faded into space.

The SWATBots didn't really notice that as they carefully picked up the
crate and walked into the freight elevator. SWATBots are not creative
machines; they are rather dull, and aren't great conversationalists.
They merely follow orders.

The platoon of SWATBots arrived inside the Command Center, and placed the
box by Commander Packbell. They stepped away from it, saluted, and walked
back to their posts. Packbell waited for them to leave before opening the
box. He carefully popped the top off of it, and pulled off the nearest side.
A wave of packing material fell at his feet as he removed the object from the

It was a long object, about the length of a baseball bat. There was a hole
on one side, and a power cell attached to the other. It had a button
on the top by an aiming sight, and an shoulder rest. A few extra power
cells were attached to it by some shrinkwrap, with a note. Packbell put
the device down for a moment, and opened up the note; which read:

"Ivo: This is the latest revision of our basic plasma cannon. We've
altered the power cells so they can be charged by your power stations.
The usual schematic is inside the shrinkwrap. Enjoy! -- T."

Packbell smiled. So this is how Ivo kept `developing' the new technologies
they had been utilizing! He sat down in the chair, and begin to analyze
the new device...

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The day had passed uneventfully at Knothole. The initial chaos of having
an influx of new villagers had been taken care of, and everyone had settled
in well. Everyone had gotten their work assignments, which really began to
fly by...the day's work usually would end at noon, thanks to the
introduction of new technologies and the muscle power of the roboticized
citizens. So the rest of the day had been a needed relaxation period for
most people, while Sally and the rest of the military section of the
Freedom Fighters planned their next raid.

But, deep inside Joseph's lab, the events of the surface were of little
concern. He had spent most of the day running simulations...and he had
figured out the exact DNA he would need in order to create something to his
specifications; a mixture of Keldy'rian, Ur'thaen, Mobian, and a bit he had
strung together himself would be the matrix for his new shell. The
Keldy'rian would be the conduit for the Ur'thaen and Mobian DNA, and would
hold all three together while only allowing one to manifest at a time. In
a nutshell, it would give him the ability to appear to be either a normal
Ur'thaen orange fox, or a normal Mobian orange hedgehog, while being able
to switch to one or the other freely. The extra bits of DNA he had added
would give his new body the ability to withstand extremely high radiation
for unlimited amounts of time, and be sure that his body would not reject
the cybernetics he was going to add.

He was especially proud of the way he was going to be able to maintain his
intelligence within the form. If he was home on Ur'thae, this would have
gotten him the same level of accolades that his father had recieved for the
neural transfer device; he had perfected a mimetic polyalloy.

His people had tried for decades to perfect one that would maintain
molecular consistancy yet be able to remember programming and instructions.
But all of them had failed for one reason or another...but not this one.
Not only would it be able to remember and maintain his own personality
matrix, but it would maintain the knowledge he had already acquired *and*
was able to hold an unlimited amount of additional data. It would be the
perfect central nervous system; all he would have to do is to inject it
into the new form (after the brain and nervous systems had been removed)
and it would take over.

At last, he would have the ideal, nearly perfect body he had always wanted.
Free of the worries of brain or other physical death, yet still organic.
Enhanced sensor sensitivity, fast nervous system, highly resistant to
outside influence, genetically compatable with most other species...and,
with the addition of nanites, almost instant healing and a nearly
invincible immune system. It was a form that could last for as long as he
wanted it to.

After doing some final bits of tweaking, he began the creation process...

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

But up on the surface, a mission was being planned. The usual suspects,
Sally, Sonic, Rotor, Antoine, Dulcy, Charles, Bunnie, and Tails were standing
around an updated aerial view of Robotropolis, figuring out the
Worker-Bot details for that night. Tails was mostly in the background,
tho, listening.

"...and that's how we're going to do that. Remember, Snively probably
realizes that we'll strike here, so it's going to be a hard fight.
Therefore, it's a fair bet that there'll be lots of SWATBots around,
guarding the Worker-Bots. That's why only Sonic will actually go in to get
the group of citizens, while Dulcy, Antoine and Bunnie will assist people in
escaping. I will lead a diversion with Charles and Rotor that will strike
on the opposite side of Robotropolis, forcing Snively to spread out a few
platoons of SWATBots at us."

She paused, looking for questions. Finding none, she deactivated the
hologram. "We will leave for Robotropolis at the usual time. Dulcy will
drop Charles, Rotor, and myself off first. Five minutes after she has
returned here, Bunnie and Antoine will leave for Robotropolis, with Sonic
having an approximate head start of 10 seconds." She smiled. "Dismissed."

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

An hour or two later, thanks to the science of age-acceleration, Joseph's
body had completed being grown. The mimetic polyalloy had been injected
without incident to take over the nervous system, and it had created a
datajack in the center of the back of its neck to permit Joseph to upload
himself into it. Everything had gone according to plan.

Now, Joseph waited for Bahb to complete processing the collected
information of his life he had given it that morning. It was just about
completed; Bahb had sped up the process considerably, thanks to the long
periods of zero input he had endured. In another five minutes, it would be

He drank his coffee and admired his old form one last time. He tapped it
somewhat, smiled, and laid down on the guerney. It pulled itself over
underneath the intelligence transfer unit, next to his new form. The
device went down over both of their craniums, and activa--

Reality stopped.


Reality started.

Joseph opened his eyes in his new form as the old one was derezzed. The
device lifted away from his face, and he hopped off the guerney. He
noticed that he was already back in his normal vulpine form. Success!
He walked over to the mirror, which confirmed his suspicions.

He was a normal, breathing flesh-and-blood fox again!

Quickly, he tested out his mimetic polyalloy brain. He pulled up his
heads-up display faster than he ever had before. He scanned the room in
every spectrum of electromagnetic radiation he could surmise. Perfect!
He did an internal diagnostic. Everything was at 100% -or- -greater-!
He was better off than he was before! He did some backflips to celebrate,
and to test the agility of his new body. Perfectperfectperfect!

But there was one final test. He closed his eyes, and thought of becoming
a hedgehog....he was overtaken by a sense of vertigo....he opened his
eyes...and was a hedgehog. Yes! This RULED. He closed his eyes, and
thought of becoming a fox again...the vertigo...and then he was.

He was so proud of himself. He'd finally done something worthwhile with
his abilities...then he remembered. The files he had gotten from
Robotropolis! Were they still there?! He closed his eyes and searched...


Joseph cursed. He must have lost them during the transfer. He'd have to
go back and get them again...of course, he couldn't just go out and
steal them like he did last time. That was an extremely lucky break.
No, he would have to think of a new way of going about getting what he
needed...his super-strength, for example, was no longer present.
He'd have to find a way to deal with that. Of course, he'd have to explain
to the others how he had returned to his `natural' state, and find a way of
getting to and from Robotropolis as quickly as possible. He certainly
didn't want to mooch a ride off that dragon. Too unreliable. He'd have to
get around to building some sort of transportation one of these days.

But that would wait until later. Right now, he'd be content with simply
shifting into his hedgehog state, running to the edge of Robotropolis, and
allowing the Freedom Fighters to distract Snively while he stole as much
data as possible. Then, he'd run back home, and return to normal as Bahb
processed it. He'd extrapolate the needed data, and have Bahb rig up
deroboticizer software. Then, he'd build the necessary device, and finally
begin repairing his father's mistake once and for all...in an orderly
fashion, to boot.

For now, he'd bide his time until nightfall, enjoying being a fox again,
and perhaps he'd work in a brief martial arts practice period before he
left...so much to do, so little time!

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

Night fell on the surface, and the majority of Knothole turned in for the
evening's rest. Only a few denziens of Knothole, the ones going on the
actual mission stayed awake.

Dulcy airlifed Sally, Charles, and Rotor to Robotropolis, where they were
planning on sabotaging a chip manufacturing facility. Upon her return,
Bunnie and Antoine were taken to the other side of Robotropolis, where a
large group of Worker-Bots were working under heavy guard on repairing a
SWATBot production plant. Sonic shot after them, and hid in the shadows
until the diversion started.

A minute or two later, Joseph came out of the Dome, ready to do an assult
on Robotropolis as well. He had his personal shield unit fully charged,
had a small phaser attached to his side, and was at 100% efficiency.
He took a path that would lead him into the center of Robotropolis with as
little difficulty as could be expected. He'd have to dodge the occasional
squad of SWATBots (and who knows what else), but he figured he could always
teleport out if it got too hot. He hoped.

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

Sonic arrived at Robotropolis a minute before Dulcy did. He paused to
examine his current target, a refinary. SWATBots were assisting the
Worker-Bots this time...guarding and working at the same time. Clever, the
hedgehog thought, but not Way Past Cool. He plotted a course of attack,
figuring in the large amount of SWATBot fire that was bound to occur. It
appeared everything was going to go as expected...yet, something seemed
amiss to the hedgehog. It was unlike Snively to use his SWATBots for actual
`work'...just Freedom Fighter-shooting and patrolling. This stunk of
something fishy. Big Time.

He heard Dulcy land in the distance, far enough away so not to be spotted
by 'Bot planes when leaving Robotropolis. Now, all they had to do was wait
for the--

An explosion in the distance lit the sky as alarms started to sound. Sally
had set off the charges around the SWATBot production plant, slowing the
further regeneration of Snively's troops. That'd get him steamed for sure.
He listened for the usual screechy howling from the loudspeakers, cursing
for all available SWATBots to destroy `that hedgehog', no matter who
actually -did- it. Bulbhead was pretty low-watt.

But not a voice was to be heard. Yet, the SWATBots put down what they were
doing, climbed into 'Bot planes, and flew off toward the explosion. Sonic
was puzzled for a moment, and then remembered that SWATBots could take
orders by certain radio frequencies, too; encrypted, of course. But
Snively had never thought of that before...maybe he was finally starting to
catch on about this `badnik' business. Nah.

He waited for the majority of them to leave before readying himself for the
attack. It appeared that about a squad was left, something Sonic would
normally be able to take care of in an instant....it still didn't feel
right. It was as if a 6th sense had noticed something deeper than his keen
hedgehog eyesight couldn't detect.

He was wasting precious time with this wimpyness, he thought. What am I,
Ant? He scoffed at that, imagining how panicky Ant would be in a situation
like this. That's why he was always left in someone else's care, noted
Sonic, and started into a run--

A glitter of 'Bot metal from around a corner. That's all Sonic needed
to see. Now he knew this was an ambush; his delay had allowed him to see
what was coming. Past Cool! Wait. Way Uncool. Now he'd have to either
turn back now, warn Dulcy and risk hanging around here without doing
anything until Sally ordered the evac; or fight through a few squads of
SWATBots and risk being captured, killed, or roboticized. Hmmmm...

Discretion is the better part of valor, it is said. If that is so, Sonic
was slightly worse off than Antoine in that department. He took out a
power ring, took out his free-will inducing pistol, and blasted off into
the now-expected `ambush'.

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

Joseph approached the front gates into Robotropolis, his cloak active.
He stealthily approached the main door, listening for activity. Only a few
SWATBots were around now...the Freedom Fighters had probably distracted the
rest of them. But, of course, this was to his advantage.

He snuck inside the gates with no incident. Walking quietly by some
SWATBots, who were barely even paying attention to anything behind them, he
wandered closer into the heart of Robotropolis. Some repairs had been
completed since last night; a few buildings had tarps on them to keep the
outdoors out, while a few piles of garbage had been tended to. This was
odd to Joseph; Snively would not normally take such care of Robotropolis.
Then, he detected the familiar sounds of distant explosions and lazer fire
echoing in the distance. Joseph listened carefully to them, and concluded
they would not become a threat. At least, it was improbable that they
would. He hurried up somewhat, not wanting to tempt fate.

Joseph approached the Command Center, and was mildly surprised. The
Command Center was actually -guarded- today with SWATBots. Finally, he
thought, Snively had got on the ball. You can't just leave a fortress, no
matter how formitable, unguarded. Roughly two squads guarded the main
entrance, while 3 or 4 were watching over the minor entrances. This would
actually be an enjoyable challenge to infiltrate, Joseph mused, and walked
closer to the main entrance.

The SWATBots took little notice of the cloaked figure before them...they
didn't have the amount of imagination required to put together that the
occasional disturbance around 3 feet above ground level was not caused by
some sort of fumes, nor were they merely the product of a heat-producing
device underground. They merely ignored it, and kept scanning the horizon
for threats they could comprehend.

Joseph crouched on the ground, looking for an opening. He kept waiting for
a SWATBot to move, or for something to occur near enough to them to trigger
some sort of response. Nothing. He stared at the SWATBots. The SWATBots
looked out over him. He waited. They didn't move. Finally, he sat down
and thought for a little while. What would cause me to panic, if *I* was a
SWATBot...having an idea, he rushed off back into Robotropolis.

A few minutes went by. The SWATBots still stood there, emotionlessly
waiting for a stimulus to respond to. Then, a low hum was heard in the
distance. The SWATBots sent queries among themselves, trying to determine
the cause of the noise. It drew nearer. The SWATBots armed their
wrist-blasters and waited. Then, it went further away. Automatically, the
SWATBots went back on standby. A few more minutes went by. The hum
returned, and then left. This was starting to make even the most
uncreative SWATBot among them suspicious, and a few of them broke rank to
investigate. The hum remanifested after the SWATBots would have gotten
close enough to hear it...but suddenly, the sounds of SWATBots getting
fried were the precursors to a very fast, rocket-powered red blur racing
past the Control Center. The SWATBots immediately started to pursue the
blur, and called for backup.

After most of them had left, Joseph walked out from behind some
semi-demolished architecture, and wandered into the more invasion-friendly
Control Center.

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

Joseph was yet again greeted by the odd semi-cleanliness of Robotropolis.
This was beginning to get ridiculous, he mused. Snively is definitely not
behind this; but if not Snively, who?

He went over to the stairwell, only to stop short of opening it: an alarm
was attached to a low-powered lazer, which had set up a bounce-pattern
around the door that made entering by that method impossible. Whoever was
behind this had a knowledge of security that was beyond Snively's...so how
would he continue to ascend into the Control Center into the central
computer core? He pondered, and then flattened himself against a wall as a
group of SWATBots walked over to a wall. The head SWATBot sent a small
blink of red light into a panel, opening an freight elevator up. Before it
could close behind them, Joseph poured on a little hedgehog speed and
zipped into the elevator.

The wall shut in front of the elevator, and it started to ascend...

Joseph stood in the midst of 4 SWATBots, all of them oblivious to his
presence and busy communicating amongst themselves in a sort of robotic
gossip. Joseph listened in to the conversation, which was mainly a dull
discussion of the new policies that would be implemented in Robotropolis
as of such and such, blah blah blah. He caught snippets of the important
stuff, tho...a more agressive search for Knothole, a continuation of
roboticization of captured citizens, rather than termination for offenses

Joseph had heard the name in the occasional conversations he'd
`unintentionally' listen in on. Apparently, `Commander' Packbell was an
android like he used to be, but with a (and this had made him chuckle)
-positronic- brain. He almost giggled in the elevator when he thought
about it...he'd built a positronic brain when he was a child. It was his
final exam for his admission into what would be `4th' grade on Mobius.
They were comically inefficient, they locked up when chaotic situations
(like the majority of situations in life) occurred, they learned
slowly...all they were good for was memorizing things and applying what
they learned to certain tasks. But their thought patterns ran to practical
means. You could stun one with a good, hard riddle, and pretty much fry
one by leaving it in the presence of a few kits. But a few of the more
`advanced' (ha-ha) ones had simple emotions...it was very possible that
Packbell had somehow returned from whereever he had been hiding for all
these months, and taken back over Robotropolis. It would explain the
strange and semi-intelligent security measures that had recently taken

The door opened, and the SWATBots (and Joseph) left the elevator. They
were on a lower level than Joseph would have wanted, but hitchhiking never
got one hand-delivered anywhere. So, he looked around, and tried to figure
out what he could usefully do from this area.

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

It was a basic sub-level of any good fortress. It was a SWATBot storage
area, and had some basic supplies present in it. No windows, but dim
lighting that was just enough so SWATBots could manuver their way around
inside. However, they did Joseph's regular vision no good. He switched to
I/R, which was usually easier to utilize.

Ahh, here we go. He was standing at the end of a corridor that stretched
down around the curvature of the building. A few sliding doors were on the
side, for quick SWATBot dispersal. The floor was solid, but there was a
grate in the ceiling that might lead higher up into the complex. He'd have
to investigate that soon enough. However, he might as well explore around
in here while he had the chance to at a leisurely pace. After all, he
had--he checked his internal power gauges--about 2 hours left of full cloak
before he'd have to start heading home...

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

Meanwhile, back on the surface:

Sonic had dispatched the majority of the SWATBots that were at the complex,
due to the fact that they had anticipated on having the element of
surprise. He'd gotten a few Worker-Bots conscious and out, but he found
that few others were about. But, he had gotten some of them out, so the
mission wasn't a total failure.

However, the SWATBots seemed to be crawling out of the walls...the more of
them he was able to destroy, the more that seemed to appear. They had
also scored a few nicks on him; mainly in the back, ironically enough.
But the outcome of the battle was still uncertain. They wouldn't get
Chuck, Bunnie, Ant, Sal, Rotor or Dulcy...they had escaped with the platoon of
Worker-Bots he'd sent out with them. At least they'd thought of that.
But he had one last hope; his power ring. The only thing was, they'd never
back off enough to let him take it out, concentrate, and then juice. They
kept coming, so he'd have to keep spin-dashing through them. And he was
getting tired. Way Past Uncool. Unless he kept moving, they'd grab him,
and then it'd be Game Over...but, just when all appeared lost, and Sonic
was about to pass out from exhaustion, a great roar was heard drawing

To the amazement of Sonic and the SWATBots assaulting him, Robotnik's old
hovercraft, albeit worse for wear, was the source of the fire!

It swooped out of the sky, cannons blazing, and started strafing the
SWATBot platoons. 'Bot after 'Bot fell to its rampage, most retreating
after the first pass. With flames licking out from beneath it, it scooped
the hedgehog and roared back into the sky.

After a moment of adjusting to the shock, Sonic looked up from the floor of
the hovercraft and saw a hazy image of an orange hedgehog. "Huh?" he
grunted, trying to grab onto something solid.

"Hello, Sonic," the image said, "and no, I'm not really Joseph. I'm a
holographic image of Joseph, programmed with a limited amount of his
knowledge. He quickly assembled me as a diversion, but since I saw you in
a spot of trouble, I decided to assist you as well."

Sonic was still reassembling his senses. Then, a chili dog and a Fizz [tm]
soda appeared before him. "Please, consume this food," the image said, "it
will help your body recover its needed nutrients."

He quickly bolted down the food, and reacquired his basic personality
matrix. "Whoa," he amazedly said, realizing exactly what was going on,
"Joe put you together as just a -diversion-?"

The figure nodded as the craft roared faster around Robotropolis. "He
required an intelligence to fly the craft around to distract SWATBots.
There were too many around the Command Center for him to elude."

Sonic blinked. "Allow me to explain," the image said, and filled Sonic in
on the finer details of what had occurred within the last 48 hours.

"So that's why he keeps tagging along," Sonic said, "he wants to get the
info right from the source! And our missions were the perfect diversions
for him. Way Past Smart!"

The image smiled as the craft dodged some incoming lazer fire. "He'd thank
you for that...but now I must complete my function." He flickered for a
moment. "You might wish to hold on to something, hedgehog," the image
twittered, "because it's going to get very bumpy in a moment."

Sonic nodded and strapped himself in. "Hold on," the computer said, and
set the craft into a 3G turn...

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

Joseph navigated the halls for a while, but then realized there was nothing
of value to him inside here. Not a solitary dataport was on this level;
he'd have to go up further into the complex to find such a device. So, he
wandered back to where he started, opened up the grate, and climbed inside.

He crawled around inside the grates for a while, listening for the familiar
sounds of humming computers. He climbed up a few 75 degree planes, jumped
up into a sheer ventcliff, and finally seemed to get close enough to the
computer room to hear it...

Looking through the grate, he saw the familiar R&D room. However, it was
guarded by a few SWATBots this time, so it would be unwise to merely bust
through the grate. No, a more subtle method would need to be used...so, he
chose to crawl further down the line, outside the R&D room itself.

He looked out this grate, and noticed guards outside the R&D room itself as
well. Packbell was certainly paranoid, wasn't he? He mused for a moment.
How could he get rid of both guards without alerting anyone else of it?
His phaser certainly wouldn't be quiet enough, and smashing them would be
even worse. He leaned against the wall and thought harder...and had an
idea. An insane, completely stupid idea, but one that just might work.
He remembered how Sonic had told him once that he was able to free Sally
from a cell by impersonating Robotnik to a computer. So if Sonic could do
it with a cup, Joseph could certainly do it with his precision mimicry
programming. He concentrated on the sound of Robotnik's voice...adjusted
his vocal chords accordingly...and then announced out the grate:

"Attention all SWATBots! Report to the lobby IMMEDIATELY!"

He looked out the grate, and waited for the incoming fire. But that didn't
happen...appearently, SWATBots must be programmed to obey Robotnik's voice;
because not only the ones in front of the door rushed off to the elevator,
but the ones inside pursued them! Joseph was oddly surprised, but he was
never one to look a gift horse in the mouth--he kicked out the grate
and rushed inside the R&D room. As his vocal chords returned to normal,
he popped out his dataspike and quickly did the 2-second download of
all of Robotropolis' information.

This, of course, set off every alarm in the entire complex.

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

Packbell had been busy ordering about SWATBot squads and 'Bot planes when
the main alarm system finally went off.


He immediately sprung out of his seat, ordered all SWATBots to continue
their respecitive pursuits, and grabbed his plasma cannon from off a table.
After he had armed it properly, he burst out the door and ran down the
hall, in an especially bad mood.

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

Joseph emerged from the R&D lab rapidly, also in a angry mood. He
shouldn't have been in such a hurry. Now he'd really have a problem
escaping from here with all his quills attached. He looked down the hall,
and saw a humanoid figure toting...

He increased magnification and enhanced the image. He scanned it twice to
be sure, but it was. He dared not say it, for he did not wish to reveal
any information inadvertantly to this individual (besides, he was still
cloaked). But he knew he could not leave without it. But how could he get
it from him, and yet not risk staying here to fight him?

As he got closer, he tried to scramble behind a wall, but bumped into
something going the opposite way and stumbled forward. His forward
momentum caused his foot to stick out from the corner of the wall, directly
within Packbell's path. As Packbell drew closer to the corner, he tripped
over the hedgehog's foot and fell forward, dropping the gun from the shock.
The gun spun across the floor to the foot of an open elevator, which then
lodged itself between the inside of the elevator and the hallway; holding
the door open.

Several things happened very fast after that.

Joseph, not wanting to miss an opportunity, scrambled over Packbell
(leaving an imprint in his face from his boot) and shot into the open
elevator. The thing he had bumped into happened to be a SWATBot, which
shot in the direction of the motion. Joseph spun, grabbed the gun from the
door, and slipped to the side--as the door closed, deflecting the blast.
Quickly, he toggled the down button, leaving the floored Packbell alone to
pummel the SWATBot in anger.

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

As the door opened at the lobby, Joseph was immediately besieged by SWATBot
fire. (Perhaps it was a mistake to send them down there after all.) He
blasted a few of them, but mostly fired wildly as he used his innate
hedgehog speed to race his way out of the complex, leaving a blue-hot trail
of plasma behind him.

As he raced toward the exit of the city, trying madly to evade the
entourage of 'Bot planes he'd attracted, he wondered what wrong life
decision led him into this situation...but his brooding was interrupted by
the familiar-sounding roar of the hovercraft as it smote his pursuers. Now
he was the one rescued as the hovercraft swooped down from the sky and
grabbed him from the earth.

Now Joseph, Sonic, and his hologram raced through Robotropolis, being
blasted at by anti-aircraft cannons.

"Joe!" Sonic yelled, ducking a few bursts of lazer fire.

"Yeah, Sonic?" was the reply from Joseph as he took control of the craft.

"Do you have," Sonic hollered, "a plan!?"

Joseph shouted back, "No!"

"That makes the both of us!"

"Good!" was the last retort, as a shot from a 'Bot plane finally crippled
the craft, sending it spiraling down...down...


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

The two hedgehogs jumped from the craft instinctively, but they both soon
realized bailing out about five thousand feet over hostile territory with
not a parachute between them is not a good idea.

Sonic and Joseph let out a long, collective scream as they plummeted toward
a rather unpleasant part of Mobius, waiting for the bright light to start
shining before them. After all, neither of them could *fly*...

However, Dulcy could. And she cracked the whip in the nick of time, and
saved the two hedgehogs from becoming greasy spots on the pavement. As
they calmed down and flew away from Robotropolis, the banter began again.

"Hey," Sonic said, "my life just flashed before my eyes!"

"My breakfast just flashed before mine," Joseph said weakly.

The rest of the flight passed in silence.

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

Everyone was glad to see Joseph and Sonic when they returned. Well, that
is, except Sally. After accepting a round of applause, Sally dragged the
both of them back into her hut, demanding an explaination.

"What did you two think you were doing out there?!"

"Just getting my butt saved!" was Sonic's initial reply. "If Joseph hadn't
pulled the hat-trick and had his diversion come get me, I would've been

"You shouldn't have stayed to begin with, Sonic Hedgehog! If you knew that
the odds were against you--"

"Tell *that* to the people I just bailed out of there, Sal!"

A pause.

Sally's voice grew softer. "Sonic...those people would have been there
tomorrow. We could have gotten more out if you could have waited--" She
immediately saw the response forming in Sonic's head. "--and, yes, I know,
you aren't the waiting type." Her voice rose again. "But what you did
was foolish! It was insane! It was--"

"Honorable," Joseph said. "and it was something I would have done, if I
would have been in the same place."

Sally looked over at Joseph, and shook her index finger at him harshly.
"And *you*, you maniac, what possessed you to go and invade Snively's--"

"Packbell's, ma'am."

Sally blinked. "What?"

"Packbell's, ma'am. Packbell has unseated Snively. He is in charge now."

Sally's anger left her. "Dear Lord..."

Joseph nodded. "It is rather unfortunate. But I was able to get important
information out of his computers, and capture a piece of very sensitive
technology." He hefted the cannon out in front of Sally. "I need to run
tests on this, but I believe it may utilize an...alien technology. Perhaps
it would give us a clue to who is helping...umm, Packbell now, I guess."

He put his hand on Sally's shoulder. "Boss, I know what I did was
unsanctioned by you, and was certainly an unwise thing to do tactically.
But I did get positive results, and I will have more developments for you
in the coming days as I analyse this data." Then, Joseph bowed slightly.
"I will make this up to you."

Sally just blinked, her initial anger defused. "Well, okay, Joseph. Just
don't pull any more crazy stunts like this again." She coughed, regaining
her normal voice. "Dismissed."

Joseph smiled softly. "Affirmative." And then, he walked out of the hut.

Sonic blinked. "Packbell's in charge? Way Past Uncool, Sal! What'll we
do now?"

Sally turned away from Sonic, and looked out the window. "I don't know,
Sonic...I don't know..."

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

Joseph returned to his lab, and placed the cannon down in front of him.
He stared at it for a while, transfixed on the information that identified
the kind of weapon, its make, and its year. He stared at it for a while,
hoping that if he glared at it long enough, the familiar language would
change, as well as its information.

He touched it, feeling the steely perfection of its design. It was
probably built by a machine, yet it retained that familiar workmanship
that was so familiar to him...

He could not let them know. Not yet. He would be lynched, burned, and
possibly drawn and quartered; and his work would die here, on this
desolate, primitive world so far from civilized space.

He took a power sander from the table, and fired it up to its full power.
In a burst of strength, he slowly tore away the paint that held the
accursed phrase on the side of the weapon...


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

                                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 Wed Nov 29 1995 - 21:24:57 PST

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