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Non-Pokémon The Mainframe Saga

DeliriousAbsol

*Crazy Absol Noises*
Staff
Location
Behind a laptop, most likely with tea
Pronouns
She/Her
A/N - Whew! My new massive project is ready to be posted! Here is the first chapter to my new epic... or 'saga'... The Mainframe Saga.

Project Wreckingball is basically a scene setter, but I had a lot of fun with it! I hope you enjoy, whether your a Sonic fan or just curious to see what all this is about. For those who have read my System stories 'Glitched' and/or 'System:Reboot', you may like this. It's a parallel. Similarities to System are deliberate, and totally fun to work with!


(Disclaimer for entire saga - Sonic the Hedgehog and its characters (c) SEGA, and IDW for comic characters)

Book Zero - Memory Leak
Please read Project Wreckingball first to avoid spoilers for that story! The prequel has only been put at the top for convenience and tidiness =D

Chapter One

Book One - Project Wreckingball

The Mainframe Saga

Project Wreckingball

Chapter One
The doors were already wide open before Tsunami reached the laboratory. A huge, towering GUN facility for testing weapons. Out in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by mountains and deserts. The code panel beside the door sparked, signs of a careless hack job that had resulted in its destruction.

“No patience,” said Crash.

Tsunami looked up at the army-green pangolin beside her as he tutted and shook his head. Her twin flipped his laser into the air, catching it in his right hand, and eyed the door curiously.

“You’re telling me,” said Tsunami. “We’d better track down these pirates before they blow the whole thing up.” She reached between one of her long green scales to adjust her headset slightly. “What’s the state of the place, Decode?”

The bush baby’s young voice ‘hmm’d down her ear and she picked up the faint clacking of computer keys.

‘All the cameras are out,’ he said. ‘And the security code has been scrambled, so unless the guards have any hacking skills they won’t be back online for hours.’

“Perfect,” said Tsunami. “That means the Chaotix won’t see us coming.”

‘I was thinking the same thing,’ said Decode. ‘Pretty sloppy strategy on their part. Must be a ‘straight in, straight out’ drill. The tracker you left on the crocodile is still active, so if you’re quick, they’re heading to the second floor.’

“Roger.” Tsunami tilted her gun and grinned at her brother. “That’s exactly why I aimed for his headphones.”

“Until he drops them somewhere,” said Crash.

“Such little faith.”

She stepped inside the facility and paused to take it in. Not so much as a footstep. Cameras hung idly from the sharp bend ahead of them, one fixed on the door. Lifeless. The floor had been scrubbed clean enough to show the dusty footprints tracked in from outside, but whether they were from the pirates alone was a mystery. She noted an air vent a few feet along and waved to catch Crash’s eye.

“Where do the air vents lead, Decode?” she asked.

‘Oh, everywhere,’ said the bush baby. ‘They wind throughout the entire laboratory. Ladders, layers… just watch out for the fans.’

Tsunami tilted her gun to the air vent and Crash leapt towards it. He smashed the grate with a fist, creating an almighty clang that attacked his sister’s eardrums. But not a single hint of regret crossed his face. He discarded the grate to the floor and leapt inside, curling into a tight spiky ball. The tubes rattled as he rolled along them, out of sight but not out of reach.

“Keep me posted, both of you,” said Tsunami.

‘You’re gonna wanna be quick,’ said Decode. ‘They’re already heading for the third floor. I guess they’ve not found what they’re looking for yet.’

She said nothing, hugging the wall as she followed Decode’s directions toward the stairwell. An elevator rose up on her right. Too slow and noisy to be reliable. So she opted for the stairs, taking them two at a time. Footsteps exploded above her and she vaulted the banister to the next set of stairs, swinging her heavy tail ahead of herself for momentum. A long purple tail vanished through the door and it swung shut behind the space pirate.

The pangolin reached under the hem of her dress for a throwing knife and barged through the doors, her thin blue scarf trailing behind her like a streamer. The purple chameleon raced down the corridor on her left to follow the bend. Before he could reach it, Tsunami sent the knife ahead of her. It struck the wall before his nose and he let out a squeak of alarm. She picked up pace, leveling her gun towards his head. It didn’t matter if she turned them in alive or dead. They’d struck GUN’s last nerve.

As she fired, the chameleon vanished before her eyes. The blue laser beam struck the wall, leaving behind nothing more than an ugly black scuff.

She rushed towards the wall scanning left and right, the red overlay of her visor flickering in the fluorescent lighting. Invisible prey. She was beginning to feel the toll of not splashing out for a thermal upgrade.

“Drat, I lost him,” she hissed, skidding to a halt at the bend. “Where’s the croc?”

‘They split up,’ said Decode. ‘He’s a good twenty feet or so behind you.’

The ceiling rattled away from her as Crash rolled after the crocodile. That left her chasing after the slippery chameleon. Unlike his friend, she’d not managed to lay a tracker on him. She tugged the blade free from the wall and fastened it back to her leg before following the corridor down its bend.

Then she faltered.

What if he’d slipped past her? Merely a decoy to get her off their tails?

She clenched her teeth together and followed after Crash, keeping her gun poised beside her head. Sure enough, something blurry scurried along the walls. She watched it scramble up to the ceiling ahead of her then vanish completely. The pangolin narrowed her eyes and tutted. Not likely. She curled into a ball and shot ahead of him as the chameleon dropped down to the ceiling on all-fours.

He kept low to the ground, poised to spring, as he narrowed his golden eyes at her.

“Of all the mercenaries to send after us,” he said, “why did they choose you?”

Tsunami squeezed the trigger, but once again the pirate vanished. His voice came from above her, drawing her eye to the ceiling.

“We must really be onto something if they’re sending killers like you.”

Another fire. Another miss. She usually never missed. Tsunami stifled a frustrated growl as she searched the corridor for the invisible pirate. Metal sliced the air and she spun on the spot, bringing up her tail as a shield. A shuriken bounced off it and rattled along the pristine tile floor.

“You’re every bit as good as they say!” said the pirate.

More metal slicing air. She stepped to the side as a blade nicked her pouch belt, slicing through the brown leather. Not enough to cut it free. Thankfully it hadn’t cut through to her flesh. She just caught the chameleon’s blurry form as he leapt at her again, giving her enough time to side-step and grab her own throwing knife. There was no sense in firing lasers blindly at the walls. Not when any damage might come out of her pay.

‘Crash, I think Nami’s in trouble,’ came Decode’s voice. ‘You might wanna backtrack a few feet.’

The ceiling rumbled as Crash’s powerful form rolled back down the air vents. The space pirate lost his invisibility briefly as he turned his attention to the ceiling. It was enough of an opening for Tsunami to rush him with her blade, but he flicked out his tongue and knocked it from her grip. Pain shot through her hand and she instinctively clasped it to her chest. The space pirate leapt from her reach and vanished once more. Several pointed kunai flew her way and she deflected two of them with her tail. But the third skimmed her shoulder and she ducked to the floor with a hiss. How was she meant to fight what she couldn’t see?!

“I’m not a murderer,” said the pirate. “I don’t want to kill you, but you’re not leaving me much choice.”

Tsunami pinpointed his blurry form and groped for her knife. Her hand fastened around it and she sent it soaring towards him with a flick of her wrist. He dropped, letting it strike the ceiling where his head had been. All it claimed was a few threads from his black scarf. The grate exploded from the air vent beside his falling body and Crash leapt from it, slamming the space pirate into the opposite wall. His camouflage dropped and he sat dazed beneath Crash’s heavy body.

Tsunami rose to her feet and drew her laser again, aiming at the chameleon.

“Well, that’s one of them,” she said. “What about the other?”

‘He’s just left one of the data rooms,’ said Decode. ‘He’s heading back your way.’

“All right.” Tsunami nodded towards the end of the corridor.

Crash turned from her and froze, spreading his arms as the large crocodile barged through the double doors. His eyes widened when he spotted the mercenaries but he didn’t stop.

The chameleon’s golden eyes opened, staring down the barrel of Tsunami’s laser. She squeezed the trigger, but it hit nothing but the wall. Air whipped up around the twin pangolins and they staggered back, raising their arms to shield their faces.

It subsided as fast as it had happened, and when Tsunami lowered her hands a deep groan left her throat. The corridor was empty.

‘Nami? Crash?’ Decode’s voice echoed in her ear.

“Where have they gone?” she asked.

‘They’re fleeing the laboratory,’ he said. ‘What happened?’

“Ninja tricks,” said Crash. “I guess they’ve not earned the title of ‘Most Notorious Space Pirates in Mainframe’ for nothing.”

The bush baby gave a small sigh. ‘I’m bringing The Raptor around. I’ll pick you up outside.’

“We’ve not failed yet, kid,” said Tsunami.

She trotted back to the stairs with her brother in tow.

‘I know,’ said Decode. ‘That’s why I’m suggesting we follow them.’

“Read my mind,” she said. “I’m gonna guess they’ll be heading back home.”

Crash let out a lone laugh. “So we’re off to Pulse City, eh? Bring it on.”

...​

Music blasted Vector’s ears as he pulled himself back on board his ship. Espio stuck close behind him and pushed the button on the wall to close the door. It spiraled shut behind him, creating an air-tight seal.

The music grew louder as the crocodile entered the bridge and he paused beside Charmy’s navigation system. With a swipe of his heavy paw, he struck the holo-computer and the loud music cut out, plunging the bridge into silence.

“Hey!” the bee complained. “I was celebrating.”

“Celebrate quietly.” Vector slumped down into his seat and rubbed his temples. “At least I now know why you couldn’t hear us for the past ten minutes.”

Charmy pouted. “You got the disk, didn’t you?”

Espio closed his eyes and flopped into his own seat. “Just about.”

“What do you mean ‘just about’?”

“They sent Team Datastream after us!” Vector barked. “Not just your run-of-the-mill mercs. Espio almost got his tail handed to him!”

“Hey, I put up a good fight!” Espio tucked his arms behind his head and kicked his feet up on the control panel. “I’m just glad she clearly didn’t have a heat tracker. Anyone else would have been toasted by that girl.”

“You definitely provided a good distraction,” said Vector.

“Which was my idea,” said Charmy.

“It was my idea, since no one could contact you,” Vector snorted. “Well, at least we got what we went in there for.”

The crocodile tossed the small black disk into the air and caught it again.

“So are we going to check it out?” Espio asked. “See if the rumours are true?”

“If they are, the world’s gonna seem like a much darker place,” said Vector.

Charmy shuddered in his seat. “I’m not sure I want to know. Those rumours are scary.”

Vector rose to join his allies and pulled out his computer. He popped the disk into its reader and a holo-screen flashed up before him. Words scrambled across it in a confusing fashion and the crocodile let out a sigh.

“Dumb GUN security nonsense,” he grumbled. “Makes my job harder than it needs to be.”

“Well you did steal it,” said Charmy.

The crocodile looked down at him with a frown. “Why are you a space pirate again?”

“It sounded fun.” Charmy reached beneath the navigation system and pulled out a soda carton almost the same size as him.

“What have I told you?” said Vector. “No drinks around the computers!”

He swiveled the Charmy’s chair around one-eighty, eliciting a surprised squeal from the navigator.

“Do you think you can crack this?” Vector handed his computer to Espio.

The chameleon leant forward and tapped at the keypad. “It might take me a while. GUN really don’t want outside people viewing whatever is on this.”

“That only boosts my suspicions.”

“What do you plan on doing with it?” asked Charmy. “Selling it like you usually do?”

“Not a chance,” said Vector. “If the rumours are true, then selling this to anyone would only throw the whole of Mainframe into a panic.” He rubbed his chin and glanced up at the ceiling. “Although the right person would pay pretty big for a juicy nugget like this.”

“Play it safe,” said Espio. “No decisions until we know what this disk contains.”

“So payin’ another pirate to hack into it is out, then?”

“Definitely,” said Espio. “Leave that to me. Even if it takes me a week.”

Vector turned from the chameleon and rubbed his muzzle. “With all we went through to get that, I expect it to be big. Cameras armed with heat trackers and lasers, top mercenaries, and the Eggman-grade robot guarding the room that thing were kept in. It’s settin’ off all kinds of alarms.”

Espio looked up with a start. “You never mentioned the robot.”

“It was nothin’,” said Vector. “Smashed it to shrapnel before it could even warm its lasers.”

“Nice.” Espio turned back to the computer, fingers flying over the screen.

Charmy tried to get a peek at his work as he supped on his straw, but his eye went to the navigation screen instead. His antennae stiffened and he released his straw.

“Erm, guys…?” he said. “I think we’ve got a stalker.”

Vector and Espio followed his eye and Vector groaned. A red dot, tailing their ship much too close for comfort.

“It’s them mercs, isn’t it?” he groaned. “How are they even following us?”

Charmy stared up at him and made a thoughtful noise. He buzzed into the air and fumbled with the back of Vector’s left earphone.

“Hey, what are you… Stop buzzin’ in my ear!” Vector swatted at the bee but Charmy dodged nimbly out of his reach. “Seriously, I-”

Charmy fell back down into his seat and held out a hand. “I think this might be the problem.”

Vector plucked a small chip from the bee’s palm and frowned at it. Black and square with a red trim. A little blue light flickered on the sticky underside.

“Sneaky little merc,” he mumbled.

Espio took it from him then set it on the floor. With one stomp it was flattened onto the tiles, followed by a shuriken for good measure. The tiny bulb’s blinking was brought to a stop as the shuriken wobbled in its circuitry.

“When did you let them stick a tracking chip on you?” he asked Vector.

The crocodile shrugged his huge shoulders and gave the shattered chip one last glare.

“It’s dead now, right?” he asked.

“I don’t think it matters,” said Espio. “They’re right there. We just need to outrun them.”

“All right!” Vector turned to the bee. “Charmy, keep us going straight to Pulse City while we try to crack this code.”

“Roger!” Charmy discarded his soda back beneath the computer and fired in the co-ordinates on the navigation deck. “Think they’ll follow us there?”

“Probably,” said Vector. “But they won’t exactly be welcomed with a fanfare.”

“Mercenaries frequent Pulse City almost as much as space pirates,” said Espio. “I think your plan is flawed.”

Vector folded his arms and huffed. “Well we won’t welcome them with fanfare!”

“Oh! I’m in!” Espio leant closer to the palm-computer’s holo-screen. “I genuinely thought I’d be working on this most of the night.”

Vector leant over his shoulder, while Charmy buzzed by his ear. He shooed the bee to the side, just enough so the buzzing wasn’t irritating his eardrums. Two files greeted them. ‘Project Wreckingball’, both numbered separately. Naturally, he opted for the first one. With each word, the crocodile’s jaw dropped lower and lower.

“So the rumours were right,” said Espio. “They are indeed making a living weapon.”

“And usin’ that poor guy, n’all.” Vector stood back and pinched the bridge of his muzzle. “What are they thinking? He’s a livin’ thing.”

“I don’t think they’re considering the ethics of it,” said Espio. “At the end of the day, he’s alien to this world. As far as GUN are concerned, our laws don’t apply.”

“Yet Eggman has them eatin’ out of his hand?” Vector snorted. “That mustached freak is more alien than this guy. I mean, this guy’s just like us!”

“Not quite,” said Espio. “No one in Mainframe has his level of power.”

They both turned back to the computer and Vector read over the material again.

“So they’re wantin’ to use this guy to get rid of Eggman and seal up Null Space?” said Vector. “Much more detail than the rumours held, I’ll give it that.”

“It’s kind of ironic really,” said Espio. “Given the EggTech filling that laboratory.”

“Usin’ his own technology against him,” said Vector. “And it’s a pretty good cover-up strategy.”

The crocodile tapped the screen to go back to the list of files. “I guess we’ll find more out about their sneaky plan in this one.’

He selected the second file, but no sooner had his claw touched the computer the entire screen fuzzed. Line after line of glitched code fired across it and he released the computer with a yelp of alarm. Espio snatched it out of the air and forced it to shut down, blinking out its holo-screen.

“Great,” he muttered. “There’s probably a tracking virus in it.”

“Crafty nutjobs bugged the disk?!” Vector groaned and rubbed a hand down his snout. “Great, just as we were gettin’ to the good stuff.”

“Don’t stress over it.” Espio removed the disc and handed the computer back to Vector. “I’ll try to recover your computer and clean out that file when we get to Pulse City. We’ll find out exactly what they’re up to. It won’t be a wasted effort.”

“I hope not. This contraption weren’t cheap.” Vector tucked his computer back into his pouch.

“So GUN is split.” Espio returned to his seat, tossing the disk over his shoulder to be caught by Vector. “Who would have thought it. That rumour actually carried some weight behind it.”

“Aye, you ain’t kiddin’.” Vector stared down at the tiny disk in his hand. “Man, what someone would pay for this. It’s a shame we can’t chance it, eh?”

“Pretty much.” Espio fixed one golden eye on him. “So what’s next?”

“If it turns out to be as bad as I’m fearin’, I don’t think we’ve got much choice,” said Vector. “We find out where they’re keepin’ this guy and bust him out.”

“Are you serious?” Espio gasped.

Charmy dropped his soda, and Vector leapt aside to dodge the fizzing melon-scented liquid. He pointed a claw towards the door.

“Mop!” he barked.

Charmy muttered an apology and buzzed from the room. The doors hissed open politely as he exited. Vector felt they wouldn’t be so polite if any soda got into their wiring. He turned back to Espio and fell down into his seat.

“What choice have we got?” he continued. “If GUN actually manage to-”

“He’s insane, Vector,” said Espio. “We bust him out of his cell, who’s to say he won’t kill us?”

“And if GUN actually turn him into a weapon, who’s to say they’ll just stop at Eggman?”

Espio sighed into his hand. “You have a point. A living weapon with that strength could reduce Mainframe to ruin.”

“We could end up with a bigger tyrant rulin’ over us than Eggman,” said Vector. “One command and their pet weapon could wipe us all out with one fell swoop.”

The crocodile brought a fist down into his open hand and mimicked an explosion.

Espio visibly grimaced. “I just think we need to give this a lot of thought. Don’t rush into anything. If we put a foot wrong, we could all end up dead.”

Charmy froze behind them, mop clasped in both hands. “I really need to stop walking in on conversations like this…”

“It’s just theoretical.” Vector waved him off. “Don’t get your antennae in a twist. If things go well, then… well… We might just save Mainframe.”

“So we’re gonna be heroes?” Charmy squeaked. “I thought we were space pirates. Criminals. Scourge of the skies.”

“Yes, we’re all those things,” said Vector. “But sometimes we need to do the right thing.”

“And the right thing is busting a dangerous mad man out of a high security prison?” Espio sighed again. “Well… like I said. We’ll talk about it. Because I think it’s insane.”

“Would it be more insane to let GUN go ahead with it knowing full well what might happen?” Vector asked.

“I’m all for removing Eggman.” Espio glanced over at him. “But leaving GUN with a weapon that powerful? The robots are bad enough.” He sighed again and rubbed the base of his horn. “I can understand where you’re coming from, Vector. I’m just not sure I want that maniac on our ship.”

“He might appreciate us bustin’ him out. Owe us a favour and all that jazz. The poor guy’s been locked up for shy of sixty years!”

“I say we do our research first.” Espio settled back into his seat and put his feet up on the control deck. “We’ll try to recover that file. It might answer some questions. Then we make a decision.”

“Can we do all that over a nice, hot sandwich?”

“If you’re buying.”

...​

“Tracker’s dead,” said Decode.

Tsunami groaned into her hand and pushed herself back from her seat. The bush baby’s white tail flicked side to side through the hole in his backrest as he worked at the navigation deck.

“I guess they finally found it,” he said over his shoulder.

“I’m surprised they didn’t find it sooner.” Crash sat with his arms behind his head, and tilted back to smirk at Tsunami. “I take back what I said. Those guys are clearly dense.”

“Don’t make me shoot you,” she joked.

Crash laughed and turned back to the control deck, not that he was using it to drive. Just as a glorified footrest as he watched their ship encroach on the tail of the Chaotix’ neon-green ship. Its four wings stuck out like a star, lit up by the blue plasma flames from its rear.

“Just try not to lose track of them,” Tsunami told her team-mates. “If we do, we’ll have no idea where they’re actually going.”

“So far they’re heading straight for Pulse City.” Decode locked his pink eyes on hers briefly before turning back to his station. “With no tracker, if they hit a speed we can’t match, then we’ll lose them. As for now, they’re within our ship’s radar.”

“A speed we can’t match?” said Crash. “Well, unless they have some means of hitting hyper drive while they’re still in Mainframe’s atmosphere, I think we’re fine.”

“I wouldn’t put it past them to try.” Tsunami flopped back down in her seat and rubbed her wounded shoulder. “I’ve never seen so many tricks from one person before. I should look into getting my visor overlay fitted with a thermal scanner…”

“That might not be a bad idea,” said Decode. “I’ll look into it for you. It might be a pretty quick fix.”

“No need. Chances are I’ll find somewhere in Pulse City that can do it cheap,” she said.

“There’s a bigger chance it’ll be massively inflated,” said Decode. “But you’ll get it quicker than if I tried.”

“What exactly is the plan when we reach Pulse City?” asked Crash. “If we even do, that is. Ambush them? Because we don’t know how many allies they have there, and we might get mobbed.”

“Mobbed, but not killed,” said Tsunami. “Space pirates know better than to kill a mercenary. It’ll only increase the price on their heads, making them more vulnerable to bounty hunters than they already are.”

“Yeah, yeah, I know all that.” Crash waved her off. “But mobs are a thing.”

“It’s hard to say with their reputation.” She toyed with the two gold rings in her left head scale as she watched the pirates’ ship. “I get the impression they’ve got their fair share of enemies. They’ve screwed over other space pirates enough times to write a book about.”

“I’d read it,” said Decode.

“I say we stop them before they even reach Pulse City,” said Tsunami. “Trap them in a tractor beam and force ourselves aboard their-”

The plasma tail flared and the Chaotix’ ship surged forward. The pangolin swung forward in her seat as the shockwave flowed through them like an ocean’s waves. When she looked back up, there was no sign of the Chaotix.

“-ship,” she finished.

“Huh. Would you look at that,” said Crash. “Hyperdrive in the atmosphere. You were right, Nami.”

“It’s almost as if they heard you,” said Decode.

Tsunami balled her hands into fists and bared her canines at the spot the green ship had previously occupied. “Oh, when I get my hands on them…”

“They just left my radar,” said Decode. “But they’re making a beeline for Pulse City. I guess they just wanted to shake us off their tail.”

Crash cocked an eyebrow at his twin. “What if it’s just a red herring and they’re trying to lose us?”

“Then we’ll scour the entire of Mainframe to track them down,” she said.

“That’s my Nami.”

Crash pushed the gear stick forward and their engine flared, rumbling through the very floor. Tsunami found herself pushed back into her seat as the ship surged forwards until it reached a steady pace. Not hyperdrive. That wasn’t a risk any of them were willing to make inside Mainframe’s atmosphere. Too many skyscrapers and low flying ships and planes.

“But our first port of call will be Pulse City,” she said, smoothing back her long scales. “I have an inkling.”

“You really think they’re heading back there?”

“Fuel. A sale. Something.” She tapped her lip with a finger.

She couldn’t say for certain. There was every possibility the sneaky pirates were just trying to throw them off their scent. But there was no way she was going to lose her targets. Datastream didn’t climb high into the mercenary ranks by losing.

She frowned out at the world ahead of them, watching the passing clouds periodically cover the ship in a foggy haze. Some still tinted neon-blue from the Chaotix’ plasma trail. It was like bait as Datastream’s ship pressed on, resembling a golden hawk as it pursued its prey across Mainframe’s sapphire sky.
 
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DeliriousAbsol

*Crazy Absol Noises*
Staff
Location
Behind a laptop, most likely with tea
Pronouns
She/Her
A/N - I can't recall if I said this in the last chapter. But all characters in this story are adults unless stated otherwise.

Chapter Two​

Pulse City was an urban sprawl of towering buildings and animated billboards. In the dim evening light, the streets were lit up with neon lights from store fronts and adverts, glinting off the metal hulls of hundreds of prized ships that adorned the docks. Stars, birds, arrows, spherical chambers… if it had been thought of, it was likely parked in Pulse City’s sky-docks.

The floating city drifted beneath the clouds, held up with technology that boggled the minds of many of those who walked upon it. Miles above the surface, space pirates had found a home safe from the dangers that awaited them on the ground. Yet it didn’t stop mercenaries from frequenting Pulse City. Just like with space pirates, it offered the mercenaries a livelihood. Groups of them sat around outdoor cafe tables, or crammed into booths in the many bars, searching for their next job. Not necessarily taking out the space pirates they rubbed shoulders with. Many weren’t even worth it. Unlike the Chaotix, many pirates only carried a small bounty. Mercenaries wouldn’t even sniff at them. But they would pay handsomely for information should a pirate have it. Most mercenaries were hunting down gang criminals in the outskirts of Mainframe’s capital, or in the badlands.

The Chaotix passed a couple of foxes, both sporting the single mercenary gold ring in their left ears - the opposite of the space pirates that surrounded them. Vector absently toyed with the gold ring on the right side of his headphones. Not sporting protruding ears, or a crest or antenna like his crew-mates, he’d had to attach it to his headphones instead. But his mind was on the small disk he carried in his belt pouch. More research was needed, but first… dinner. Dinner, then a drink, then he’d get stuck in tracking down information about GUN’s secret criminal.

As he arrived at his chosen deli, the smell of steak and cheese washed over him. That was exactly what he wanted. Once his order was placed, he flopped down at a small table and pulled out his computer. Dead as a doornail. He was soon joined by Espio and Charmy, each carrying a soda. Espio placed one before Vector and he sipped on the straw absently.

“Can’t wait, huh?” Espio nodded to his captain’s computer.

Vector shrugged. “I just wanna get it over and done with. Thought I’d see how much information is lying around in the underground.”

“Pass it here. You can borrow mine.”

Vector thanked him and traded his computer for the chameleon’s. Then he dived into the underbelly of the Chaos Network, scouring for every ounce of fact or rumour about Project Wreckingball. But it was nothing they didn’t already know.

Vector frowned down at the mug-shot staring back at him. A sneering black and white jackal with a scar over his right eye. The only ‘name’ available was ‘Prisoner I45724’. It made Vector wonder how many criminals they even had on record. The information that accompanied the photo was vague. ‘Violent and insane. Alien to Mainframe. Powers unseen in this world. Suspected allegiance with Eggman.’ Why, if GUN worked for Eggman, would that bother them? Unless it was hanging over the jackal since he arrived in Mainframe fifty-seven years ago, before everything changed. But once Eggman gained GUN’s ‘trust’ twenty five years ago, surely the information would have changed? It just added more fuel to the fire that the rumours were true, and the information the Chaotix had stolen was more than enough to back that theory.

An otter shuffled over to them, carrying a tray in one hand. He set each plate before them, mixing up Espio’s and Vector’s. The smirk on his face said he knew full well what he’d done. But the crocodile merely sighed as he switched the plates around.

“Every time,” he said as the otter left his earshot.

“I think he still has it in for you after that little stunt you pulled,” said Espio.

“It was a joke.”

Vector bit into his sandwich. A little heavy on the jalapenos. He took a swig of his drink, dodging the otter’s eye as he glanced his way. Vector turned back to his computer, idly scrolling through the over-familiar information.

“Do you want me to start fixing your computer, or shall we wait until we get somewhere more private?” asked Espio with his mouth full.

“If you can from here,” said Vector. “You might as well give it a shot. Charmy and I can keep an eye open.”

Espio propped his captain’s computer on his knee, just out of Vector’s view. The chameleon wired it up to his visor, a means to keep whatever he was doing away from prying eyes.

“Make sure you don’t break it,” Vector warned him. “Otherwise it’s comin’ outta your paycheck.”

“Hacking and espionage are my things,” said Espio. “You just stick to being the muscle and stop fussing.”

Charmy slurped loudly on his soda, drawing the chameleon’s eye. “What’s my thing?”

“Being a buzzing nuisance,” said Vector.

Espio chuckled and winked at the bee, swiftly turning his pout into a grin.

As the crocodile demolished his sandwich, he gave another glance towards the otter waiter. He’d long since lost interest, too wrapped up with the dainty stoat leaning over the cash register to place her order. Vector wiped his muzzle on his sandwich wrapper and nudged Espio.

“How are you gettin’ on? Any joy?”

The chameleon had finished his dinner and was sipping silently at his soda. He set the glass aside and unplugged his visor.

“I’m having a hard time getting access.” He rubbed between his eyes. “They’ve unleashed something onto your computer that’s thrown up a whole new set of frostwalls.”

The crocodile tutted and rolled his eyes. “Flippin’ charming. Givin’ you brain freeze?”

“You could say that.”

“Well, let’s call it quits for now.” Vector pushed himself from his seat. “’Cos I want a beer and I ain’t orderin’ it from this place. It’s practically bath water.”

“I’m not disagreeing with you there.” Espio tucked away his computer and turned to Charmy. “How about a game of Assassin Strike?”

The bee almost squealed with delight. He shot from his seat and made a beeline for the door.
The two space pirates followed after him as Vector pocketed his computer. They stepped out onto the neon-flooded streets and wound their way along after Charmy. He kept above the heads of the pirate crowds, and a few of them threw leers in their direction. It wasn’t a long walk to Scarlet Lounge. The pulsing music met them first, and Vector realised with deep regret that it was Club Night.

...​

The Raptor pulled in at Pulse City’s docks, squeezing between a black bullet of a ship and a small two-person runabout. At least, that’s how it felt. Datastream’s large ship dwarfed many of those that belonged to the space pirates and Decode even suggested tucking in her wings.
Tsunami hopped out onto the docks, followed closely by her allies. The spiral airlock closed tightly behind them, almost invisible in the side of the sparkling hull. A small group of space pirates fired a jeer in the mercenaries’ direction and ducked aside, casting loathing glances over their shoulders. Tsunami blanked them, too occupied with her visor as she checked over a list of Pulse City locations. Anything that might key them into the Chaotix’ whereabouts.
Black Market, Westward Diner, Scarlet Lounge, Tinker Tom’s, Felicity’s… although the latter was more of a mercenary hot-spot. They wouldn’t go there, unless they were trying to hide under her nose. She lowered her hand, retracting her visor, and looked out at the bustling city. She’d have to ask. Who would be most likely to sell out a group of pirates to mercenaries? Preferably for free.

“Any joy?” Crash strolled behind her with his arms clasped behind his head.

“No,” said Tsunami. “I think our best bet is to try a busy bar and tweeze information out of someone there.”

“You gonna turn on the charm?” Decode grinned broadly.

“What charm?” Crash swiftly ducked a swipe from Tsunami’s arm.

“I wasn’t planning on it,” she scoffed. “I was thinking someone would be more likely to sing like a canary with a beer or two in them.”

“Bonus points if they hate the Chaotix,” said Decode.

“That won’t be hard.”

They strolled past a huge neon ranking banner, and the pangolin glanced up at the top five ‘most wanted’. The Chaotix grinned down at them from spot number three. Fifty thousand credits for the entire team.

“A lot of greedy pirates will be wanting that bounty,” she went on. “And with no means to get it without risking their own lives, someone might resort to spite.”

“And if not?” Crash gave her a sly sideways smile, which his sister returned.

“Gunpoint,” she said.

“Things could get fun,” he said.

Tsunami shrugged and followed him around a tight bend. “To be honest, I’d rather have a peaceful solution given the odds aren’t exactly in our favour here.”

“And I just want to play some games,” said Decode. “I could use a break.”

“Knock yourself out.”

Posters spread out over a boarded-up storefront. Concerts and game releases, a few of which were out of date, along with a wanted poster for a black hedgehog. Wanted by GUN ‘for reasons of scientific interest’. Tsunami didn’t question it. GUN didn’t often offer jobs to space pirates unless they were desperate, or trying to bait them. Given she hadn’t heard of it herself, it was likely the latter. Get a wanted fugitive and toast some desperate pirates while they were at it.

Deep pulsing music reverberated from a wide bar front and the team paused a few feet from it. A huge red archway flooded with strobing neon lights, and the name ‘Scarlet Lounge’ was scrawled above it in an elegant curving font. A font that didn’t suit the music pouring from it at all. Groups of people milled about it, clutching glasses as they exchanged banter or arguments. Beyond it, a small green rabbit danced out of sync to the music, spilling pink liquor from her shallow cocktail glass.

“You wanted somewhere busy,” said Crash.

They exchanged glances and shrugged, then made their way into the bar. Very few people glanced their way, and those that did just turned to move elsewhere. Too involved in their own recreation to care about three small mercenaries. Tsunami scanned over the colourful mob as she made her way towards the bar. They definitely weren’t the only mercenaries. A group of cats sat in one booth, each one with a silver ring in his left ear. Their boss was probably somewhere else. Maybe making a deal or lurking at the bar. Not far from them, a group of space pirates sat gambling, surrounded by empty glasses and bottles. One of them, a purple weasel, appeared to be losing. Badly. Especially if the pair of grinning skunks were anything to go by. If she guessed right, the massive polar bear beside him would likely suffer the same fate. He leant one arm on the back of an unconscious woodpecker, sprawled across the table with his beak buried in a plate of peanuts.

Tsunami shook her head. Grumpy space pirates was not the way to go. Neither was a pair of possibly cheating winners. She paused at the bar, searching along it for someone who might be willing to give them some information. Preferably a bit on the dozy side. Decode clambered up onto one of the stools, sandwiched between her and Crash, and pulled out his pocket computer. The bush baby was either oblivious to the pirates, or completely unfazed by their presence. Given his small, slender form they could probably snap him in two with little effort.

A green sparrow paced up and down behind the bar as she served her customers. Tsunami leant on it, trying to get her attention, but her voice was drowned out by the music. Beyond the sparrow, two more bartenders worked away, snowed under by the demanding space pirates. Tsunami followed Crash’s finger to the speaker directly above her head and tutted. What a silly place to put a speaker. She turned to move further down the bar, but a shout drew her eye to the gambling pirates. The table lay at an angle with cards, glass and dice everywhere. The polar bear sat with his arms folded tightly across his chest, his lip stuck out in a pout. Beside him, the weasel sat blinking, soaked from ear to tail in frothy beer. The larger of the skunks stooped to right the table, while the smaller one stepped backwards over the dazed woodpecker, now lying spread-eagled on the floor in a puddle of peanuts.

The small bird raised a finger. “I didn’t like that ride. Do-over?”

“You cheating scum!” barked the weasel. “Those dice were loaded and you know it!”

“Hey, we won fair and square!” said the skunk. “You coulda backed out at any point!”

The weasel flicked froth from his snout and flashed a fang. “We’ll get you back for this, Rough. I’ll have that tail of yours as a scarf!”

The dark coloured skunk laughed and waved him off, while his larger cream friend glanced back at his stump of a tail. Clearly the weasel had hit a sore spot. Tsunami didn’t see what happened next as the loud skunk stopped at her side to lean across the bar.

“Yo, barkeep!”

He waved a hand to draw her attention then froze as his eye went to Tsunami. A grin spread across his face and he chuckled, leaning an elbow on the bar.

“Well, well.” He looked her up and down and his grin widened. “How about I buy you a drink, too, sweetheart?”

Crash stepped up behind her her and balled his hands into fists, glaring the skunk down, but the pirate didn’t seem to notice him.

Tsunami turned so she was fully facing the skunk, her expression stoic. His yellow and red eyes widened as he spotted the two rings in her left plate, then he laughed and turned back to the barkeep.

“A merc, eh?” he said. “All right! I’m definitely buyin’.”

Well, he seemed keen. Probably foolishly so. She scanned him over. Small, yet probably physically stronger than she was. Gold ring in his right ear meant he was his ship’s captain, so other members of his crew might have his back if things turned ugly. She’d have to avoid that.
Tsunami cocked an eyebrow and edged closer to him.

“I’ll let you buy me a drink in exchange for a chat?” she suggested.

He stared at her blankly for a moment then glanced up at the speaker above them. It was as if the place didn’t expect their patrons to actually want to talk. He nodded for her to follow him further down the bar, and she made to follow, but Crash placed a hand on her shoulder.

“Hang on, sis-”

She cut him off. “Just watch my back. I’ve got this.”

The darker pangolin nodded and settled down next to Decode, but she felt him watching her as she followed after the space pirate. Ready to spring across the bar and pummel him into the ground if he had to. It was a little less crowded the further they moved away from the door, and Tsunami found herself sandwiched between the skunk and a large panda who looked about to topple off his perch. She gave the massive space pirate a wary glance and turned her back on him.

“I said you can buy me a drink in exchange for a chat.”

The music still drowned her out, but the skunk heard her this time. A sly smirk tugged at his lips and he waved down a wolf behind the bar.

“Want information, eh?” The skunk shrugged. “Dunno about that. Depends what you’re after.”

She looked back at the panda, but he seemed oblivious to them. His eyes were shut and his head nodded a couple of times against his hand, threatening to smash down onto his half-full glass. When she turned back to the skunk, he’d already got the attention of the grey wolf.

He looked up from the bartender to catch her eye. “What’s your poison?”

She turned to the wolf. “Half a cider.”

The bartender didn’t even bat an eyelid, immediately reaching for a small glass.

“Just a half?” The skunk raised an eyebrow. “You’re easy to please.”

“I don’t intend to stick around,” she said. “It’s Rough, right?”

He started slightly and she thought he was about to run away from her.

“Don’t get into a panic,” she scoffed. “I overheard your squabbling with that weasel earlier.”

He let out a small sigh and smoothed his mohawk back. “Well you won’t get much from me. I just deal in small explosives. Blowin’ up safes, that kinda jazz.”

It didn’t exactly sound like something GUN would turn their noses up at. But she had no interest in turning his stripy tail in if he could actually point her towards the Chaotix.

The bartender pushed their drinks towards them and Rough pulled out his computer. He tapped something into it then the panel by the bartender flashed. So he actually had paid. The computer vanished as quickly as it had appeared and he grabbed his drink. Black with a white froth. Somehow it suited him.

“So… what am I meant to call you?” he asked.

“Nami,” she said flatly.

“Rings a faint bell.”

“I’m the captain of Team Datastream,” she said.

He almost choked on his drink then laughed, wiping his muzzle on the back of his hand.

“Wow, did I reel in a big fish,” he said.

“You reeled in nothing,” she told him. “You’re a convenient source of information, and I’m hoping I don’t need to draw my gun.”

He moved close enough that his fur brushed her arm, sending a tingle down her spine. She fought the urge to leap aside like a kitten off a hot plate.

“Little hint,” he said. “You might wanna talk in a less crowded environment.”

Her mind went to her brother waiting at the far end of the bar. “I’d much rather not.”

“Then it’s your funeral, love.” He took a swig of his drink. “Literally.”

She stared at him for a moment as she swished her tail back and forth. Then an idea sparked in her mind. She whipped out her computer and tapped a few words into it. Just enough to make it clear what exactly she wanted from him. She turned it so he could read it and a smirk crossed his face.

“That’s all you want, eh?”

He nodded towards a door at the back of the bar. Red and white. ‘Private Booths and Restaurant’ was written above it, in that same curly font. Was that where the Chaotix were? Or was he hinting at that being the right place to chat? There was a playful look in his eye. One that said his answer was meant to be ambiguous. She gave a sigh of defeat and tucked her computer away.

“So you’re willing to talk?” she asked.

“If you can afford it.”

She met the skunk’s eyes and placed a hand on her hip. “What’s your price?”

“You eaten yet?”

“Are you offering?”

He smirked over his glass. “That would be the more gentlemanly thing to do, wouldn’t it? But… you’re the one wantin’ information. Not me.”

She tightened her jaw and clutched her glass as she warred with her decision. Go with this sleezeball of a skunk or find some other source of information? Given it was looking likely that he’d actually tell her what she needed to know, it seemed a waste to throw the chance away.

“Tell ya what,” he said. “You just get the booth and I’ll do the rest. It would actually be easier if you liked me.”

“I don’t like you,” she said bluntly.

He merely grinned, flashing his sharp canines. “Then it’s a good thing I’ve got a whole dinner to change your mind.”

He pushed himself back from the bar, and Tsunami glanced over her shoulder to catch Crash’s eye. The male pangolin watched her as she followed Rough to the private booths. Crash gave an understanding nod and masked it by pretending he was talking to Decode. The other larger skunk, however, watched her with avid curiosity. He wasn’t about to join in and cause her trouble, was he? Her brother noticed her concern and waved her on.
A badger stood behind a little counter beside the door and he cocked an eyebrow when he spotted Tsunami and her ‘date’. But if he’d jumped to conclusions he didn’t say anything. Instead he brought up something on his holoscreen that to her was backwards.

“Lookin’ for a booth?” he asked. “It’ll be thirty credits.”

Seriously? Tsunami muttered something under her breath as she paid the waiter. Satisfied, he led them into the room and the doors closed behind them, completely silencing the club music. Tsunami’s ears rang in the aftermath and she resisted the urge to reach under her scales to rub them.

A row of red, white and glass booths spread out on her right, while a red and white wall took up her left. Row after row, she guessed. Not facing each other so as to maintain some level of privacy. Yet she could see through the glass clearly. One booth only held one pirate, sat back with his eyes closed and a wire linked up to his visor. Probably diving into the Chaos Network or enjoying some virtual reality program. The Chaos Network spread all across Mainframe with no way to block it, allowing people to tap into it anywhere at anytime. But aside from the convenience of instant access through a computer or headset, some liked to go all in with their minds. Video games, movies… hacking databases. The latter always needed a wire and a computer.

Tsunami jolted as they passed the third booth. The Chaotix sat huddled around a table and a small handheld holoscreen, oblivious to her presence. Perfect. She’d be keeping an eye on them. She considered letting Crash and Decode know, but didn’t want the waiter catching wind of her targets.

The badger came to a stop two booths down from the Chaotix and pulled the glass door open, allowing Tsunami and Rough inside. The waiter opened his mouth to speak but Rough cut him off with a wave.

“I know the drill,” said the space pirate.

The waiter nodded and closed the door, leaving Tsunami alone with the grinning skunk.

“Peace at last.” He flopped into the sofa and kicked his feet up onto the table. He pulled out his computer and quickly tapped at it.

“What are you doing?” Tsunami asked.

“Lettin’ my brother know where I am. He worries.”

Her eyes widened as she thought back to that cream skunk. “That big guy is your brother? You look nothing alike.”

“Aye, we’re twins.”

She wasn’t entirely sure if he was joking. He tucked his computer back and leant against the sofa. He tried to coax her next to him but she blanked him, instead eyeing the glass walls. She deliberately chose a spot at the opposite end, leaving a fairly large gap between them. Then she peered out to her left, spotting the captain’s large green head and oversized headphones.

“It doesn’t seem very private,” she said.

Rough shrugged. “Sound proof, no one starin’ across at you. The glass is just a safety measure. Totally shatterproof and no one gets murdered.”

A chill ran down her spine at that, but it wasn’t all that surprising. “Crash, can you hear me?”

‘Loud and clear, sis.’ The headset did a fantastic job of filtering out the racket from the bar.

Rough cocked an eyebrow at her and his muzzle creased. Tsunami chose to ignore it.

“I’ve found the Chaotix,” she said. “You and the squirt keep an eye open in case they leave before I do.”

‘Roger!’

She also caught a scoff from Decode at her chosen pet-name for him.

“You wanna switch that off, love?” said Rough. “I’m not sure I’m happy with your friends overhearin’ everythin’.”

She frowned at the skunk then sighed. “Fine. I’ll put it in standby.”

‘Wait… sis!-’

She flicked the switch, cutting her own voice off from her allies. “Happy? I can still hear them, but they can’t hear me unless I push a button or use a codeword.”

“That’ll do I guess.” Rough shrugged and leant towards the digital menu on the table. “I’ll order us somethin’ then, eh?”

“Don’t I get a say in it?” Tsunami tried to mask a growl and failed.

Rough laughed and flicked his tail up onto the seat. “That would ruin the surprise!”

“I didn’t agree to any surprise.” She eyed his thick tail much too close for comfort. “Please keep that on your end of the sofa?”

He grinned at her. “Why? Allergic? It’s not like I’m gonna spray ya.”

She tutted and sipped her cider, scooting as close to the arm of the sofa as it would allow. It wasn’t being sprayed that was her concern. She was beginning to wonder if she should have scouted out a significantly less fluffy target to pump information out of.

“There.” He sat back, flicking his tail to his other side, and tucked his hands behind his head. “That should pass some time until your targets leave their booth.”

“What did you order? A five course meal?” She glanced over at the Chaotix. Still non-the-wiser.

“They often come in here,” said Rough. “Never seen them leave, actually, and I’m a night-owl.”

“Well that’s not reassuring.” She eyed the smirking pirate. “So if you knew they were in here, then why did you join me? What do you want to get out of this? Because I’m not paying you.”

“You kinda are. You wanted information, I wanted your company. This way, we’re both happy.”

“You might be happy but you’re risking your skin.”

“Aww, you worried about me?” He chuckled and struck the table. “Don’t be. I can handle myself.”

Maybe he could, but that didn’t change anything. Space pirates would go far enough to kill another if they suspected they were working with a mercenary. Space pirates weren’t entitled to the bounties their kind racked up. That meant ordinarily they’d be safe from being turned in by their own kind. But it didn’t mean none of them ever tried, siding with a mercenary with hopes they’d get a share of the bounty. Whether or not he was after the Chaotix’ reward, he was still taking a massive risk. She tried to tune out the onset of guilt and flicked over the virtual menu as a distraction.

The glass door opened as a feline waitress stepped in. Her huge yellow eyes went impossibly wide when she spotted the pair and she practically bounced with glee. She silently set a massive sundae on the table and scampered back out, plunging them back into silence. Tsunami stared after her retreating tail. What was with the sudden excitement? She slowly realised she’d grabbed her laser in its holster and released it, placing her hand back on the table.

“She fancies me.” Rough licked ice cream off one of the long spoons. “Don’t worry, though. There’s no contest.”

“So you have your fair share of fans?” Tsunami asked slowly.

He shrugged and handed her the other spoon. A playful grin tugged at his mouth, chilling her slightly.

“Wanna play a game?” he asked.

She narrowed her eyes. “What kind of game?”

“Oh, just a bit of fun.” He glanced over her shoulder at the Chaotix. “Like I said… we could be here a while.”

She let out a small sigh and shifted to face him. “Go on. What is it? Poker? Farkle?”

He tapped the edge of the sundae with his spoon. “Race to the hot fudge.”

“What?”

“First one to the last layer wins,” he said. “No cheatin’ though. You can’t just stick your spoon right to the bottom. Where’s the fun in that? And if you win, I pay you back for the booth.”
The smirk on his face said there was a catch. She frowned back at him, meeting his eyes.

“And if you win?” she asked.

“You give me a kiss.”

Her spine stiffened and she stared at the sundae. It felt less like a game and more like she was signing a death warrant. If not hers then his.

“You’re insane,” she said.

“Hey, stakes ain’t that high,” he said. “You always run the chance of gettin’ your thirty credits back.”

“All right. And how do I know you won’t cheat?”

“I’m a man of my word! I made the rules, I ain’t gonna break ‘em, love.” He flashed her a boyish grin. “So whatd’ya say?”

She glanced back at the Chaotix and gave a defeated sigh. “Oh whatever. I’m not doing anything else.”

He closed his eyes and laughed. “Great. This should be a laugh.”

“I’d hardly call it a laugh,” she scoffed. “But if we’re doing this we’re swapping places. I’m not missing my prey.”

“What, you don’t trust me? I can see ‘em fine.”

“I don’t trust you as far as I could throw you.” She slipped from her seat and shooed him along.

Much better. She could see that croc clearly over Rough’s head.

“Want me to count down?” Rough asked.

She glanced down at him and waved her spoon. “Just start.”

She scooped as much ice cream as the spoon would allow and shoveled it into her mouth. Vanilla. Rather good for Pulse City, actually. Another followed suit, but her enjoyment was interrupted by Crash’s voice in her ear.

‘Nami, that big cream skunk is lurking outside the private booths.’

Really? She frowned into the glass as she helped herself to another spoonful. Did she actually question this? It was probably completely innocent.

“What’s your brother doing lurking outside?” she asked.

Rough looked over his shoulder at the empty hallway and she took the opportunity to tip the scales more in her favour by swiftly taking two more spoonfuls of ice cream. Satisfied, he turned back to his ‘game’.

“Waitin’ for me probably,” he said. “I told you, he worries.”

She shrugged it off as her eye was drawn back to the Chaotix. The crocodile shifted, then rose. A young bee buzzed into the air, and the pair turned to the door. She dropped her spoon with a clatter to the table and leapt from her seat.

“Datastream, they’re heading out.”

‘Roger!’ came Crash and Decode’s joint reply.

She turned back to Rough to thank him for the ice cream to meet a playful grin. He licked hot fudge from his spoon and she looked down at the dessert, now completely demolished on his side. No sign he’d cheated.

“Pay up, love,” he said.

She groaned and pinched her muzzle. Then motioned for him to stand. He practically skipped to his feet and she grabbed his right ear by the ring. That way, he couldn’t turn his head. She placed a kiss on his cheek then took a step back, smirking at his frown.

“You never said where,” she said.

He rolled his eyes then laughed. “Fair play, Nami.”

She pushed the booth door open then switched her headset back on. The Chaotix were well ahead of her, vanishing through the door. She spotted the cream skunk as he stepped aside to let them past.

“They’re coming your way,” she said quietly.

‘We’re already on it,’ said Crash. ‘If we need to, we’ll catch them outside. It’s too busy and loud in here.’

She zipped after the retreating space pirates, casting the skunk a wary glance. But he did nothing to impede her. He looked over her shoulder and his eyes brightened when he spotted Rough on her tail. Well, at least the sleezeball had been honest. She almost lost the Chaotix in the crowd as they vanished beyond a group of loud and rowdy mercenaries. She squeezed past them, spotting Vector’s tall green form as he slipped through the door onto the street. They hadn’t even spotted Crash as he snuck out after them with Decode.

‘They won’t go down without a fight,’ Crash said quietly. ‘And we don’t want to make a scene. Decode and I have been thinking this over and we have a plan.’

He relayed it to her as she casually followed the Chaotix out onto the neon-lit street. Crash was waiting in the doorway, eyes trained on the space pirates as they rapidly headed back down it towards the docks. He motioned for her to follow him and she fell in step beside Decode, too busy with his computer to take in his surroundings. She glanced back over her shoulder. Rough’s large brother almost blocked the doorway, crimson eyes trained on her. Great. It was beginning to smell like trouble.

The docks opened up before them, now sparse of space pirates. The odd handful lurked about their ships, or made their way to the wide street in pursuit of a bar. Crash picked up pace, keeping his footsteps light. Then he leapt, stretching out his hand towards the smallest of the Chaotix. The bee glanced back and squealed, but he didn’t get away. Crash snatched him by his stinger and tugged him into his powerful arms. Tsunami stopped beside him, aiming her laser at the bee’s head. Her other hand reached into her pouch for two sets of hand cuffs.
The other two pirates twisted on the spot, eyes wide and frantic as they went from the young boy to the laser to the mercenaries and back.

“All right,” she said. “Return what you stole, then make your way to our ship. You put a foot wrong, he’s dead.”

“I don’t wanna die!” the bee screamed. “I don’t wanna die! Help me!”

He kicked his legs so frantically Crash had to secure his grip.

“Let him go,” growled the crocodile. “He’s just a kid!”

Tsunami clenched her jaw but she didn’t lower her gun. Killing children wasn’t exactly something she agreed to, and she didn’t really intend to harm the kid. But surely the Chaotix wouldn’t just abandon him to his demise?

“Return what you stole then step into our brig,” she said. “If you do that, we won’t harm him.”

The bee sobbed loudly, dropping large tears onto Crash’s bare arms.

The crocodile grimaced and his eye darted over Crash’s shoulder. His grimace worsened and he nudged his chameleon friend.

“Somehow I don’t think they’ve got our backs,” said the chameleon.

Tsunami narrowed her eyes at the space pirates. “Let me guess. A pair of skunks?”

The crocodile grinned and nodded behind her. “Why don’t you look back and see for yourself?”

A trick. She wasn’t falling for that. “Decode?”

“Camera says yes,” said the bush baby.

“Feed it to me.”

Her visor flashed to life, giving her a clear image of Rough and his huge brother standing in the mouth of the wide street. Not far from them at all. A short run if they should decide to ambush. She wasn’t even entirely sure they were on her side, let alone the Chaotix’. She needed to work fast.

She adjusted her gun, making sure they heard the click as she released the safety. The bee screwed his eyes shut and silent tears flowed down his cheeks.

“I’m not going to ask again,” she said.

“All right!” The crocodile reached into his pouch and pulled out a small, square disk. “We’ll return it! But you turn us in, no one is gonna stop whatever it is GUN’s up to. You hear me? Mainframe as you know it will be gone!”

Tsunami stared back at him, ignoring his outstretched hand. Decode, however, snatched the disk and pocketed it. Tsunami’s blue eyes widened, meeting the large space pirate’s.

“You’ve heard the rumours too, right?” he went on. “What’s on that disk confirms ‘em, and more. You lock us up, who’s gonna stop ‘em? Return that disk and no one will even be prepared for the onslaught!”

“Onslaught?” Crash scoffed. “They’re just rumours.”

“I just said that disk confirms ‘em!” The crocodile folded his arms. “But you’ve got us. Right? I can’t exactly let you kill Charmy. He’s only twelve. Let him go at least.”

“A pirate is a pirate,” said Tsunami. “But he’ll be offered a smaller sentence.”

“Yeah, and ours will be death,” said the chameleon.

The bee let out a whimper and struggled again in Crash’s grip. The larger pangolin caught Tsunami’s eye, but not fully. Half her attention was on the approaching skunk duo. The smaller one moving with a bit of a swagger in his step.

“I think things are about to get ugly,” said the chameleon. “Look… how about we make a deal with you. We’ll go back to your ship, in cuffs if you don’t trust us. You let Charmy go, and we’ll show you what’s on that disk. Everything. Then you can make a decision about whether or not you think it’s worth your while turning us in.”

“Fifty thousand credits is worth my while,” said Tsunami.

“Worth mine n’all,” said the crocodile. “But at the expense of our home? I don’t think so.”

“You’re making it sound like GUN wants to destroy Mainframe,” said Crash. “I find that very hard to believe.”

“I’ve been following those rumours,” said Decode. “I thought it was all fear-mongering and conspiracy, but if they claim to have confirmed it-”

“It could be a trap,” said Tsunami.

“You think I’m gonna risk my hide for a trap?” scoffed the crocodile. “What else would I have been in that lab for, eh? It’s a weapons lab! We don’t even trade in weapons!”

“No, you trade in information.” Tsunami jolted and stared at the crocodile. “You were planning on selling out confirmation on a rumour?”

“It crossed my mind,” he said. “But I’m more interested on stopping GUN going ahead with what they are calling Project Wreckingball.”

“Interesting.” The voice came from behind them.

Tsunami stared at the pair of skunks through her visor, keeping her back on them. It wasn’t a disadvantage. One swipe of her tail and she could chop them up like kindling. Or give them a heavy thrashing.

“I hadn’t given that rumour much thought,” said Rough. “But if it’s true…”

He chuckled and Tsunami thought she saw him reaching for a weapon. Instead, a pair of blades fired out of the spiked cuffs around his wrists. The Chaotix drew their own weapons, and the chameleon began to vanish before her eyes. She tutted and berated herself for not making her first stop the tinkerer’s.

“I don’t know who you are,” said the crocodile, “but I ain’t in the mood right now to put up with any trash from you.”

“I’m Rough and this is Tumble,” said the skunk. “Spill the beans or you’re gonna crumble.”

Tsunami rolled her eyes. “Seriously?”

She rounded on the skunk pair, aiming her gun at the smaller one. Crash was already behind the larger guy, turning him away from the Chaotix.

Rough flashed her a grin. “I ain’t got no gripes with you, sweetheart. I’m after-”

She fired her laser at his feet and he leapt back with a squeak.

“I’ve got gripes with you if you’re gonna interfere with my work,” she growled.

Crash leapt behind the smaller skunk, drawing Tumble after him. He quickly nodded to his sister and she stepped aside, letting him deal with Rough. It didn’t take long. Before he’d even worked out what was going on, Crash grabbed his shoulder in one hand. Rough crumpled to the floor like a ragdoll.

Tumble’s jaw dropped and he fixed his livid eyes on the pangolin twins. He threw a punch, which Crash ducked fluidly. Using her tail, Tsunami vaulted over Tumble’s head and struck him in the shoulder, striking the pressure point. Like his brother, he slumped to the floor unconscious.

The Chaotix stood blinking at them, and the chameleon lowered his shuriken.

“That were… insane,” said the crocodile.

The purple reptile nodded. “Even I struggled to follow that.”

The crocodile shook his head and sighed. “We got a deal or not?”

Datastream exchanged glances, then Crash tucked his hands behind his head. They’d reached the same conclusion. Something was amiss, and they’d be foolish to toss it aside. If the rumours were indeed true…

“Okay.” Tsunami glared up at the crocodile and holstered her weapon. “Once we reach our ship, you have ten minutes to change our minds. Fail, and you’re all gonna be turned in.”

The captain laughed and turned to follow Datastream towards The Raptor. “Oh, I doubt we’ll fail, merc.”

...​

A dark fog filled Rough’s head and he groaned as he pushed himself up. He almost bumped snouts with Tumble and waved the larger skunk aside.

“What happened to us?” Rough croaked.

“It were them mercs,” said Tumble. “Took us both out.”

“So they just knocked us out? Just like that?”

“Yup.” Tumble tugged his brother to his feet. “Know what we should do? We should pound ‘em.”

“I dunno…” Rough scratched his mohawk and searched the docks. No sign of the mercenaries or the Chaotix. “It made that Nami girl a whole lot hotter.”

“Seriously?” Tumble scoffed. “This doesn’t make you wanna give up on her?”

Rough shrugged his shoulders. “She can put up a fight. I like that. Let’s go after ‘em.”

“I dunno, bro. I don’t really like rom-coms.” Tumble paused and scratched his chin. “But I do like comedies. All right, what the heck. It’s been a long time since I’ve enjoyed watchin’ you strike out. Last time were with that nurse.”

Rough’s muzzle creased in a snarl. “We don’t talk about that!”

“You don’t. I tell everyone I meet.”

The smaller skunk muttered under his breath and retracted his cuff blades. “Let’s just get to our ship and tail ‘em.”

“Do you even know what their ship looks like?”

“It’s either the Chaotix green star thing, or somethin’ else.” Rough paused, catching the glint of a golden hull five ships down from his own. “I’m gonna guess it’s that one.”

“What makes you say that?” Tumble asked.

“Simple.” Rough grinned up at him and winked. “No pirate or run-of-the-mill merc can afford a ship like that, bro.”

“Well, if you’re sure.” Tumble gave his brother a thump on the back. “Let’s just hope they don’t turn our ship into scrap metal. Things you do to chase a pretty tail.”

“I’ll win her. You watch.”

“Oh I’ll watch,” said Tumble. “And I’ll laugh.”
 

Negrek

Spindrift
Staff
This is going to be a trip! I know very little about Sonic the Hedgehog, so I'm coming into this one pretty much blind, haha. We'll see how it goes!

I'm kind of curious which of these characters are canon characters (any of them?? I know Infinite is, when he shows up, and Shadow was mentioned in passing, but...) and which ones are OCs. I'm thinking Chaotix maaaaay be? I seem to vaguely remember some chameleon/crocodile Sonic characters, but whether they're these guys or other characters entirely, I have no idea. But I'm guessing Tsuami's team is original. There definitely seems to be a lot of computer-related names flying around, with people like Crash or Vector, but then there's Tsunami, Charmy, etc. I'm guessing not all the non-System-like names are canon characters, but I imagine a lot of your OCs have ended up with computery names nonetheless.

I have NO IDEA if GUN are supposed to be good guys or bad guys here, haha. Ambiguous guys? Regardless of the super-soldier thing, they're supposedly opposing Eggman, and I know Eggman's up to no good, haha. I wonder if we'll see him around in this story. I guess if he's ruling the place, he must have defeated Sonic? Or there's some kind of alternate universe thing going on here.

Before he could reach it, Tsunami sent the knife ahead of her.
I'm guessing she threw the knife? To me, saying she "sent it ahead" makes it sound like she levitated it psychically or something.

He swiveled the Charmy’s chair around one-eighty, eliciting a surprised squeal from the navigator.
Extra "the" in front of "Charmy's."

Charmy tried to get a peek at his work as he supped on his straw, but his eye went to the navigation screen instead.
You probably mean "sipped" instead of "supped," since "supped" usually means "ate..."

He selected the second file, but no sooner had his claw touched the computer the entire screen fuzzed. [...] Espio snatched it out of the air and forced it to shut down, blinking out its holo-screen.
First sentence is missing a "than" after "computer," and in the second I think you might mean "blanking" instead of "blinking."

Espio visibly grimaced.
As opposed to invisibly grimaced?

The bee almost squealed with delight. He shot from his seat and made a beeline for the door.
The two space pirates followed after him as Vector pocketed his computer.
Looks like a rogue line break here.

Huh, the gold/silver rings indicating people's rank and occupation is interesting. A reference to the rings Sonic collects? I don't know if they have any stated in-universe purpose.

“Then it’s a good thing I’ve got a whole dinner to change your mind.”
"Dinner" rather than "diner," I think.

Still non-the-wiser.
* none the wiser

Well, at least the sleezeball had been honest.
* sleazeball

Instead, a pair of blades fired out of the spiked cuffs around his wrists.
When you said "fired" I thought that the blades were actually getting launched, but I guess they were just sliding out, sort of like Wolverine's claws do? I think maybe a different verb would make that more clear.

Before he’d even worked out what was going on, Crash grabbed his shoulder in one hand.
Was he somehow keeping a one-handed hold on Charmy through all of this?

You really weren't kidding about the parallels with System: Reboot here! Obviously there's a twist on some things... Like, I imagine Infinite is going to turn out to be a rather different character than DL, even though they're both the "living weapon experimented on by the evil government-like organization." I'm wondering whether you wanted to kind of revisit some of the ideas you were working with in System: Reboot but try executing on them a little differently. In a lot of ways this feels like a sped-up version of Reboot, where we already know what the mysterious tech is that's going to need rescuing, we've already met a Surge-like character in the form of Rough, and we have the mercenaries teaming up with the space pirates... Nothing wrong with kicking it off like this, I think jumping right into the thick of things works pretty well, but I am wondering whether you had anything in particular in mind when bringing in so many similarities to your previous story, or whether you kind of started noticing similarities and leaned into it a bit for fun.

I think we get a little less feel for the world here than we did at the beginning of System: Reboot. Perhaps it's not as drastically altered? Pulse City is apparently the only floating city, and the surface doesn't sound as heavily toxified as System Ground, although if it's mostly wasteland it's still not a great place to be. I think the Sonic universe is a little more sci-fi than the pokémon world by nature (all the robots and such), so perhaps it already kind of works as a setting for this story without much modification. It'll be interesting to learn more about it!

The colorful variety of species present in this story is fun. I know that there are a variety of different animals in the Sonic franchise besides the iconic hedgehog, but you're getting pretty exotic with the pangolins and bush-babies and so on! The vibrant colors and variety of different species makes for a bright neon-feeling sci-fi kind of environment. One that doesn't seem as dystopian as System: Reboot did, at least not yet, although the political stuff that's been alluded to so far doesn't sound so rosy.

This is an explosive start with a strong hook to carry readers further into the story. At times the scenes feel a little long to me, like the conversations go on for slightly more time than is totally necessary, but your action is as tight as ever, and I imagine we'll be seeing a whole lot of that in the future! I'm looking forward to seeing how you handle Infinite, because he definitely sounds like a different sort of character than the ones in System: Reboot, and it'll be fun to see how he changes the dynamics of a cast that has a lot of parallels otherwise. Not sure where to expect this to go outside of a lot of high-tech battles, probably robots, and eventually reality-warping powers. Should be fun! I'll try to keep up with this one a bit better than I did with Reboot.
 

DeliriousAbsol

*Crazy Absol Noises*
Staff
Location
Behind a laptop, most likely with tea
Pronouns
She/Her
Woo! Thanks so much for the review! =D That was a lovely surprise to open my emails to!

I'm kind of curious which of these characters are canon characters (any of them?? I know Infinite is, when he shows up, and Shadow was mentioned in passing, but...) and which ones are OCs. I'm thinking Chaotix maaaaay be?
Team Datastream are the only main OC characters in this story. The Chaotix and the rest of the main cast are canon characters. The only other main OCs are in the prequel I've been trying to wrap up today!

Extra "the" in front of "Charmy's."
Oh man, with my proof reading, you'd think I'd catch all these typos... This will be one of those instances when I replaced 'the bee' with his name, I guess. I'll have to go through and cull all the typos on here and Amino when I get chance. Thanks for pointing them all out =D

Was he somehow keeping a one-handed hold on Charmy through all of this?
Given they'd just 'made peace' with the Chaotix before Rough and Tumble started a... well... rough and tumble... he'd have released Charmy. I think my omission of that might be a mistake.

but I am wondering whether you had anything in particular in mind when bringing in so many similarities to your previous story, or whether you kind of started noticing similarities and leaned into it a bit for fun.
The similarities are both a combination of coincidence and deliberate action, so you're pretty on point! I'd actually not twigged the Infinite/DL situation given he's not a computer XD so that is definitely a happy accident! Basically, I was out walking one day and came up with a potential cyberpunk Sonic idea and wanted to re-use the name 'Assassin Strike' from Reboot. So... as a bit of a cop-off excuse to use it, I went with the 'parallel universe' idea. Then I just rolled with it and went nuts! You may notice the parallel between Matrix and Decode? Both are small, young navigators with a love for computer games. Expect a crossover between the two worlds at some point in the future ;)

As for the dystopian feel of System, Mainframe is quite different. No noxious air, and things feel a lot cleaner. Although it does have its crime-infested outskirts. The dystopian part to Mainframe is very much hidden under the surface.

The colorful variety of species present in this story is fun. I know that there are a variety of different animals in the Sonic franchise besides the iconic hedgehog, but you're getting pretty exotic with the pangolins and bush-babies and so on!
Pangolins and bush babies are my favourite animals, and I wanted unique OCs you don't get very often in the Sonic fandom. I tend to go nuts with my animal species in Sonic, but I do have a habit of deviating to polecats, badgers and stoats as background characters...

This is an explosive start with a strong hook to carry readers further into the story. At times the scenes feel a little long to me, like the conversations go on for slightly more time than is totally necessary, but your action is as tight as ever, and I imagine we'll be seeing a whole lot of that in the future!
Thanks! I was wanting it to kick off a lot faster than Reboot, as people had commented on how slow the start was. Slow burn stories aren't really my jam, it seems. As for the conversations, I'm leaning heavily towards the cyberpunk trope of there being rather little action and more atmosphere. But... I add way more action than you would expect from the genre as I do love my action. I zoned out a lot watching Blade Runner and Ghost in the Shell: SOC... They're a bit slow, tbh, as good as they are. So if it doesn't make me zone out, then my readers might be okay? XD

Not sure where to expect this to go outside of a lot of high-tech battles, probably robots, and eventually reality-warping powers. Should be fun! I'll try to keep up with this one a bit better than I did with Reboot.
Oh, I have an abundance of ideas. You should see my Scrivener file! There should be something for everyone by the time I'm done! Including a Cyberpunk Noir crime drama arc I'm itching to get stuck into!

Thanks so much for reading! =D I am so excited for this series, you have no idea XD
 

DeliriousAbsol

*Crazy Absol Noises*
Staff
Location
Behind a laptop, most likely with tea
Pronouns
She/Her
Chapter Three
Tsunami leant back against the control deck, arms folded, as Vector fumbled with his computer. The holoscreen displayed everything backwards, but she wasn’t in the mood to try and read it. Having space pirates anywhere on her ship besides the brig was never something she expected or wanted. But something about what he’d said unsettled her, and she wanted to alleviate her concerns. Or turn a blind, blissful eye.

The Chaotix had expressed their appreciation at The Raptor’s size and technology, and after a brief introduction to ‘remove some tension’ they’d made no efforts to go back on their offer to show them what was on the disk. And given Vector was willing to use his computer, Tsunami could rest assured they weren’t about to cripple her ship by plugging it into its systems.

Charmy had swiftly recovered, occupying himself at Datastream’s navigation deck. Not that it was switched on, given the ship wasn’t going anywhere. But that didn’t stop him from fawning over its intricate controls and asking Decode half-a-million questions.

A small silver chao-android flew into the room, balancing a tea tray over its head. It paused before Tsunami and grinned.

“Here’s your tea!” it chirruped.

“Thanks, Omochao.” Tsunami took one of the mugs and left the android to deliver tea to the rest of her over-filled bridge.

Vector blinked at the tiny android. “You have one of them pricey Omochao and didn’t even name it?”

“’Him’,” Tsunami corrected. “And no. Why would I? He’s perfectly happy just being called ‘Omochao’.”

“I wanted to call him Butters, but no,” Decode muttered.

Omochao beamed at his satisfied patrons and fluttered from the room, humming to himself.

Espio stared after him, aghast. “Isn’t it a little dangerous to let him handle liquids like that? I mean… he’s a robot.”

Tsunami didn’t look up from her tea. “He wants to be a butler. Let him.”

“Oh whatever. Here you go.” Vector held out his computer to Tsunami. “If this don’t change your mind about this GUN business, I don’t know what will.”

She took it and Crash and Decode appeared over each of her shoulders. The bush baby had to perch himself on the control deck to get a clear view. Being a faster reader than she was, he often tapped his foot against the deck as he waited, leaving her with no choice but to clamp it in place with her heavy tail. Much to his muttering.

What she read left a bad taste in her mouth. It confirmed the rumours and then some.

GUN were indeed confining the jackal who had appeared in Mainframe fifty seven years ago, along with Eggman. When a mysterious explosion had torn through the very fabrics of space, it had dragged three aliens with it. Eggman, a robot hedgehog, and a jackal many believed was going to actually die. But GUN took him in and he recovered alarmingly quickly. No reasons were given for this, but the report had it down to some strange alien DNA they were calling ‘Dark Arms’. It gave him shocking regeneration properties, and somehow prevented him from ageing. Add this to the strange illusory power he already brought with him and the very Chaos Network running through him, he proved to be too much of an alien threat to let loose in Mainframe. He’d shown hostility to the doctors and scientists who had tried to help - fearfully - and that had left him locked up in their cells for ‘questioning’. If he was a threat, then surely Eggman would be? That had proven true when Eggman took over a majority of GUN and established himself as the ruler of Mainframe. Although very little was heard from the mad doctor. It had been simple enough for him to take over. The explosion had caused an epidemic, which had many victims and casualties. The virus was coming from the rupture left in the remains of the damaged city, something that had been dubbed Null Space. Eggman created a barrier that held the virus back, and the symptoms along with any traces of it beyond the barrier vanished. He was named a hero and eventually became leader of GUN and Mainframe as a whole. Something Mainframe soon regretted. Eggman worked through his GUN soldiers, robots and quarterly motivational speeches. Riots had been a common thing long before Tsunami’s time, and news had it that those fires were put out often with real fires and the appearance of Eggman’s ace robot Metal Sonic. People soon learned not to retaliate against Doctor Eggman, or GUN for that matter.

As for the jackal, the GUN information elaborated greatly the more she read it. To stop him from using his powers on them, they’d had to craft a detainment collar. One that was often used for criminals who could easily overpower GUN. It wasn’t unheard of for people in mainframe to have unusual skills. Fire manipulation, sonic speed, psychokinesis, or an unusual amount of physical strength. Detainment collars prevented one from using them, sapping their energy. But this one had to be modified just to stop the jackal’s strange illusions and teleporting. He didn’t appear to have much of a grasp over them and they could be broken easily if he lost his focus. Once the collar was in place, he’d been pumped for information, but it had proved fruitless. He refused to tell GUN’s FBI agents anything. Probably because he didn’t know why both he and Eggman suddenly appeared in Mainframe. And it had taken the FBI upward of twenty years to finally give up torturing him over it. That part turned Tsunami’s stomach. After all that, he’d just been left. Kept alive locked in a secure enclosure. He’d gone insane, or always had been, and they didn’t want to kill him. They wanted him alive. They had plans, and those plans soon evolved into something called Project Wreckingball. His powers had left them curious, but it was too dangerous to have him act them out before them. He’d turn on them, and it would take an army to stop him, force his collar back on and toss him back into his cell.

The main scientist behind Project Wreckingball had stepped down, taken over by one who signed off the reports as ‘G’. The scientist ‘G’ had a different way of handling the jackal. It was clear from the way they spoke about him their relationship was somewhat shaky. They’d opted to keep him muzzled to prevent him from biting them after several experimental mishaps. Given he couldn’t do anything else to defend himself, it had been his last line of defence. ‘G’ now oversaw the project as scientists slaved away to create something more potent than a detainment collar. It was some kind of harness that allowed the wearer’s handler complete control through simple commands. The wearer would be as harmless as a butterfly until told otherwise. It was a foolproof means to control something with the jackal’s power, allowing GUN to use his abilities for their own gain. However, its primary goal seemed to have been altered slightly, leaving a vague sense of unease. Primarily a means to remove both Eggman and the jackal from Mainframe, what would happen to him now was uncertain. Would he no longer be sent back to his own world? Did GUN plan on actually keeping him?

Tsunami lowered the computer, which was snatched up by Decode for a second speedy read. Well, she could definitely see why the Chaotix were concerned. She met Vector’s eyes and he shrugged.

“Worryin’, huh?” he said.

Tsunami cradled her teacup. “As much as I agree with you, I can’t see what you expect to do about it. Short of killing the poor guy, who, from what I gather, hasn’t even done anything to deserve all this.”

“He just appeared in our world one day, half dead,” said Espio. “GUN’s treatment of him is nothing short of horrific.”

“Can you imagine not ageing or being able to die naturally?” said Vector. “Spending an eternity locked in some kind of control harness, bowing at someone’s command. No will of your own, no life… not that he’s had much of a life locked up in their cells for almost six decades.”

“I agree it’s cruel,” said Tsunami. “But we can’t do anything, and I doubt GUN will listen.”

“You’re wrong,” said Vector. “We can do somethin’ and I plan to.”

“And what’s that?” asked Crash. “Leak this information onto every known website in the Chaos Network? Email it to every single inhabitant in Mainframe? I’m sure GUN would just love that. They’d mount your heads on their walls.”

“That’s a genius idea,” Decode scoffed. “’Everyone would know and GUN would crumble.’ They’d cover it up like they always do.”

“I wasn’t saying ‘do it’,” said Crash.

Decode waved a hand at the Chaotix. “I was aiming it at them.”

“That ain’t our plan,” said Vector. “It’d fail, like your small primate friend insinuated. My plan is to break into those cells and bust him out. Give him a new life with his own choices.”

Tsunami’s jaw went slack and Decode dropped Vector’s computer. The crocodile grimaced and stooped to retrieve it from the apologetic hacker. Fortunately it hadn’t cracked.

“Are you crazy?!” Tsunami snapped. “Even if you did manage to get past GUN’s security, who’s to say that jackal won’t kill you? He’s insane! And we don’t even know what he’s capable of save for what they’ve included in this project report!”

“Well I think he might appreciate some freedom,” said Vector. “I know I would after all that time. He might even be happy to help us get rid of Eggman.”

Tsunami narrowed her eyes into slits. It took every ounce of willpower not to toss her scalding hot tea over the reptile. “So it’s a plan with a hidden motive?”

“You can’t deny you want him out of our world too, merc.”

The pangolin twins exchanged glances and Tsunami sighed, waving the space pirates off.

“I’ve heard enough,” she said. “You’re completely nuts. I’ve every right mind to turn you in for your own safety, never mind my career.”

“I dunno.” Decode had his nose in his computer as he typed away. “I think their plan carries some weight.”

Tsunami rounded on him. “You’re on their side? And what are you doing?”

“Typing everything up so we don’t lose it.” He glanced up at her briefly. “Let’s face it. If GUN plan to use this guy after removing Eggman they could do anything. The notes described him as bullet-proof. He resists lasers. He can use his power to affect multiple targets. Even create solid illusory clones of himself, or others. Once he gets full control of his powers, he’d be a one-man army. They could use him to wipe out entire cities. Even the whole of Mainframe if they wanted to.”

“I don’t understand why they’d want to,” said Tsunami. “GUN live here as much as anyone else.”

“Wars,” said Vector. “They happen. Have a weapon that packs that much power, who’s gonna stand against them? In that situation you just have to hope you’re on the right side.”

“I’ve always thought GUN were evil,” said Decode. “This only adds fuel to that fire.”

“Don’t you work for them?” Espio scoffed.

“No,” said the bush baby. “I work for Datastream. I don’t trust GUN ever since they stuck a price on my head.”

“You’re the one who hacked their files,” said Crash.

“And they never let it go. Just makes me think they’re hiding something. And lo and behold! Project Wreckingball shows up.”

“I don’t think they’re evil per-se,” said Espio. “They’re split. This group is going against Eggman, while he has most of GUN wrapped up in his own nefarious schemes. They want rid of Eggman like the rest of us do.”

“Yeah but somethin’ don’t smell right,” said Vector.

Decode made a thoughtful noise and sat back on the control deck. “Do you think this has something to do with the other guy GUN are looking for?”

The space pirates exchanged confused glances.

“What other guy?” asked Charmy. “They’re looking for a lot of people, right?”

“That shady black hedgehog,” said Decode. “His poster is all over Pulse City.”

“Come on, that’s clearly just bait.” asked Espio.

Decode shrugged and returned to typing up his notes. “Well I can help you if you want.”

“Over my dead body,” said Tsunami. “I’m not letting you help out these pirates! That’s a sure way to have GUN after your neck again!”

“I couldn’t care less if GUN are after me or not,” he said.

“Those facts really haven’t got to you at all?” asked Crash.

She looked up at her brother. “Have they got to you?”

He shrugged his large shoulders and pushed back from the control deck. “I dunno. It’s worrying, though, Nami. I’m not sure I want to risk leaving a weapon like that in their hands. Not only is it deadly, it’s cruel. It’s making me question their moral standards.”

“What do you mean?” she asked.

“If they’re willing to go that far with an alien, what’s to stop them blurring the line and using anyone who has over-the-top powers?”

Vector scratched beneath his headphones. “I never thought of that.”

“Then there’s always the chance they might try to boost someone’s powers,” Crash went on. “Someone might be able to create flames. GUN boosts it to have them create infernos and unleashes them in a war. They retaliate at all, then boom! Control harness. I don’t like this at all, sis.”

“You’re over-thinking things,” said Tsunami.

“Am I?”

She blinked at him, lost for words.

“Let’s face it,” he went on. “You’ve read all that’s on that disk. You know the facts. But say we hadn’t. If I were to tell you I was worried about this Project Wreckingball, and all I had to go on were rumours - or just my own speculation - would you tell me I was over-thinking it?”

She sighed and rubbed a hand down her muzzle. “Probably, yes.”

“Then if I’m right, we have a problem. Don’t we? There’s no saying this jackal is nothing more than a test subject. Number One in a series of experiments of questionable morality.”

“I’m with Crash,” said Decode. “I was having the same worries.”

“Then that cinches it,” said Vector. “We really have to get that guy outta there. Slow down their progress and throw a spanner in the works.”

“So you’re going to rescue this man?” said Tsunami. “Knowing full well he’s insane and could kill you?”

“He’s muzzled and detained,” said Vector. “He shows any aggression then he stays that way.”

“And where are you going to put him?” she went on. “What will you do with him when he’s out?”

“Try and reason with him,” said Espio. “And we can always keep him locked on our ship.”

“Yeah,” said Charmy. “We have a pretty big and sturdy cargo bay.”

“And we have a brig,” said Crash. “I’d sooner take my chances with that.”

Tsunami jerked her head around to stare at him. Then she sighed and slumped back into the control deck.

“Oh whatever,” she said. “I can’t exactly turn a blind eye knowing all this. Fine. But if things go wrong, I’m turning each and every one of you in.”
Crash blinked a few times. “Erm… does that include me?”

She didn’t answer. Instead she shooed Decode and his brew from the control deck then fell into her seat.

“So you want to help us?” Vector gasped.

“No. I don’t want to.” Tsunami fired a glare over her shoulder. “But this is a one-off. After this, we go back to our old game of cat and mouse.”

Vector folded his arms and frowned. “I’m not entirely sure I want your help, merc.”

The pair continued to glare at each other. Espio shifted uneasily then tapped his captain on the elbow.

“Hang on, Vector,” he said. “If they did help us, it would seriously increase our chances of success.”

“Yeah, and then what happens to the jackal?” Vector asked him.

“Simple,” Tsunami said before Espio could open his mouth. “He stays in our brig until we know he’s no danger. To us or to Mainframe.”

Vector flashed his sharp teeth at the pangolin, his gold eyes narrowing dangerously. Crash looked between them then raised a hand in a shrug.

“Let’s face it,” he said. “We aren’t exactly gonna bust him out to turn him back into the authorities again, are we? What good would that achieve?”

“Hard to say with you mercs,” said Vector.

Omochao fluttered back through and the Chaotix politely returned their empty mugs to his tea tray before he bothered Datastream for theirs.

“All right,” Vector went on. “We’ll co-operate this once. What’s your plan?”

“Already on it,” said Decode.

Everyone turned to the bush baby who was busying himself at the navigation deck with his computer. Tsunami rose to peer over his shoulder, but he didn’t seem to care.

“You’re hacking into GUN’s files?” she groaned.

“I’m getting their maps,” said Decode. “Nothing confidential.”

She let out a sigh of relief and leant forwards on the back of his chair.

“And their security camera locations and bot-grades,” he finished.

She almost sank to the floor. Vector, however, let out a cheery raucous laugh.

“This kid’s got guts!” he said. “I like it.”

Espio joined Decode’s side and eyed his work with fascination. “You plan to remotely shut the robots down?”

“If I can,” said Decode. “Otherwise you’ll have to destroy them. And we don’t really want to leave any evidence.”

“They already know the Chaotix stole this information in the first place,” said Tsunami. “It’s not as if GUN couldn’t do the math.”

The two reptiles grunted while Charmy looked at each of them in turn, scratching his head.

“Okay. Let me correct myself.” Decode glanced back at Tsunami with one pink eye. “We don’t want to leave any evidence. Excuse me for trying to be a team player.”

“Enough sass.” She returned to her seat and fell heavily into it. “Find us the location and let’s get a move on. We can come up with a plan of action on the way.”

“Hang fire,” said Vector. “What about our ship? We can follow you in that.”

“Two ships would double our chances of being seen,” said Tsunami.

“Exactly.” Crash grinned at the space pirates. “You might wanna pull up a seat.”

...​

The corridors of the FBI’s high security cells were always dim, and there was that one light that was always flickering. A wiring problem, given the amount of bulbs that had been ‘replaced’ in a bid to fix it. Gadget tutted as he lowered his head, nudging his glasses up his snout before they slipped off his face. Once he was past that bulb’s migraine-inducing strobe, he looked up again to scout the cells. Most of them empty. The FBI had been quiet recently, but the odd whimper came from one cell where an agent worked away to probe at a spy caught lurking outside Doctor Eggman’s lair.

The red wolf followed the corridor around to the end. A large cell with a glass front. Shatterproof glass behind a second window with a door, allowing Gadget to sandwich himself between them while still being out of the prisoner’s reach. Not that he could touch him anyway. Gadget pushed a button on the intercom, activating it.

“Prisoner I45724?” he said.

The black and white jackal opened his eyes, although Gadget was fairly sure he’d not been sleeping. His right eye didn’t seem to notice him. Blue and disfigured by an ugly scar. His golden one, though, almost sent chills down Gadget’s spine.

“I have a name you know,” the prisoner growled.

“Not here you don’t,” said Gadget.

But it’s not as if he didn’t know it. The jackal had practically screamed it at him, right before locking his jaws around his left ear. Gadget resisted the urge to rub at it. The surgeons had done a good job of restoring it, but it still sported a nasty scar down the back, where his fur had yet to grow back. ‘Infinite’, he’d said. What kind of name was that? Then he’d laughed as the guards dragged him back to his cell, leaving the wolf nursing what remained of his ear. But Infinite hadn’t laughed for long. The guards made sure of that. And the wretched jackal had never pulled such a stunt again. Gadget made sure of that.

Infinite glared back at him, his jaws straining against the chain muzzle as it cut into his snout. It was an attempt to bare his canines.

“What do you want?” he asked.

“I want to know if you’re going to co-operate this time?”

Infinite narrowed his eyes and his long, bushy tail twitched. “When are you gonna get bored of running tests on me?”

“When I’m satisfied.”

“I miss the old doctor. He left his weapons at the door.”

“You’ve made it pretty clear I need them.”

Infinite attempted to shrug beneath his straitjacket. “You wouldn’t need them if you weren’t so obsessed with how fast I regenerate.”

“You bit off my ear, Infinite!” Gadget snapped.

The glass fogged under his breath and he swiped it away with the back of his glove. Infinite stared back at him, a sinister smirk spreading across his muzzle.

“Hey, would you look at that,” he said. “You remembered my name. Guess it worked.”

Gadget flashed a canine and reached for the door. As the lock clicked, Infinite struggled to his feet, staggering back into the cushioned wall. His eyes widened and Gadget saw a hint of fear wash over him. But it vanished just as quickly as the jackal braced himself. The door closed behind Gadget as he strolled onto the heavily padded floor. It was a lot brighter in the cell than in the corridor, and he had to squint. He clutched his taser baton at his side, keeping one eye on Infinite. The wolf hugged the wall, while Infinite crept along the opposite one, eyes trailing over Gadget and his chosen weapon. His own design. A modification on GUN’s defence batons. Gadget’s opinion was always that a good defence was a fantastic offence.

“I don’t need to hurt you if you’ll just co-operate.” Gadget spoke through clenched teeth.

Infinite’s hackles bristled and he sneered. “You said that last week.”

“You didn’t co-operate.”

“What do you want with me, wolf?!”

“I want to know what the extent of your powers are,” Gadget explained.

Infinite blinked at him and his lips turned down into an uncertain frown. His breathing turned loud and raspy as though his throat had suddenly closed up, and he fixed his eyes on the stun baton.

“Which ones?” he asked.

Gadget lifted the baton to point and Infinite tensed, pulling his lips back as much as the chains would allow. Gadget sighed and bobbed the baton until the jackal got the message. He strained to see the heavy blue, metal collar around his neck. Three lights blinked neon blue, almost drowned out by the fluorescent light bouncing off the white walls and floor.

Infinite grinned and let out a dry chuckle. His eyes sparkled and he leant back against the wall, visibly relaxing.

“Sure, doc,” he said. “You wanna remove this collar, be my guest.”

That wasn’t the reaction Gadget had wanted. Or expected. He clutched the baton at his side, glaring back at the jackal.

“Oh, I won’t be the one removing it,” he said.

Infinite smirked at him. “Pity. Given I know how fascinated every one of you is. That’s why none of you are letting me go. Even though I’ve made it pretty clear how I feel about Eggman.”

“That’s because we don’t believe you’re on our side.”

“I’m not.” Infinite shrugged. “I never said I was.” He kicked himself back from the wall and strolled towards Gadget, lowering his head to look him in the eye. “After everything you lot have put me through, why would I be?”

Gadget braced himself for an attack, but Infinite stopped a couple of feet away from him and inclined his head. Waiting for an answer. Mocking him.

“If you’d co-operated, then you wouldn’t-”

Infinite let out a loud laugh and shook his head. “You’re all obsessed with me! This power is like nothing you’ve ever seen! You’re too scared to let me go because of what I could do! Or is it because you’d lose it? Lose something you want to control?” He took another step towards him until Gadget could feel his breath on his face. “I know what you want with me, wolf. And I’m not gonna let you do it.”

Gadget narrowed his eyes and tightened his grip on his baton. “You know nothing.”

“I know more than you think.”

That raspy noise left Infinite’s throat again and he fixed his eyes on Gadget’s wounded ear. Then he rose back to his full height and grinned.
What was he getting at? Was it just mind games? Or had someone been careless, spewing out GUN’s plans in the corridors? No… it couldn’t be the latter. This cell was sound-proofed. So it had to be mind games. Unless his powers could allow him to read someone’s thoughts? Maybe the detainment collar restricted less than they thought? His powers were an enigma. One Gadget itched to uncover.

“Let’s do a little science here,” said Infinite. “Many scientists and soldiers have tried to ‘test’ me. I’ve been cooped up here, and moved around, for what… forty… fifty… sixty years? I’ve lost count. They don’t exactly give me a calendar. A long time, anyway. They’ve removed my collar, I’ve lashed out. A well-deserved lashing out as well, I might add. It was awesome. But they overpowered me. So here you are, riding on the back of the fact I’ve not had much practice with these powers. Surely you, a genius, can get to the bottom of what these powers can do? So you can act out your nefarious plans. Well, I’ve got a question for you, wolf. If a bunch of GUN security guards can’t control me, then what makes you think a pathetic, weak, nasally scientist can?”

Gadget pulled his lips back and narrowed his eyes. “Watch your mouth, wretch.”

Infinite laughed and shook his head. “Struck a nerve? Well… it’s not like I can’t relate. Let’s see… high school was tough? Never had a girlfriend. Picked last in sports. University was no better. Now you abuse that doctorate to satisfy what the world wouldn’t give you? By picking on someone stronger than you, no do-”

Gadget brought the baton around into the side of Infinite’s head, knocking him sideways. He landed heavily on the padded floor, but he wasn’t down for long. He rolled onto his back and forced himself up, shaking his head so hard his long ears flopped and his mane went everywhere. He glared up at Gadget between clumps of white fur and snarled.

“I was trying to negotiate!” he snapped.

“By picking me apart?” Gadget snarled.

“At least I was only using words.” Infinite chuckled as a smirk spread across his muzzle. “Did they hurt?”

Gadget sneered down at him and flared the baton to life. Electricity sparked from the end of it and Infinite’s eyes flew towards it. Then he leapt to his feet in one fluid motion. The top of his head struck Gadget in the muzzle, sending the wolf careening back into the glass. The wind flew from his lungs and he slid down it, the room blurring across his vision. Infinite’s tall shape stood like a shadow among the haze. Warmth trickled from Gadget’s nose and he wiped blood away on the back of his glove. But before he could gather himself, Infinite leapt towards him and swung his foot around into the side of his head. Gadget left the floor, coming down again hard on his back. Then Infinite was on him, driving his knee into his stomach and winding him further.

He crouched over Gadget, slowly coming back into focus. His lips were pulled back, his hot breath spreading over Gadget’s face. The scientist could clearly make out his white fur poking between the iron chains, and small pink patches where it had been rubbed away.

“If you can’t handle me like this,” he said, “then you should just back down and leave me alone. I don’t want to see your sorry face at my window again.”

“Tough.” Gadget’s voice came out shockingly weak, but he hid it behind a glare. “Because you’re my project.”

He sat up swiftly, throwing his weight into it. His forehead struck Infinite square in the muzzle. Chains cut into Gadget’s skin, but he bit back a yelp. Infinite fell back from him with a grunt, giving the wolf enough time to scramble for the baton. Abandoned at the window where he’d previously fallen. His jaw and snout pounded with every movement, but he pushed himself up. Just in time to see Infinite lunging for him. The baton sparked and he swung it into the jackal’s side. The blast sent him flying away from him and a loud scream left Infinite’s throat. He crashed down in the middle of the room, landing in a sprawl.

Gadget leant against the glass as he panted for breath, breathing in the smell of burning fur. The only other sound was Infinite’s grunting as he struggled to roll himself over. His left side was burnt raw, but was slowly healing before Gadget’s eyes. The baton had burnt right through the canvas of his straitjacket. Although the damage wasn’t enough to provide a problem.

Infinite coughed a few times as he forced himself to sit up, and fixed Gadget in a glare. But the wolf had nothing more to say. He’d made his point. He turned and left the cell, giving Infinite one last leer through the glass.
 

DeliriousAbsol

*Crazy Absol Noises*
Staff
Location
Behind a laptop, most likely with tea
Pronouns
She/Her
Chapter Four​

It didn’t take Decode long to track down the jackal’s location. A high security cell in a lab on one of the islands just off the mainland. It was somewhere Tsunami had always considered to be a prison, so finding it also listed as a lab had come as a surprise. She’d sent enough prisoners that way to be handed over to the FBI for questioning. Did they know what was going on, or were they kept in the dark?

The building itself looked more like a prison than a lab. High walls and fences surrounded a large stone structure, with several gates to get through before one could even reach the main building. No problem for an airship, provided it wasn’t spotted. The Raptor hovered above it, shrouded in its cloak. It was enough to keep it off GUN’s radar, at least. But once her team dropped from it, they’d be exposed.

“All entrances and exits are heavily guarded,” Decode explained. “Espio has taken out the cameras with a scramble code. It might take them a while to get them back online, but you should work fast. I wouldn’t put it past them to have an efficient technician team on, even at this hour.”

“What about the robots?” Crash asked. “How many?”

“I can’t get them all offline,” said Decode. “You’ll be up against some grade-3 Eggman tech. Lasers, heat trackers, bullets… Nothing you can’t handle.”

Crash smacked a fist into his palm and grinned. “Bring it.”

Tsunami cast her brother a sideways glance. “You’re enjoying this too much.”

“It’s a change of pace.” He shrugged and tucked his arms behind his head.

“It’s gonna be dangerous,” said Vector. “So I hope you guys hold up and don’t slow us down.”

“You’re forgetting we almost caught you yesterday,” said Tsunami.

“Yeah. ‘Almost’.” The crocodile shrugged. “You make any mistakes, you’re toast. This is GUN we’re talkin’ about.”

“And we’ve handled GUN enough times to know what we’re up against.” Espio tossed one of his shuriken and caught it in his other hand. “I don’t imagine you have? Given you usually work for them.”

Tsunami flashed a canine but Crash placed a hand on her shoulder, placating her.

“Just leave it, Nami,” he said. “We dive in, bail that jackal, then come straight back here. Easy.”

“Ever the optimist,” muttered Decode.

Crash merely grinned.

“Have you scouted a path?” Tsunami asked Decode.

The bush baby shooed a curious Charmy from his computer. “It’s your typical fair. Lots of corridors and air vents. So you won’t be short of places to hide, but… there might be some small ‘bots in the vents to keep an eye on things. If I were to guess, cleaners with cameras to spy. It’s a high security building, but their main priority is to keep people in, not out. So… you might have a harder time escaping.” He paused to return to the holoscreen. “I’ll send you the map so you can keep track of where you’re up to.”

“All of us?” Vector folded his arms and frowned.

“Of course,” said Decode. “Get ready to drop. Charmy will keep you reptiles posted. I’ll stay in touch with Datastream.”

Vector adjusted his headphones and cast the bee a disapproving glare. “Make sure you do this time, Charmy. Or I’ll be mounting your stinger on my wall.”

Tsunami led them out to the exit hatch. The drop ladder was formed up of solid light, and as she clutched the pink beam it dropped smoothly and silently down towards the ground. More rungs appeared above her as her allies followed her down. The pink light would be a sure giveaway if it wasn’t for The Raptor’s flawless shield. Once they broke it, the neon beams would be as clear as day. She wasn’t about to allow that. Once she was a few feet from the ground, she dropped and the beam vanished. She landed in a squat and rolled aside for her brother to land beside her.

Soft grass spread out on either side, dotted with well manicured gardens. A high security cell, yet it was very well tended. Gardening was likely one of the tasks the inmates were assigned. A breath of fresh air. Get back to nature.

She rose and dusted herself off as she checked over the map. The only way in was through the tall gate on her left. Once she was past that, they’d be faced by a back door, which would need unlocking.

Espio was already ahead of her, picking the cast iron lock on the gate while Vector kept an eye open beyond it. Tsunami peered up at the windows of the building as she joined the space pirate’s side.

“All right. You say you’ve faced GUN before,” she said. “What do you expect beyond this point?”

“The threat of death if you don’t keep your voice down,” the crocodile growled.

Tsunami’s hand clasped around her laser but she didn’t draw it. A soft clink drew her eye back to the gate, and Espio discarded the padlock in the grass. The gate swung open, creaking on its hinges. They all froze, searching the shadows beyond it.

Two red lights glinted by the wall, and two wheel-like robots rolled out from them. Lasers fired from the lights and Tsunami and her allies scattered. Before she could even draw her laser, one of the robots faltered as a shuriken embedded itself in its face. The other one was reduced to shrapnel as Crash burst through it. He stood over it like a gladiator, brushing metal shards off his scales and gloves.

“They weren’t grade-3,” he said.

‘I never said all of them were grade-3,’ came Decode’s voice. ‘I said ‘some’.’

Tsunami shook her head at his words and rushed to the door, just before Espio could reach it. A hand print recognition panel faced her. Simple hack job. She removed her computer but the chameleon shooed her aside.

“I had this,” she growled.

“Hacking’s my forte.” He leveled his computer with the panel. “I’ll have us inside faster than you can blink.”

“Didn’t you bust the reader in your last little job?”

He shrugged. “I was in a rush.”

Sparks flew from the sides of the panel and each one of the locks clicked open. Then the lights above the reader went out. Espio’s spine stiffened and he glanced at her over his shoulder with a sheepish grin.

“I think we’re in,” he said.

Tsunami slammed her hand into her muzzle and groaned. “We are so gonna die.”

Vector shoved the door open and led them inside with Crash. The corridor lit up red and Tsunami flinched as a deep siren roared in her ears. She cracked an eye open as a small army of wheel robots rushed at them. She picked off the front one with a shot from her laser, while the rest were demolished by Crash and Vector.

Then the siren stopped.

‘Guys, I warned you the tech guys might get security back online,’ said Decode. ‘I’m in a battle with them, but I don’t know how long I can hold them off. You’re gonna have to be quick. That jackal isn’t far from you. You want to follow the corridor to the asylum. Do not continue straight, or you’ll find yourself in the labs.’

“Maybe we want the labs,” said Vector.

Tsunami looked up at him with a start. “Decode just said not to go to the labs!”

“But that’s where all the science is!” Vector whispered harshly. “We might find that harness or somethin’.”

“We’re here for the jackal and that’s it.”

She barged past the crocodile and followed the corridor right. Crash followed on her tail, along with a grumpy Vector. There was no sign of Espio and part of her worried he’d gone against their advice and taken to the lab. She muttered to herself and shrugged it off. If he had, then more fool him. She wasn’t about to save his tail.

The corridor was plunged into an eerie red light once more as the siren blared. Footsteps echoed towards them as crimson dots bounced along the walls. Three figures rounded the bend, aiming their rifles at the intruders. Tsunami ducked and skidded along the floor as the lead polecat fired. His yellow eyes widened and he let out a yelp as he was tugged back behind his allies. One of them, a small porcupine, spun on the spot to assist him. But Tsunami brought her tail around in an arc, slamming it into the rodent’s prickly back. He fell face first onto the floor, sending his rifle skittering into the wall. His beaver ally fell down beside him and Crash stood over him dusting off his gloves.

Espio slowly reappeared over the polecat’s unconscious body and nodded to the bend the soldiers had come from.

“I say we go that way,” he said over the siren.

Tsunami checked the map on her visor and nodded. The other bend led towards another exit, leading out into the sports ground. If it came to it, that might be their quickest getaway.
The prison fell into silence again as Decode won the war with the tech staff. Tsunami retrieved one of the rifles and tossed it to Vector.

“You any good with one of these?” she asked.

He scratched his head as he stared down at it, then shrugged. “I can give it a go.”

“Don’t shoot to kill,” she growled.

The crocodile raised his hands then looped the strap over his shoulder. “Wouldn’t dream of it.”
Crash and Tsunami took the other two rifles and followed Espio into the next corridor. The smell of citrus and ammonia filled the air, and a yellow ‘wet floor’ cone stood in their path. They trod carefully, sidestepping the cone, and Tsunami noted an air vent. A red light rolled back and forth beyond it as the little robot inside checked for the intruders. Full alert, despite the sirens being taken care of.

She motioned for everyone to duck and crept beneath it. The robot’s red light trailed along the wall opposite her as she hugged the pristine tiles, just out of its prying reach. The red light vanished as a flurry of sparks erupted above her. A kunai stuck out of the grille, electricity dancing along its blade. The chameleon grabbed it by the leather-wrapped handle and shook it a few times.

“That solves that problem,” he said.

Tsunami wanted to bite back, but the pirate had a point. If they needed to get away quickly, a spying tattle-tale would only slow them down.

Heavy footsteps shook the walls and she turned back to the passage ahead. A looming shadow bounded along the wall, with two glowing red spots searching as the robot turned its head. Its huge metallic bulk took up the width of the corridor, and it hoisted a machine gun in its clawed right hand.

“Now that one’s grade-3,” said Crash.

Bullets erupted from its gun, peppering the walls and cracking the tiles. Tsunami dropped into a ball and grimaced as the hot bullets bounced off her hard scales. The gun whirred to a stop and the robot lowered it to reload.

Tsunami stood up, removing her pilfered sniper rifle. But Vector placed a hand on it as he stared the robot down.

“The big guy and I have got this,” he said. “You two find a way around, and we’ll join you in the asylum.”

Crash lifted his fists and nodded, casting her a sideways glance. She tucked the rifle back and turned to the air vent. The robot’s gun whirred to life once more and she dropped from it, lifting her tail to shield her face. But it wasn’t enough. Heat seared her shoulder and she clenched her teeth together, curling her tail over it. As the attack petered out, someone grabbed her collar and dragged her into the air vent. She fixed her blue eyes on Espio’s and let out a flustered breath.

“I was fine,” she said.

“You’re welcome.”

He turned and scurried on all-fours down through the pipe. She shook her head and crawled after him, resisting the urge to curl up and barrel along past him. He was quick, vanishing around bends long before she could reach them. She clambered over the sparking remains of a cleaning robot, pausing only to make sure its camera wasn’t functioning. When she found Espio, he was peering through a vent into a vacant hallway. One of the lights strobed, making every small movement he made look like a stop-motion animation.

“I think this is it,” he whispered.

She leant over his head, scouting out the hallway and her map at the same time. It was definitely it. She nodded and he popped the vent free, slipping out before her like water off a cliff.

She landed beside him and drew her laser. But it was quiet. Too quiet. Espio darted from her side towards one of the cells. Glass-fronted. She trotted to join him and turned her back, aiming her laser down the corridor towards where Vector and Crash should be coming from. A brief explosion, lighting up the tiles. Either the robot had been destroyed, or Crash had resorted to his flash bombs.

Tsunami turned to the cell and squinted into it. Dark, but she could just make out the lithe form of someone sitting against the far wall. Espio hacked into the first door without reducing it to a sparking mess. He held it open and ushered her inside, keeping a gold eye on the corridor. A long control panel stretched beneath the wide, heavy duty glass window. Soundproof? If the prisoner was asleep, then the only way to get his attention was to use the intercom.

She jabbed the button and spoke into the microphone. “Hello?”

“What are you doing?” Espio hissed.

She ignored him, watching as the prisoner shifted against the wall.

“You’re new,” he said. “They don’t usually send night staff. What is it? Someone broken out and you’re making sure it’s not me?”

“I’m not staff,” she said. “We’re here to get you out.”

Espio’s tail flicked behind him as he frantically checked the corridor, shuriken poised at the ready.

“So you’re what all the fuss is about?” The jackal laughed and pushed himself to his feet. “Then I guess I should let you know they’re recording everything you say?”

She tutted and frowned at the control panel. “I don’t think it really matters. It’s not as if they don’t know we’re here.”

A few shouts reached her ears and Espio leapt from the glass to intersect the soldiers. But Vector and Crash were already on their tails.

“Well this should be interesting,” said the jackal. “You might want to make it quick.”

She aimed her laser at the hand print panel and fired, frying the wires. Then she tried the door. Nothing. She muttered to herself and grabbed the sparking wires. Static shot up her arm and she clenched her teeth as she tugged them free. The door clicked open, swinging out towards her. The jackal’s black and white form lumbered through it, his claws clinking on the tiles. She took a step back as she looked into his eyes, both amused and curious. And slightly mad. He gave her a toothy grin behind a cast iron muzzle and nudged her back towards the corridor with his snout.

“Get a move on, lass.”

Vector and Crash had overwhelmed the soldiers, but yet more were pouring in from both sides. She turned back to the jackal and slipped behind him. He tried to turn to watch her, and leapt away when she reached for his bindings.

“I’m not going to hurt you,” she said bluntly.

She reached under her skirt for one of her throwing knives and grabbed the back of his straight jacket. He twisted from her grip and flashed his canines in a snarl.

“I don’t trust anyone with pointy things,” he said.

She stared up at him, noting his scar and mismatched eyes. His muzzle had been rubbed raw in places, and the straight jacket was singed on his left side. His chest heaved as he stared at the dagger in her hand, eyes growing more frantic. Whatever went on behind the walls of this ‘high security cell’ was becoming wildly questionable.

“I’m just trying to free your arms,” she said. “You’re not going to make a quick get-away tied up like that, are you?”

He glanced up at her face, reading her. But his expression didn’t soften. Regardless, he gave a curt nod and turned his back. He tensed as she grabbed the fabric of the over-sized sleeves. The blade cut through the canvas, snagging on the stiff threads. He did the rest, tugging the material apart and letting out a sigh of relief. He rubbed at his elbows and let out a dry chuckle.

“Finally!”

He flailed the long sleeves like a pair of wings, laughing like a maniac. Then he grabbed the right one in his left hand and tore it off at the elbow. Just the one. Then he made for the door. Tsunami stared after him, aghast. Then she gave herself a mental shake and rushed out to join her allies, laser at the ready.

A large body fell down before her, sending her stumbling back into the glass room. The jackal flicked blood from his claws and turned to face the rest of the soldiers. Bullets tore through the air, desperate to take him down. Yet he laughed, vaulting over their heads to strike them in their backs. Shouts and screams filled the cell, bullets and lasers bounced off the tiles, and all Tsunami could do was cower behind the glass wondering what on earth she’d just unleashed. She spotted Crash and Vector beyond the glass as they barreled through the soldiers rushing the jackal’s back. He glanced back at them and nodded, then abandoned the massacre towards the exit.

The siren cut through the air again as the corridor lights turned red. Yet the flickering one still strobed like a club light. Tsunami found herself dragged to her feet and Espio materialized beside her. He ushered her ahead of him and they followed after their allies. It wasn’t difficult. The jackal had left a trail of bloody paw-prints on the pristine tiles.

“I’m starting to regret this,” she muttered. “No one was meant to die.”

“At least he’s on our side,” said Espio.

She fired him a venomous look and he shrugged.

“I’m not disagreeing with you,” he said. “I didn’t want any casualties either.”

They found Vector and Crash by the door while the jackal watched them hacking away at the lock. One that needed a code as opposed to a hand print. He sucked on a claw, glancing nervously back up the corridor. Espio cut between them and took over, reducing the code panel to sparks in an instant.

“There’s an army out there,” said the jackal. “I can hear them.”

Tsunami stared at the door. She couldn’t hear anything. Was it all a ruse?

“Decode?” she said. “What’s the situation in the sports ground?”

‘Is that the exit you’re choosing?’ The bush baby sounded surprised. ‘I thought you were coming back out in the gardens?’

“That was the plan, but we were ambushed.”

‘I’ll have a look now.’ He hummed to himself as he brought up the cameras. ‘Yikes. There’s a small army waiting.’

Tsunami exchanged a glance with Crash’s raised eyebrow, and he looked up at the jackal behind her.

“How small?” she asked.

‘Twenty or so GUN soldiers. All armed. And a handful of grade-3 robots.’

She let out a groan and rubbed her muzzle. “He’s right. There’s an army.”

The jackal waved his bloodied hand at his large ears. “Told you I could hear them.”

Espio froze with a hand on the door. He looked back at his allies then at the corridor.

“I don’t think we have time to go back and find another exit,” he said.

“I can handle an army,” said the jackal. “Not like this, however… you’d need to release me.”

Vector flexed his hands as he eyed the prisoner’s collar. “It looks too sturdy to break.”

“They use a code,” said the jackal. “I think your small purple friend could do it.”

“Wait.” Tsunami cut before the two reptiles. “We’ve had enough casualties.”

Vector frowned at her over Espio’s head. “We need to get out, Nami, or we’re gonna get killed.”

Crash shifted and leant back on the door. “I’m afraid I’m with Vector on this one.”

Tsunami sighed and leant against the wall. “Look, we can’t kill anymore soldiers. If we do, we’ll end up wanted criminals.”

“I think after this we’re already wanted criminals,” said Crash.

“Still, we shouldn’t be mindlessly killing anyone!”

The jackal folded his arms and stared down at her. “I don’t think they hold the same sentiment.”

She rubbed her nose then met his eyes. “Can you cut us a path without taking any lives?”

An unsettling smirk tugged at his lips and if it weren’t for the wall she feared she’d be shrinking back from it.

“I need an answer,” she said.

He closed his eyes and shrugged. “I can try.”

“That’s all I need to hear!” Vector clapped his hands together and reached for the collar. “Let’s get this thing off. Espio?”

“On it!” The chameleon motioned for the jackal to crouch down so he could work at the lock.

Tsunami joined her brother’s side and gave the trio a nervous glance.

“Somehow I think they would have done this without even thinking,” she whispered.

Crash shrugged and glanced back at the door. “If it gets us out safely, I’m not complaining.”

“Why do I feel like you’ve enjoyed this way too much?”

“Oh come on, the entire thing has been a massive train wreck.” He grinned at her. “Not that I don’t enjoy smashing up robots. But it’s little wonder these buffoons are even still alive.”

“Got it!” Vector pulled the bulky collar away.

The jackal rose to his feet, rubbing at his neck.

‘Things might be a little more in your favour,’ said Decode. ‘The soldiers have apprehended another ship.’

“What?” Tsunami gasped. “What ‘other ship’?”

‘A black one,’ said Decode. ‘Two pirates dropped out into the sports yard. It’s as if they’re on some kinda suicide mission.’

Her lip curled in a frown as she stared at the door. It slowly lit up red and her spine began to tingle. She turned to face the jackal. A crimson haze surrounded his hands, one still completely hidden behind the draping sleeve of his straitjacket.

“You might wanna stand back,” he said.

She didn’t need telling twice. She stood back with Crash, and a deep pulsing noise filled the corridor. It pressed on her eardrums and she lifted her hands to tug her scales down over her ears. The entire door exploded into crimson shards, raining outward like tiny throwing knives. Startled yelps came from the rubble and the guards scurried back, raising their arms to shield themselves.

The jackal led them out into the yard, tossing out a flurry of crimson cubes. The path ahead of them warped, exploding with geysers of soil and rock. Soldiers were tossed into the air like rag-dolls. Bullets rained out from the robots’ machine guns, drawing the jackal’s focus. His attack cut out as if it had just been switched off and he dived to dodge the bullets.

The pangolin twins curled up, barging after him and scattering any soldiers brave enough to intersect them like bowling pins. The Chaotix covered the rear, firing their weapons into the fray. One of Espio’s blades hit one of the robots in the eye, sending it falling backwards to crush the soldiers unfortunate enough to be hiding behind it.

Then the jackal unleashed his attack again, this time sending the soldiers into a pool of red. They rained back down from the sky, landing heavily on the tarmac. All but one. The blue blur shot towards him, homing in on his head. But he spotted the attack, lashing out with his sleeved arm. The canvas whipped out, fastening around the target’s leg. A blue hedgehog found himself dragged back towards the ground. He grunted as the wind left his lungs and the jackal kicked him aside with a raucous laugh.

“Not this time!” he roared.

Tsunami searched the sky. They needed to get out of here fast. But all she could see was the black ship.

“Decode, where are you?”

As if on cue, The Raptor dropped its cloak. It was just ahead of them, its ladder already descending. She fixed her sights on it and nodded until the jackal got the message. He turned back to the prison and tossed the soldiers back that way. One after the other, with his strange portholes. As the battlefield cleared, Tsunami spotted a black shape skulking below her ship, sheltered by a yellow skip.

Her heart sank and she clenched her teeth together. “You have to be kidding me?”

Rough’s red eyes widened when he spotted her and he ducked slightly back into his hiding spot. It was clear he’d been planning to hijack their ship in a bid to escape.

“Slight change of plan!” she roared.

Vector watched after her as she darted towards the skip. A bullet skimmed her shoulder and she fired back with her laser. The fox yelped as he dropped his rifle, staggering back over his two tails. A robot dog whimpered at his side, cowering slightly as it checked over its handler.

Rough gave her a sheepish grin. “Hey there, beautiful. Fancy meeting you h-eep!”

She tugged him out from behind the skip by his ruff. “What are you doing here?! And where’s your brother?”

His face fell and he looked back at the soldiers. Tsunami couldn’t see any sign of the cream skunk, but his answer was obvious. She muttered to herself and shoved him ahead of her towards her ship’s ladder.

“How did you even find us?” she hissed.

“I’m good at trackin’ people,” he answered bluntly.

“So you’d track someone right to your death?” she spat.

“How were I meant to-”

“Hurry up onto my ship before I let them turn you into a plush rug!”

The jackal and Crash were already clambering up towards The Raptor. Rough followed after the prisoner, sandwiched between Vector.

Vector spluttered and waved a hand. “Keep that thing outta my face, skunk. I think I’m allergic!”

Rough sneered down at him and flicked his tail out of the crocodile’s nose. “You’re meant to be! That’s the point!”

Tsunami silently mourned the fate of her ship as she clutched onto the ladder. Espio had been waiting patiently for her before climbing on himself. He held on behind her then the ladder began to rise, lifting them out of reach of the soldier’s weapons. Not that they could do anything. The jackal had thrown up some kind of protective shield. But she kept her laser trained on the ground below. Utter chaos. Upturned ground, robot shrapnel, bodies… too many casualties. Despite her wishes, the deranged jackal had still managed to kill several soldiers with his crazy portholes.

Although it was safe to say if he hadn’t been with them, they wouldn’t have made it out alive. It was clear why GUN had dubbed him ‘Project Wreckingball’.

Crash helped her through the door and she stumbled into the bridge, clutching her wounded shoulder.

“Cloak and run,” she told Decode.

His slender hands flew over the controls and the ship moved out at a steady pace. She turned to the rest of her ‘team’. A mixture of accomplishment, confusion and guilt. The jackal fell into the middle category as he eyed the various controls and lights.

“Okay. You,” she pointed to the jackal, then Rough, “and you! Brig!”

Vector, Espio and Rough each let out yells of surprise. The skunk pointed at himself and sank back against the wall.

“You’re lockin’ me up?”

“You tailed us!” she snapped. “You attacked us on the docks! And then you were trying to get on my ship? What else am I supposed to do?!”

“I was tryin’ to escape!” he snapped. “They arrested my brother and took my ship! I were trapped!”

Tsunami spoke through clenched teeth. “It’s your own fault.”

Rough sighed into his hand then shrugged. “Fine. Do whatever. I ain’t complainin’. At least I’m alive.”

The jackal watched them both out of his golden eye. “And what, may I ask, is a brig?”

“A holding cell,” said Decode.

The jackal made a thoughtful noise and stroked his chin. “So you bust me from one cell to throw me into another?”

The Chaotix stiffened and Vector began to move out of the bridge. Tsunami feigned fearlessness as she met the prisoner’s eyes.

“What do I call you?” she asked.

“Infinite,” he said.

“Strange name.”

He shrugged and turned to face her. “So what was your reason for freeing me, exactly?”

“For your own good,” she said. “But then you went and massacred the soldiers!”

“So let me get this straight.” He stooped so he was eye-level with her, the chains on his muzzle clinking as they strained. “You’re gonna lock me up again, right after busting me out?”

His voice was iced with warning. She clenched a fist at her side. He noticed, flashing a canine in response.

“Not if you co-operate,” she said.

“You sound just like them,” he growled.

A brief silence fell over the bridge, and Tsunami searched his eyes for any sign of friendliness. She saw none, and it unsettled her greatly.

“Sheesh,” said Vector. “Those guys never gave you a chance, did they?”

Infinite shook his head slowly.

Tsunami closed her eyes and sighed. She wasn’t about to be like them. Maybe he’d never had the chance to show anyone his friendly side. There was only one way to see if he actually had one.

“Fine,” she said. “I won’t lock you up. I’ll… show you to a room. You can rest, get cleaned up, get rid of that… garment.” She waved a hand to his tattered straitjacket.

He grinned and rose again. “All right. Deal.”

She led him from the bridge, pausing beside Rough. She narrowed her eyes and waved a hand at him.

“I want this out of my sight by the time I get back,” she said.

“Roger!” said Crash.

She nodded and led Infinite down the corridor, past several closed rooms. She stopped at one and opened it. A spare room perchance they had any guests. Some mercenary missions had been simple transfer jobs that meant they had people on board for a couple of days or so. Despite its lack of use, there wasn’t a speck of dust in sight. Omachao had been hard at work keeping everything spotless.

Infinite sank onto the bed and bounced a couple of times. “Not bad.”

But before he could fall onto his back, Tsunami stopped him and pulled out a lock pick.

“I don’t think you need a muzzle, now, do you?” she asked.

“I dunno…” He scratched behind his right ear and chuckled. “I guess that depends on how much you trust me.”

She didn’t. But she wasn’t exactly going to tell him that. Instead, she seated herself beside him and swiftly picked the lock fastened over the back of his head. He made a strange grunting sound that reminded her of a disgruntled pig she’d tried to strike a deal with once. But she didn’t question it. The lock came apart with a soft click and Infinite swiped the muzzle off. It landed in his lap and he stretched out his jaw.

“Thank goodness for that,” he muttered.

He leered down at the muzzle and a red haze surrounded his hand. Tsunami plucked the iron torture device from his lap and stood up quickly.

“I’ll dispose of this,” she said.

The haze fizzled out and he watched her walk to the door. “Are you usually this much of a buzzkill?”

“Depends who you ask.” She pulled the door open and glanced back at him. “Shower is at the back of the ship. It’s pretty self explanatory. Don’t go too far, though, or you’ll find yourself in the brig.”

She closed the door behind her, leaving the jackal to his own devices. She wasn’t sure how much of a good idea that was, however.
 

DeliriousAbsol

*Crazy Absol Noises*
Staff
Location
Behind a laptop, most likely with tea
Pronouns
She/Her
Chapter Five​

Books and files went flying as Gadget flipped over his desk with a roar, sending his computer shattering to the floor to join the cracked test tubes and glass tumblers. He kicked out at a small chair which went careening into the wall. The tiles cracked as it struck it, and one of the screws launched itself from its backrest to ping into the empty filing cabinet. The wolf leapt towards it, slamming the drawers shut repeatedly until the entire thing fell sideways to crush his wounded chair.

“Doc?”

He bristled and spun towards the door, meeting the emerald eyes of a blue hedgehog.

“This had better be good news!” Gadget barked.

Sonic clicked his tongue and turned from the door. “I can come back later.”

“Just tell me you’ve found him!”

Gadget’s voice froze the hedgehog mid-dash. He turned back to the door and shrugged. Then strolled into the office, stepping around the broken glass.

“That pirate knows nothing,” he explained. “He said they were here on the back of a rumour. All he can remember is that the Chaotix captain Vector referred to it as ‘Project Wreckingball’. Although it did take him a while to get that right.”

Gadget clenched his right hand into a fist. “So they managed to gain access to those files after all?”

“Apparently.”

“I thought you said your companion was a genius? That he’d coded it so no one except GUN could open those files safely!”

“Hey, Tails is a genius. But it doesn’t mean there aren’t any professional hackers out there who can-”

Gadget lifted a hand to silence him then stooped to drag his chair free from beneath the filing cabinet. The hollow metal contraption struck the floor with a loud clatter.

“What else did the skunk say?” he asked. “Anything that might actually point us in the right direction?”

Sonic shrugged again and leant against the wall. “He never saw the file, and neither did his brother. He said they wouldn’t have given it the time of day, too busy with their own jobs. But his brother has a crush on Datastream’s squad leader and it drove him after them.”

Gadget stood up straight to look at him. “A pirate and a mercenary? Interesting.”

“It sounds like a case of ‘wrong place at the wrong time’ if you ask me,” said Sonic. “I’d be all set to let the skunk go, if he wasn’t involved.”

“No. No, don’t do that.” Gadget flopped into his seat. The backrest wobbled so he leant forward on his knees and stared at the hedgehog. “We can use that pirate as bait.”

Sonic raised an eyebrow, prompting the scientist to elaborate. A smirk tugged at the wolf’s lips.

“You said Datastream rescued that skunk’s brother?” he said. “That suggests to me we could use him to bait them all back here. You don’t just rescue someone you don’t care about. I want each and every one of those behind bars, waiting to fry.”

“But the skunk brothers aren’t-”

“Aren’t what?” Gadget snapped. “Involved? Because it sounds to me like they are. If that small one is in their company, how much does he know, Sonic?”

The hedgehog fell silent and scratched his quills, glancing back to the door.

“We were wrong to hire Datastream to take out the Chaotix,” Gadget went on. “Those sleazy pirates have managed to worm their way in and turn them against us. Now all that information is out there for Mainframe to see. It was bad enough you went soft and let that rumor slip out in the first place.”

Sonic flinched and narrowed his eyes at the wolf. Gadget met his glare head on and smirked.

“I think we need to get creative,” he said. “Find out what that pirate can do. And if nothing, well… I think a little bait to our targets might be in order. I’ll send a message out to the higher ups to put a reward out for Datastream and… what is that other pirate’s name?”

“I believe he’s called Rough, Doc.”

“Him, too. And crank up the Chaotix bounty a tad.” Gadget rose to start gathering up his paperwork. “In the meantime, take your little buddy and track down Infinite. Preferably before he destroys all of Mainframe. I think we’ve had enough casualties, don’t you?”

Sonic nodded and zipped from the room, kicking up loose bits of paper into the air. Gadget stared after him then idly pawed at his scarred ear. Then with a sigh he returned to his tidying.

“I’ll make you pay for this, jackal.”

...​

Sonic tapped at the door to the little house then tried the handle. Locked. A soft whir resounded above his head and he looked up into the lens of a small camera. He flashed a toothy grin and a peace-sign, then the locks snapped and clicked inside the door. He tried the handle again, and the door opened smoothly inward.

Tails hunched over his workbench with his back to Sonic, but T-Pup let out a playful bark. Sonic paused to pat the robot between the ears.

“How ya doin’ buddy?” he said.

T-Pup barked again and wagged his antenna of a tail.

Sonic joined Tails side beside the bench. “So what are you working on?”

The fox looked up from his work and raised his sniper rifle in one hand. His expression was blank, but he nodded to it anyway.

“Ah.” Sonic grimaced. “Still pretty bitter that merc shot it outta your hand then?”

Tails returned to his work and T-Pup let out a low growl.

“It won’t happen again.” Tails voice was void of emotion. “I’ve installed an automatic shield. When any weapon fire comes my way, the rifle will detect it and block the bullets.”

“You can do that?” Sonic gasped.

“I can do anything.”

T-Pup panted and wagged his tail slowly.

“If it’s that simple,” Sonic said, “then why haven’t all GUN agents got them installed?”

“Because I just invented it.” Tails looked up at him again. “Besides, it’s a prototype. And it’s only meant to protect my hands.”

“So you can’t make it big enough to protect all of you?”

“No.” Tails finished screwing the nut back into the side of his rifle. “Too heavy and clunky. But at least they can’t disarm me so easily next time.”

“Well, you’re gonna want to bring it with you.”

The fox stood back from his workbench and met Sonic’s eyes, prompting him to continue.

“Gadget’s sent us after Infinite,” Sonic explained. “We need to track him down and bring him back.”

T-Pup whimpered and moved closer to Tails.

“Not possible,” he said.

“Don’t be like that,” said Sonic. “There’s just the two of us. We can be sneaky, unlike an army. Take him by surprise.”

“Fair point.” The fox paused and inclined his head on one side. “Does Gadget want him alive?”

“Of course he does.”

Tails shrugged and moved towards the weapon rack beside the door. “Then we don’t want a rifle, do we?”

“I’d take it,” said Sonic. “You can always shoot to wound, not kill.”

“With his regeneration rate, that would be fairly pointless.”

“Huh, I hadn’t considered that. Come on, Sonic.” He smacked a palm to the side of his head.
Tails examined him for a moment, his blank expression making it all the more uncomfortable.

“When did you last sleep?” he asked.

Sonic shrugged. “Two nights ago? I’ve… not really had the chance.”

T-Pup let out a long whine and brushed up against his legs. Sonic stooped to rub between his ears.

“Then you’re not exactly going to be in top form, are you?” said Tails.

“I’m more worried about the affect this is having on Aya.”

Sonic paused and hugged an arm around himself, staring at the barricaded door. The sheer thought that Gadget’s warped plan could cost him yet more time with his wife sickened him. But it was safer to just comply with the wolf’s plans. He’d seen what GUN could do to those who went against them.

“Sleep is a necessity,” said Tails. “If you go out like that, you’re only going to jeopardize the mission.”

Sonic rolled his eyes and returned to petting T-Pup. The little dog robot wagged its tail, but concern was written all over its mechanical eyes.

“I’ve worked on less sleep,” said Sonic.

“But this isn’t just your run-of-the-mill criminal,” said Tails. “Nor is he a GUN spy. He’s an alien with unfathomable powers we don’t yet understand. You saw what he did.”

“Are you more concerned for the mission or for me?”

T-Pup stuck out its metal tongue to lap at Sonic’s gloved hand.

“Concern is irrelevant,” said Tails.

Sonic clenched his jaw and dug his fingers into his knee.

“I suggest you get a nap at least,” said Tails. “I’ll wake you in a couple of hours. Then we can go over a plan of action.”

Sonic rose and tried to catch his friend’s eye, but the fox was too occupied with the maintenance of his tranquilizer gun.

“You’re not gonna give me any choice, are you?” he asked.

Tails shook his head.

Sonic let out a sigh of defeat and sought out Tail’s bedroom. It was the only place to lie down, given the rest of his small house was a greasy workshop and the bare necessities. He perched on the edge of the lumpy mattress and caught T-Pup’s wide robot eyes by the door. The robot chihuahua beamed when he noticed it and pottered into the room, kicking the door shut behind it. It stopped at his feet and sat down, metal tongue lolling from its mouth and spindly tail beating the wooden floor like a cartoon mutt.

Sonic gave it a weak smile. “GUN sure have ruined us, hey, buddy?”

He spoke quietly enough so as not to alert Tails. He didn’t need one of his robotic lectures.

T-Pup’s smile fell and it let out a low whine. Sonic was convinced if the bot could cry, it would.

“Aya’s gonna be mad when she finds out I won’t be home again tonight,” he went on. “At this rate I’ll never even see my daughter grow up.”

T-Pup nuzzled his leg and made a strange squeaky sound he’d not heard it make before. He wondered if it was an attempt at speech.

“I know,” said Sonic. “I’ll ring her later. Maybe wake me up before Tails does?”

T-Pup nodded once.

Sonic sighed and kicked his feet up onto the bed. Then he let out a yawn and fell back into the pillow. “Well, I suppose I’d better get that nap. Crime doesn’t catch itself.”

T-Pup yipped and he cracked an eye back open. The dog stood on its hind legs with its feet on the edge of the mattress. Its eyes were warm and questioning.

Sonic smiled at it and winked. “Just a glass of water? Thanks, bud.”

T-Pup panted happily and skipped from the room, tail wagging.

...​

Tsunami tossed the iron muzzle into the bridge’s trash chute, drawing the eyes of the Chaotix and Decode. Espio lay sprawled in Crash’s chair with his feet up on the control deck. Vector cocked an eyebrow and glanced over her shoulder into the hallway.

“So you unmuzzled the maniac?” he asked.

“Of course.” She wiped her hands down the front of her dress and flopped into her seat. “It wouldn’t have been fair to leave him muzzled. I don’t agree with those torture devices anyway.”

“Whoever invented those things needs to have their head checked,” Decode said without looking up from his work.

“So you removed it because you thought it was cruel?” Vector scoffed and waved towards his computer. “It was apparently necessary. He bites! It’s in his records!”

“If he bites any of us, I’ll box his ears,” said Tsunami. “Besides, you’re the one who wanted to bust him out so he can ‘help you overthrow Eggman’. What, would you have just left him restrained?”

“No, I…” Vector scratched beneath his headphones and exchanged glances with Espio.

“I think it’s a bit late to have doubts,” said the chameleon. “He’s out. He’s on this ship. Let’s just… make the most of it.”

Tsunami groaned and slid down her seat. “Do you guys never think things through?”

“Yes,” said the two pirates.

“But you saw what he did,” Vector went on. “He were ruthless!”

“Yes, and we survived because of him!” Tsunami snapped.

“It were terrifying. I ain’t never seen nothin’ like it,” said Vector. “But… if he’s on our side, then we stand a fighting chance. Right?”

“And he’s out of GUN’s hands,” said Espio. “That was the main point after all.”

Tsunami narrowed her eyes at the space pirates. “You sound like you’d put him back if it was an option.”

Vector closed his eyes and shook his head. “Not at all. I don’t trust GUN with him. If it weren’t for that control harness they’re makin’, I don’t think I would have given this cause a second thought. There ain’t no way I’m goin’ back on myself now.” He leant forward and placed both hands on the control deck to steady himself. “It’s just… how do you reason with someone like that?”

“With words.”

Tsunami narrowed her eyes at him. As much as she agreed, the pirate’s sudden change of attitude grated on her. What would they have done if they’d been doing this without Datastream? Would they have panicked and dropped Infinite somewhere in Mainframe? Just left him to his own devices? Or would they have done something foolish and gotten themselves slaughtered? Whatever the case, she found herself wondering why she even cared. As soon as they were back in Pulse City, the Chaotix were leaving her ship and taking the maniac with them. It would be out of her hands.

She gave a quick glance around the bridge and tutted. “Where’s the bee?”

“Helpin’ your brother lock up Rough,” said Vector.

“Although I think it’s more of an excuse to explore your ship,” added Espio.

“And it’s awesome!” Charmy buzzed back into the bridge with Crash in tow. “So shiny and big! It makes ours look like a peanut!”

Tsunami craned her neck around to talk to her brother over the back of her seat.

“How is our little stalker?” she asked.

“Don’t you mean your stalker?” Crash shooed Espio from his seat and fell down into it. “He isn’t happy but he didn’t complain. I think he’s just glad to be alive.”

“What do you plan on doing with him?” Espio asked.

Tsunami met the pirate’s gold eyes then shrugged. “I don’t know. It feels kinda wrong to turn him in.” She paused and flicked out her computer to idly browse it. “Besides, he’s not exactly one of Mainframe’s ‘most wanted’, so why make the effort? I think I’ll just toss him out onto Pulse City docks.”

“Check again.” Crash turned his computer to face her.

Tsunami’s eyes widened as she glanced over it. Rough’s photo glared out at her, and beneath it a reward for ten thousand credits. Something gnawed in her gut and she scoffed and turned back to her own computer.

“Still isn’t worth it.” The words had only been intended to cover up that awful feeling. Why did turning him in even bother her? He was just a pirate.

“Besides, I wouldn’t take the risk,” said Decode. “We turn him into GUN, they’ll also toss us into an electric-fueled cell. We’d be toast.”

Tsunami’s spine stiffened. She brought up the page for Mainframe’s wanted list, each tap cranking up a feeling of dread. Sure enough, in the newly listed section, she found herself staring back at her own photo, along with Crash’s and Decode’s.

Forty thousand credits. Each. The same applied for the Chaotix.

“Funny how they’ve not put up Infinite’s photo, eh?” said Vector.

“Oh, his is out there,” said Espio as he tucked away his own computer. “But it’s only advertised to GUN agents.”

“He’s right,” said Decode. “Here. Have a look.”

“You haven’t seriously hacked into GUN’s files again?” Tsunami groaned.

“Of course,” he said. “It won’t make an ounce of difference now, will it?”

He beckoned them over, and they all gathered around the bush baby. There on the screen was Infinite’s scowling mugshot. Reward, one hundred and fifty thousand credits. ‘Danger’ was printed above his head. And below it, ‘Wanted for Reasons of Scientific Interest’.

“Interesting,” said Crash.

“Like those black hedgehog posters all over Pulse City,” said Charmy. “Why do GUN want science?”

“We already know why they want Infinite, Charmy,” said Espio.

His golden eyes narrowed at the picture and he took a step back. Tsunami glanced back at him, wondering if he was eating those words about the black hedgehog being ‘bait’ for pirates.

“I’m beginning to wonder if Crash’s worries were right,” said Tsunami. “Maybe GUN are wanting to build some kind of super-powered army.”

“What can I say?” Crash shrugged. “I’m a genius.”

“Oh great!” Vector threw his arms in the air and pulled up the nearest seat. “Now I’m even more anxious!”

“I know how you feel,” said Espio. “This has just put this entire thing into perspective. If GUN do manage to get both of these people and turn them into weapons, what happens to Mainframe?”

“It becomes one giant ruin.”

The rough voice drew their eyes to the door. Infinite stood dripping with water, scowling at the flashing lights along the bridge’s walls and control deck. Tsunami stifled a gasp when she spotted the large, triangular red gem embedded beneath his long white ruff. He shook out his fur and Tsunami lifted her arms against the explosion of water droplets.

“We have fur driers for a reason!” she snapped.

“Forget it.” He stepped into the bridge, leaving wet footprints. “Those abominations make me look like a plush toy.”

He placed both hands on the control deck and peered out of the windscreen at the fluffy clouds.

“The way you said that makes me think you know they want to turn you into a weapon,” said Tsunami.

Infinite grunted, not taking his eyes off the skyscape.

“So… what, did they tell you?” asked Crash.

The jackal fired a sideways glance through his golden eye. “Not exactly.”

“I don’t follow.” Tsunami narrowed her eyes and leant back on Decode’s chair. “If they didn’t tell you, how did you find out?”

A sly grin spread across Infinite’s muzzle and he turned back to the clouds. “How high up are we?”

“Approximately forty thousand feet,” said Decode. “Although we can go a lot higher.”

Infinite chuckled and pushed himself back from the windscreen. “Perfect. I can work with that.”
He turned and sprinted from the bridge. Tsunami leapt back from Decode’s chair and took off after him with the Chaotix and Crash behind her. They found Infinite by the airlock, messing with the panel beside it.

“What do you think you’re doing?” she squeaked.

“That scientist freak wanted to turn me into a weapon,” he said. “You lot want to use me to stop Eggman.” He turned to look at them, not taking his hand off the control panel. “I don’t work for anyone. I can destroy Eggman and this whole freaky world without your help.”
Tsunami’s jaw went slack, but Crash echoed the words swirling in her head.

“Wait, what?”

Infinite grinned again and red energy crackled around his hand, blasting the control panel.

“So you’re just going to jump out of a flying ship?!” she snapped.

“Exactly.”

“Are you nuts?” said Crash. “You’ll die!”

“Oh I doubt a little leap from forty thousand feet will hurt me.” A smirk tugged at Infinite’s lips. “I’d stay back if I were you,” he purred. “It would be a shame to kill you after you helped me escape. But any alliance you were hoping for ends here. One step, and you’ll meet the same fate waiting for the glorious Eggman.” He spat the last two words, increasing his attack to blast the control panel clean off the wall. “You might want to hold onto something.”

The airlock swirled open, and his maniacal laughter was drowned out by the roar of wind. He was sucked clean from the ship, vanishing into the clouds. The air tugged at Tsunami, dragging her towards the airlock. A firm hand grabbed her arm and pulled her into a warm body. Espio trapped her between himself and the safety rail, and she and her allies clutched on for dear life as the frantic, icy wind whipped at their fur and scales. She screwed her eyes shut and roared towards the bridge.

“Decode! Do something!”

No sooner had the words left her mouth, she crashed down onto the floor. She cracked her eyes open, wondering what on earth the bush baby had just done. A soft tap on her shoulder drew her eye back to the airlock. Espio stood over her, fixated on the closed spiral door. The control panel was back on the wall, no sign of any damage. She pushed herself up and examined it, just to be sure.

“What…” She licked her dry lips and turned back to the closed airlock. “What just…”

Her vision turned fuzzy and she leant against it as her breath came in quick bursts. Crash placed a hand on her shoulder to steady her, yet it still trembled like her racing heart.

“What on earth have we just unleashed on Mainframe?” he asked.

She pushed herself back from the door, desperately trying to still her frantic breathing. The Chaotix weren’t in a better state. Espio was struggling to hold up Vector who appeared about to faint. Something was nagging at her, and it wasn’t Infinite’s threat to destroy Mainframe. She narrowed her eyes at the Chaotix.

“Who told him you wanted his help to remove Eggman?” she growled.

“Don’t look at me,” said Espio.

Vector managed to shake his head and glance up at Charmy. The bee shook his head so hard it became a blur.

Then where had that come from? She ran a hand over her scales and stepped away from Crash.

“Well he’s out there now,” she said. “So unless we want our world reduced to scraps, we need to track him down and stop him! Have we still got that collar?”

“Yes,” said Espio.

She narrowed her eyes at the ninja. “Is it still in one piece?”

“I believe so, but I can check it over.”

“Question.” Vector straightened and adjusted his headphones. “How exactly are we gonna chase after him? He’s on the ground, goodness knows where, with all that power. We don’t even know what he can do, outside of warping reality.”

Tsunami sighed and stared past the crocodile. So they’d need to track him. For that, they’d need a good tracker. Not to mention a lot of fire power. But the latter could wait. First things first.

Who did she know who could track someone without placing a device on their target?

She narrowed her eyes into a glare and hissed through her teeth. “Oh, I can’t believe I’m even considering this.”

She slipped from the airlock and made her way towards the brig.

“You have a plan?” Vector asked.

“It might not be a good one,” she called back, “but it’s all we’ve got for now.”

The brig was a quiet and almost eerie place, filled with empty cells. All but one. A shimmering forcefield extended out from either wall, slightly distorting the blue and white skunk hunched over the bench-like bed. He fixed a crimson eye on her and the hint of a smile tugged at his lips.

“Hey there, beautiful,” he said. “Miss me?”

“You said you tracked my ship,” she said. “Think you can track someone on the ground?”

He clicked his tongue and straightened to meet her eyes. “Who you missin’?”

That smirk told her he knew the answer. He was just toying with her. Sat in her brig, knowing full well she could turn him in. That his life was in her hands. How could he so brazenly toy with her? The corner of her mouth twitched, flashing a brief canine.

“That guy we busted out of GUN’s cells,” she said. “He’s escaped my ship.”

Rough let out a long whistle and leant back on his hands. “So you lost a dangerous criminal?”

“Yes, and I’m going to need your help to track him.” She said each word through clenched teeth.

Rough closed his eyes and chuckled. “What’s in it for me?”

“Your life,” she said.

He met her eyes again and his smirk melted away. “So you were gonna turn me in?”

“Your price has just gone up to ten thousand credits,” she said. “I could use ten thousand.”

His eyes turned impossibly wide and once again the sheer thought twisted her stomach. He hadn’t done anything. He’d just had the misfortune to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Caught up in something he’d merely poked his nose into out of sheer curiosity.

“You help us track him down,” she said slowly, “then I’ll let you go back to your miserable life in Pulse City.”

“Oh, my life weren’t miserable, sweetheart.” He pushed himself up from the bed and moved towards the forcefield. “But it is now.”

She scowled at him, but he didn’t flinch.

“That ain’t a done deal,” he said.

She let out a sigh and inclined her head on one side. “Then what do you want?”

“My brother back.”

She blinked at him, jaw going slack. But he didn’t break eye contact.

“He’s with GUN,” she said flatly.

He shrugged his shoulders. “So? You busted out that jackal. Why not Tumble?”

“We only just barely got away,” she said. “And I’m not usually in the business of breaking out space pirates.”

“Mercs ain’t usually in the business of messin’ in GUN’s plans, either.”

She grimaced and screwed her eyes shut. “Anything else, please.”

“No.”

The pain in his voice snapped her eyes back open.

“I ain’t complete without my brother,” he said. “It’s him or no deal.”

She stared back at him, watching as tears glistened in his eyes.

“I can’t,” she said.

“Please, Nami… They’ll kill him…”

She screwed her eyes shut again and placed a hand over the control panel. The forcefield vanished with an audible ‘whoosh’. A warm hand clasped her shoulder an an affectionate squeeze and she met Rough’s eyes again. Those tears were still there but they’d softened slightly.

“So you’ll-”

She snapped her head away from him to scowl at the floor. “Shut up and get to the bridge before I change my mind.”

He released her and made for the door. She seriously feared she was going to regret this decision. She hesitated briefly as she mulled over the recent events that had led up to this catastrophe, before following after his bushy tail.

She joined the skunk on the bridge and he leant on the control deck to peer from the windscreen. After what had just happened, she half expected him to make the same decision Infinite had. But instead, he stood back and turned to face her.

“If we’re gonna track him,” he said, “I’m gonna need his chip details.”

She blinked a few times and stared at him. “Why on earth-”

“Can’t track what I can’t see.” Rough shrugged, drawing nods of agreement from Espio and Vector. “On the ground, he’d probably leave a trail you could see from the nearest space station. And I’m just goin’ off what I saw during the jail break. But from this height, I need his chip details. If I were to guess, GUN’ll be trackin’ him the same way.”

“He’s not wrong.” Decode clacked away at his computer. “GUN tag all their criminals. It’s against the law to trail your bob-standard innocent civilian, but if you end up in their cells they add a tracking code to keep tabs on you.”

Crash frowned and folded his arms. “I knew they did that, but I thought they removed them once they’d done their time.”

Vector snorted and swiped a paw over his long muzzle. “Shows what you GUN-kissin’ mercs know about your employers.”

Tsunami flashed a canine but bit back the urge to clobber the crocodiles headphones off. Rough just laughed and stepped closer to her.

“Well, if we’re gonna find it,” he said, “we need a hacker.”

“I’m on it,” said Decode.

The skunk’s eyes widened and he joined the bush baby by his chair. Tsunami stared at the back of his head as something nagged at the back of her mind. She frowned and shifted her weight to one leg.

“If you can’t track someone you can’t see,” she said slowly, “then how did you track our cloaked ship?”

“Easy,” said Rough. “Check yer glove.”

The pangolin stiffened and stared down at her gloved hands. The brief memory of him brushing up against her in the bar crossed her mind and she reached into her right cuff. A flat, fabric strip no different to a clothing tag was stuck inside. Soft enough to not even alert her to its presence. On the sticky side, a tiny green chipboard pattern could be seen woven into the fabric.

She fixed livid blue eyes on Rough’s grinning face. “You sneaky little…”

He laughed again and struck the back of Decode’s chair. “What can I say? I didn’t wanna lose track of ya.”

Vector chuckled and gave Rough a wink. “Smooth, Romeo.”

“Got it!” Decode shifted to the side to allow Rough to see his screen. “GUN really need to crank up their frostwalls. That was pitifully easy to get through.”

“Yeah, for you,” Crash scoffed as he fiddled with his spike cuff.

“I tried to teach you to hack,” said Decode. “You’re the one with the attention span of a newly hatched flicky.”

Rough had pulled out his own computer and punched in the seven digit code. With a grin, he kicked himself back from Decode’s chair and rejoined Tsunami’s side.

“I’ve got him,” he said. “He’s in Central City, making a beeline for Station Square.”

“Where are we?” she asked Decode.

The bush baby poked at his navigation screen. “We’re currently hovering over the Beatdrop Capital.”

Tsunami exchanged startled glances with the Chaotix.

“So he’s miles away from us!” Espio gasped.

“How did he get to the center of Mainframe so quickly?!” Tsunami dashed towards her chair. “Turn the ship around! We’re gonna have to be quick, or there might be nothing left of Central City by nightfall.”

“Unless GUN beats us to it,” said Rough.

He was leaning against the arm of Tsunami’s chair. She tried to catch his eye but he was too busy with his tracker.

“Why did you have to say that?” she snapped.

He shrugged. “It’s true though, ain’t it?”

Tsunami clenched her teeth and leant back as Crash steered the ship a full one-eighty.

“You might wanna grab a seat and strap yourselves in,” he said. “Because we’re about to hit the highest speed we can travel in the atmosphere.”
 

DeliriousAbsol

*Crazy Absol Noises*
Staff
Location
Behind a laptop, most likely with tea
Pronouns
She/Her
Chapter Six​

Pink mist swirled beyond manicured rose bushes and Infinite climbed out of it, beating down his front. Not that the pink mist actually clung to him, but you never know. His nose twitched at the fragrant flowers, but movement beyond them drew his eye. Children running back and forth kicking a ball, and a few feet away beneath a tree sat two little girls stringing together daisy chains. His lip curled as he took it all in. The wrought iron fence with its curling vine-like pattern. The cobbled path cleaving a way through pristine flower beds. Trees filled with singing birds and chittering squirrels.

A park.

Not exactly what he'd wanted. That pink mist was a completely new thing to him. Something that had kicked in when he was plummeting towards the ground, warping him to a random part in the city below. He had absolutely no control over where it took him, despite how much he tried.

Well, at least he was away from the staring faces filling the busy main streets and market places. Prying eyes fixing on his mismatched eyes and the giant sparkling ruby in his chest. Expressions that had turned from curiosity to fear when GUN agents had exploded from alleys helicopters to home in on him. He'd ran, until he opted to warp himself in that crazy pink cloud to another random location.

Now he was out of sight he could finally try to get a handle on his powers. Using them took a lot of mental and physical energy, and all it took was a small distraction to break his illusion like fine glass. He needed them if he was going to stay off GUN's radar. Then there were those images flashing through his mind. A confusion of faces and text. It had happened a lot during his first few days in GUN's cell, but the sheer amount of stress had stifled it. Now he at least had a chance to find out what it was.

He fell to his haunches and tried to tune out the chaos in the park. Focus all his attention on those fleeting images. They became clearer, separated out like magazine panels or television screens. Many of them moved. A dainty otter cleaning dishes as the focus zoomed in on the detergent's label. The face of a girl deemed missing. A lop-eared rabbit standing outside an office block as she spoke into a camera.

Infinite let out a chuckle as he came back out of all the images.

"It's the interweb?" He brushed back his mane from his eyes and leant back on his hands. "Oh, now that is interesting. I didn't know the Phantom Ruby could do that…"

No… maybe it wasn't the Phantom Ruby. Hadn't GUN said something about him possessing alien DNA? Something that allegedly aided his regeneration? Then there was something else he'd overheard. 'Chaos Network'. He narrowed his eyes at the grass between his bare feet and frowned. It was all very confusing. But he didn't need or want their help. Not as if they'd even ever offer it. They'd been afraid of him, and with good reason.

Gadget's face crossed his mind and Infinite pulled back his lips from his canines. He clenched a clump of turf in his left hand and tugged it free, crushing it until the wolf faded once again from his mind. Then he pushed himself up, dusting damp soil from his fur and pads.

The familiar drone of a propeller beat against his eardrums and his fur bristled along his spine. He fixed his good eye on the sky and a low growl left his throat. A helicopter circled overhead as three figures decked out in SWAT gear clung to a neon ladder. How did they keep finding him?!

Well, there went any opportunity to practice. What was he to do? Running clearly wasn't good enough, and he didn't have enough control over his powers to wipe out large chunks of a city just to eradicate a few nuisance soldiers. He needed a Plan B.

He scanned over the occupants of the park once more, noting a tiger reading over a newspaper. A neon green bar was pinned in his left ear, and his outfit of a waistcoat, fingerless gloves and heavy boots were all suitably neon and black. It made his yellow tiger stripes stand out like a sore thumb. That was it. Infinite stood out. He needed to blend in.

Crimson energy surrounded his body, pulsing in the air like a techno beat. It drew a few curious ears, but as it fizzled out, so had he. He strolled out from behind the rosebush as a mink dressed from head to foot in yellow and black spiked apparel. But as he made for the gate, the SWAT team dropped to the grass and took off after him.

Infinite cursed under his breath, dropping his illusion. Guns clicked as red sniper lights danced over his black fur. They fired, but all they struck was mist. Once again, Infinite found himself on a busy street, crouching amid a mob of screaming teenagers. He ducked out from between them and streaked towards the nearest alley, diving behind a yellow trash skip. He stood with his back pressed against the cold stone wall, gasping as he searched the street. Yet more helicopters beat the sky, and red dots danced along the walls of the main street. Two of the teenagers broke from their mob, shouting something that was drowned out amid the panicked screaming of the city's residents.

How were they doing this? How did they keep finding him?

Infinite closed his eyes and tilted his head back against the wall. It wasn't the city's inhabitants. No one in the park had seen him. Did he give off some kind of alien beacon that they could hone in on? His eyes snapped open as he recalled his first days in Mainframe. Waking up on a bed, strapped down, as scientists probed at him. They'd injected something into his arm.

He flashed a canine and reached his claws up to his left arm. He could still feel it. Something hard, plastic and pill-shaped. Was that how they were tracking him?

A dark shadow blocked out the narrow alley and Infinite locked eyes with a muscular cat. A red dot flickered over Infinite's chest and he bared his teeth. So he had to flee again? He ducked and vanished into mist, reappearing just outside that office block he'd seen in his mind. The rabbit reporter screamed and Infinite ducked out of the way of the cameras, scrambling on all-fours as he desperately tried to escape the crowd. He straightened up and bolted, panting, into yet another alley. Then he dug his claws into his arm, grimacing as he prised the pill-shaped object free. A translucent glass cylinder with a green chipboard inside. He tossed it amid the overflowing trash bags and leapt from the alley, casting another illusion about himself. Not the mink this time. They'd seen that. They'd know it was him in an instant. So he opted instead for a squirrel wearing a neon-green chipboard-print shirt.

No warping this time. He'd just have to stroll quickly and hope he managed to avoid GUN. The helicopters were still circling, but he tried not to focus on them. To not give himself away. Footsteps exploded behind him and he tensed, straining not to look back. They stopped, and he twitched an ear in their direction. He took a left bend in the road and glanced back towards the alley. Five people in SWAT gear, staring confused into the mouth of the alleyway, guns trained on trash bags.

Foiled.

Infinite chuckled to himself and strolled calmly into the thick of the city, silently rejoicing in his triumph over the GUN SWAT team.

His arm had already healed, leaving no blood trail in his wake. Yet it still caked his right hand. He idly licked at it as he searched the mob of frantic shoppers and business men as they flooded out of a subway. Various colourful vehicles zoomed up and down the streets, not a wheel between them. Blue or white LED lights stretched across their bases as they hovered several inches above the tarmac road. Neon billboards lit up the streets, advertising various foods, eateries, games and other entertainment. It was a far-cry to the grungy feel of Mobius. But Infinite couldn't help but wonder if it had always been this way since he'd entered. How much of this neon wonderland was down to Eggman's influence?

His illusion began to flicker and he strained to control it. But it had already drawn curious eyes. A bear stared at him from the other side of the road, and a look of utter terror spread across his face. Infinite broke eye contact and caught sight of his right hand. His heart flipped as he realised he'd begun to take on the visage of the bear. He muttered under his breath, frantically trying to draw back the illusion of the fictitious squirrel as he searched for somewhere to hide.

This wasn't going to be easy. His powers were exhausting rapidly. Oh, how he hated feeling so weak. If he was going to blend in, he needed a disguise. Anything.

He ducked into another alleyway and crouched beside an overflowing trash can that smelled alarmingly like rotting citrus fruit. He let his illusion drop and lowered his head into his hands. Maybe he shouldn't have bailed on his rescuers like that? A couple of days to practice his skills and he wouldn't be struggling like this.

He parted his fingers to peer out at the busy street. A voice reached his ears and he looked past the crowd towards a news stand. A beaver waved a hand, calling out to the commuters to buy that morning's newspaper. But the stand sold more than just news. Magazines. Infinite frowned at them. Magazines… comics, gaming, entertainment… fashion. Fashion?

Hmm… that was something he could use. But if he broke into a shop to steal an outfit, that would only draw more attention to him. Find the jackal in the exact suit he'd stolen. It would be a pointless and ridiculously risky endeavor.

An idea sparked in his mind and he reached out for the Chaos Network. Fashion was something that might actually help him. If he looked like he blended into this world, he might have a far easier time staying off GUN's radar.

Various fashion websites fluttered through his mind, primarily shops. HoneySuckle, Rose Designs, CyberFruit… He screwed his eyes shut as pain radiated between his ears and he clasped a hand to his head.

It was too exhausting.

He stood up, panting once again, and cracked his gold eye open to fix on the news stand. Dread bubbled up inside him as he realised he'd have to do this the manual way. Bringing back that squirrel image, he trotted across the street towards the beaver, ignoring his offer to sell him that day's news.

Infinite's eyes flew over the various magazines until they landed on one with a golden cat on the front. 'Honey's New Line Rocks This Summer' was printed on it. He scooped it up and flicked through the pages, hoping desperately he'd find something that he could actually use.

"Hey, Mum, look!"

Infinite glanced to his right as a little mouse no older than ten pointed at him, all the while tugging at her mother's sleeve.

"It's Honey!" squeaked the mouse.

Infinite glanced down at himself again, slowly realising he'd taken on the image of the cat on the magazine's cover. He looked back up at the mouse beaming at him. She opened her mouth to speak, but before any words could leave her mouth Infinite flashed his sharp canines and hissed.

The mouse squealed and clutched her mother's arm, tears sparkling in the corners of her large eyes. Her mother frowned at him and hugged her daughter to her chest. But she said nothing, instead steering the youngster away from both him and the news stand.

Infinite chuckled and turned back to his magazine, struggling to draw back the visage of the squirrel. The image around his body began to pixelate into glitchy squares, and Honey the Cat had adopted a bushy yellow tail.

As he turned the page, a large advert graced him. 'How Rose Designs is the Upcoming Fashion Trend'. Infinite cocked an eyebrow. It didn't look that impressive. Jeans decked out with pink flowers. Jackets with the odd neon cuff and cartoony print. But what did stand out was the declaration that it was 'new'. Not to mention the designer was from Central City, and his image was rapidly failing.

He deposited the magazine and turned, freezing like a rabbit in a car's headlights. The crowds had come to a halt, staring at his flickering form. It began to rapidly change as he scanned over the various faces, some of which were turning pale. Somewhere deep in the mob he heard the tell-tale sign of someone fainting.

Infinite turned tail and fled into the nearest back alley, stumbling over a trash bag. His right foot landed in something wet and he grimaced, shaking his foot to dislodge a banana peel and a few drops of what he desperately hoped were the fresh dregs of a commuter's morning coffee.

He paused in the boarded up doorway to some former cafe and rubbed at his muzzle. He desperately needed to find this Rose person if he was going to stand any chance at blending in. Once that was out of the way, he could practice his abilities in peace. Then he could finally get his revenge on Eggman, and that awful Gadget. Hey, why not the entirety of Mainframe while he was at it?

He brought up the Chaos Network again, searching specifically for Rose Designs. Shop after shop after shop. As easy as it was to narrow down something specific, he felt he was missing something when it came to selecting a particular page. Pain throbbed in his head again and he dropped the network, staggering back into the wooden door. It creaked slightly under his weight and he tensed, pulling back from it for fear of it caving in completely.

Try again.

He screwed his eyes shut as he scoured the pages, finally stumbling across what looked like the designer's official web page. Contact information. That was all he wanted.

Yes… Central City. His eyes snapped open as a grin spread across his muzzle, and he turned his eyes back to the main street. As far as he was aware, this was Central City. The designer lived close to Station Square. All he needed was a sign, then he could track them down.

But first, he needed a rest.

He turned back to the boarded up door and inclined his head on one side. Rotting wood straining against the nails that held it in place. An abandoned building wouldn't exactly be a terrible place to hide. He pushed on it, feeling it shift slightly. Then he gave it a hefty kick. The wood exploded in a shower of damp splinters, peppering his clean fur. He muttered under his breath as he dusted himself down, then turned to the gaping dark entrance. It stunk of mildew and rot, with the faint smell of old coffee beans lingering amongst it.

He stepped inside, closing the door behind him. It wasn't too dark. Faint light leaked in through the gaps in the boarded up windows. It was sparse save for a dusty, grimy counter and long rows of sofa-like seats along the right wall. Each plush cushion was damp to the touch, so he opted for curling up on the old floor instead. But sleep wasn't something that came easily to him.

Boredom set in swiftly and he clawed at the floor, trailing a pattern along it as he waited for the light to wane. Hopefully, by nightfall he'd have his strength back. Once he was done with his idle doodling, he decided to inspect the old kitchen. Nothing but empty boxes and the tell-tale signs of a rat infestation. He could almost feel the germs breeding in his fur.

He found himself looking for some way to clean it all up, but when he tested the tap all that came out was a flurry of rust and yellowing water before it stopped entirely. The stench of egg rapidly filled the kitchen, choking his lungs. He turned from it, wafting his muzzle, and resigned himself to sitting by the door. At least the air was slightly less dusty and stagnant.

To kill the time he had to resist the urge to mess around with his abilities. But it wasn't easy. Small illusions, the odd scour of the Chaos Network. Between bursts, he tried to remember the books he'd once read. He still knew some of the old poetry by heart, so he recited some of it out loud, laughing at himself whenever he got something wrong.

When night finally fell, he beat the dust from his fur and stepped outside. The street lamps highlighted every inch of grime now occupying the white areas of his fur. It was surprising how much showed up on the black areas, as well. He removed a dusty cobweb from his tail with a remorseful sigh and turned his sights on the street. Still busy, although the news stand had long since closed.

He took in a steadying breath, desperate to bring up another disguise. But it refused to hold, instead providing nothing more than a static buzz of glitched pixels. Oh well. It would have to do.

He scampered from the alley, taking in the sights and sounds. It was a different world in the dark. Overworked commuters joined groups of young adults on their way to the subway stations, although the younger generation were likely heading for a night out as opposed to their beds. Club lights lit up the streets, filled with the noise of merriment and music.

He took in every sign he came across. Street names, store names, arrows pointing to various locations. Station Square was down the long street on his right. He took it blindly, moving as fast as he could through crowds of staring eyes and startled squeals. He paused only to glance over a map, confirming he was going in the right direction. It really wasn't far. He'd been perched on the edge of Station Square the whole time. He trailed a finger over the map, seeking out his location. Ninth Street. A toothy grin spread across his muzzle, buried under a fuzz of static. He committed the map to memory and followed it along the winding city roads.

Ninth Street was oddly quiet. Not a soul in sight. Unlike the main streets of Central City, this one didn't sport any clubs. No subway station. Just a little row of apartment blocks for those who wished for the convenience of living near a city station.

Infinite crouched on the opposite side of the road to the apartment block. Rose Designs was apparently on the fifth floor. He hadn't expected it to be an apartment. He'd expected some design studio. His plan had been to catch the designer unawares, or even lurk until they arrived the next day. It wasn't trivial to get inside. He didn't have a code for the door, nor a key.

He narrowed his eyes at the window. The fifth floor. Not even any light beyond it. What time was it, anyway? He dug his claws into the ground and he tried to figure a way in. There was only one way for it.

He lowered himself to the ground then sprang, propelling himself like a rocket. Glass exploded around his body and he stretched out his arms to cushion his landing. A squeal reached his ears and he looked up from his sprawled position on the pink carpet to meet the emerald eyes of a pink hedgehog. She cowered beneath a dressing table, brush in hand. A grin spread across Infinite's pixelated face. So this was Rose Designs?

She dropped the brush and whipped out a hammer from behind her back. Infinite's static dropped for a brief moment as he watched the hedgehog leap across the room towards him.

"How dare you just break into a lady's bedroom like that?!"

She lifted the hammer over her head with a roar.

Infinite frowned and rose up to his full height. He threw his hand towards her and her hammer became encrusted with skittering beetles. Her emerald eyes widened and she dropped it with a scream, scattering cockroaches across her bedroom floor. Infinite stepped over them, allowing that grin to return along with his cloud of static. The hedgehog crawled backwards on her bottom, back towards the shelter of her dressing table. He dropped down so he was level with her and reached out to place a finger beneath her chin. He tipped her head back and frowned. Her eyes widened as his image cycled between those of various GUN agents, lingering for a moment on a blue hedgehog.

"You don't look like much," he scoffed.

She trembled and clutched her arms around herself, too terrified to push him away.

"Please," she said. "If it's money or jewels you want, they're in my safe. I'll give you the code, just don't hurt me."

"Oh, it's not jewels I want," he crooned.

"Then…" Her eyes widened and sparkled with tears. "Oh no, please! I'd rather you just killed me!"

Infinite frowned for a moment, then his eyes shot wide open.

"What? No!" He stood up straight and took a step back from her. "Good grief, no. You're way too pink. Bleh!" He poked his tongue out to make his point and glanced over her open wardrobe.

"Then what do you want?" she gasped.

"You're a fashion designer, right?" He looked back down at her and raised an eyebrow.

She nodded and cowered further beneath her dressing table. It irritated him. If she went any further beneath it, he'd be forced to drag her out and pin her against the wall.

"I need you to make me a disguise," he said.

She stiffened and leant slightly back out of her hiding place. "You want me… to make you clothes?"

He gave one nod. "For free."

"I… don't think I can do that…"

"Why not?" he scoffed. "You're 'Rose Designs', right?"

"Yes, but…"

"Then why can't you do it? You make clothes for a living!"

"Well… I can't see you," she said. "You're all… wobbly and… well, I can't get your size right if I can't measure you, can I?"

He stared down at her for a long moment, watching her tremble like a leaf. Measurements… So that meant she had to see him. She'd know exactly what he looked like. Before and after his disguise. That might be a problem.

"What are you?" Her voice wavered.

He sighed and rolled his eyes, letting the glitched pixels and static drop. She stared up at him, her mouth hanging open as she struggled to find words. Green eyes trailing over his body, the Phantom Ruby, then lingering on his face. The fur bristled along his spine under her probing gaze.

He pulled his lips back in a snarl. "Stop staring at me!"

She jerked her eyes away and ducked slightly further beneath her dressing table. Her fingers wound through her quills and she stuttered slightly.

"Okay, I can help you," she said. "But if I do, you need to promise you'll leave. Right away. And not come back."

Silence washed over the room as Infinite ran over her request.

"It's all I ask." Her voice trembled and she resisted the urge to look up at him. "Please. You frighten me…"

It was a simple request. He didn't much fancy sticking around in such a pink house with a pink girl. But was it really as simple as it sounded?

A smirk tugged at his lips and he shuffled a foot over her plush carpet. "Okay. I'll leave."

The hedgehog let out a sigh of relief and climbed out from beneath the dressing table.

"Then I suppose I'd better take your measurements," she said. "Erm… what do I call you?"

"That's not important," he said.

She sighed and smoothed out her red dress. "It is if you don't want a nervous wreck stitching your outfit together. It would at least break some ice?" She paused and licked her lips. "My name is Amy."

"Amy?" His lip curled and he glanced towards her closed door. A pink rose stared back at him. "Fine. Call me Infinite."

"That's… a strange name…"

He was getting a little tired of hearing that.

"Mind if I shorten it?" she asked.

He narrowed his eyes at her and she took a step back and cleared her throat.

"My studio is this way." She gestured towards the door.

When she opened it, he slipped out ahead of her into a wide living room. Just as pink as the bedroom had been. But it didn't stop there. The opposite door led to a studio half the size of the living room, filled with rails of clothes and mounds of fabric. Complete disarray in a migraine inducing explosion of colour. It set his fur on end. What on earth had he got himself into?

At least it smelled better than the moldy cafe.

...​

The Tornado landed neatly on the flat roofs of a set of run-down shops. Sonic leapt nimbly over the gutter, dodging the ominous liquid leaking from the trash bags. The air reverberated as Tails and T-Pup drifted down beside him. Tails neatly unwound his twin tails and scanned over the narrow alley, while T-Pup retracted its propeller and sniffed the air.

"The tracker says he's here." Sonic looked past the blinking dot on his visor overlay to frown at the yellow skip. "I'd be careful, buddy. He might be in disguise."

Tails drew his tranquilizer gun and fixed its sniper light on the skip. The dot danced above T-Pup's head as it moseyed around the bottom of it, its eyes lighting up the dense shadows. Tails fired and a metal dart pinged off the skip's metal shell. T-Pup's antenna tail stood upright and it yelped. It turned its head back towards them and whined, ears and tail drooping.

Tails lowered his gun, unmoved by his robot dog. "It's just a trash skip."

"Huh." Sonic joined T-Pup's side and the small dog wagged its tail. "Then what's the tracker picking up?"

As if on cue, T-Pup hovered into the skip and began rummaging around like a half-starved fox. Sonic watched as various food waste and containers flew in all directions, deeply glad the robot had opted to be the one to scour through it all. Something hard struck the floor and bounced, and Tails stooped to pick it up. The fox frowned as he turned it in his fingers.

"A microchip," he said flatly.

Sonic offered his hand to take it then lifted it up to his eye. He grunted as the red dot on his overlay blinked rapidly.

"So he's removed it," he said. "Well that complicates things."

T-Pup's mechanical feet clattered on the ground and it skipped over to them, panting happily.

"We don't exactly have a means to track him now, do we?" Sonic handed the chip back to Tails. "I guess we'll just have to wait until someone panics and reports him, or he destroys something."

Tails shrugged and glanced over the alley. "I was expecting more destruction, I'm not gonna lie."

T-Pup yipped, pawing at their legs.

"That makes two of us," said Sonic.

Tails stooped to offer his hand to the robot dog. Sonic started slightly until he realised he was merely showing it the microchip. T-Pup nudged it with its nose, making a noise akin to snuffling. Then it yipped again and stood back, sniffing at the air. It turned, making a beeline for the end of the alley.

Sonic stared after it as Tails stood up straight.

"I didn't know it could do that," said Sonic.

"Really?" said Tails. "What good is a robot dog if it can't play 'bloodhound'?"

Sonic sighed and shrugged his shoulders. "I often underestimate you, bud."

He drew his gun and followed after T-Pup with Tails in tow. The robot dog vanished through the remains of a shattered door. The stench of dust and mildew filled the air, with the faint traces of stagnant water. Light bounced across the floor and walls as T-Pup bounded towards the worn-out bar.

Sonic paused, glancing a pattern sketched onto the dusty floor. He trained the light on his visor onto it. Freshly drawn. A series of squiggles that resembled vines, trailing around a large heart. It reminded him of a tattoo design.

Light bounded over it as Tails and T-Pup rejoined him, the former giving the pattern a dismissive glance.

"He isn't here, either," said Tails. "But someone has been in here, and I'm going to guess it's our target."

T-Pup barked in agreement.

Sonic lowered his gun and looked down at the robot dog. "Any idea where he might have gone?"

T-Pup sniffed the air again, sneezed, then took off towards the door.

Sonic and Tails exchanged shrugs and followed the little dog. But something caught Sonic's eye by the door.

Screws and nails, plucked from the rotting wood. Each one caked in rust yet sparkled in places as if the rust had been scrubbed away by something. But that wasn't the most intriguing thing about it. They were arranged in two neat rows by size and type. Nails on the top, screws on the bottom.

"What the…"

Sonic felt a tap on his arm and he looked up into Tails' blue eyes.

"T-Pup has already gone on ahead of us," said the fox. "Come on, before we lose him."

Sonic gave the screws and nails one last glance before following after his team-mate. But they nagged at him.

T-Pup waited patiently at the mouth of the alley, its bright eyes lit up like a pair of headlights. When it spotted them it barked and turned, scurrying off in the direction of Station Square.
 

DeliriousAbsol

*Crazy Absol Noises*
Staff
Location
Behind a laptop, most likely with tea
Pronouns
She/Her
Chapter Seven​

Amy was beginning to wonder if everything was just a bad dream. After she’d measured the strange jackal, he’d wandered off muttering about a shower. She’d been too scared to refuse him, instead waving him off and pointing him towards her bathroom. But everything was oddly quiet. It had been a long time since the water had turned off, and part of her wondered if she’d woken up in her studio after acting out the dream.

People didn’t have jewels fused to their chests. They couldn’t just distort their image. And they couldn’t usually leap five floors to burst in through someone’s bedroom window. Although, in Mainframe, it wouldn’t be unusual to find someone who could. Sonic could run fast enough to run up a wall, and her old friend Knuckles could glide a fair distance. Even bust through a stone wall if he wanted to.

She stared at the pattern in her hand and sighed. It had been for a mask. Nothing requested to hide the jewel in his chest. She’d not even questioned it. She just wanted to get things over and done with as fast as possible, and the least she had to make the better. So she’d taken the task of designing a mask. Only one eye needed, given Infinite was blind in his right one. He’d wanted it to cover his entire face, but several sketches later she’d decided to step in with her own suggestion. But given she was beginning to question whether he was a figment of her own imagination, it looked so ridiculous now.

Her ear twitched in the silence and she looked up at the door. Was he even still in her house? Was she actually going insane in her loneliness? Insane enough to imagine such a fierce and terrifying individual?

She was about to drop everything to investigate when the door opened and the jackal strolled back in, carrying a jar of peanut butter under one arm while staring at a photo he’d plucked from somewhere. He flopped down at her small round table, brushing aside a basket of ribbons to make room for the over-sized jar of sandwich filling.

“Who’s this blue spiky freak?” he turned the photo towards her.

Amy’s spine stiffened. He’d been in her bedroom?! Her cheeks flushed and she bit back the desire to snap at the jackal. She didn’t want to risk making him angry. Not after what he did to her hammer.

“Just a friend.” She turned back to her pattern. “May I ask what you were doing in my room?”

Infinite tossed the photo onto the table, face down, and unscrewed the jar.

“Fixing the window,” he said. “You had a pair of nosey GUN soldiers outside.”

“Th-they’re looking for you?”

“Oh yes.” He stuffed his hand into the jar and scooped out a mound of peanut butter. “But they’re gone now.”

She shuddered as the question of their fate crossed her mind. But she didn’t want to know the answer. She watched the jackal stuff his hand into his mouth, smearing peanut butter over his nose.

“Are you hungry or something?” she asked.

“Famished.” He licked his nose and reached back into the jar.

“Would you… like some bread with that?” Amy asked. “It’s more filling.”

He shrugged and scooped out more spread. “Nope. It would only ruin it.”

She grimaced as he licked the peanut butter off his fingers. “A spoon?”

He fixed his golden eye on her as he attempted to lick his hand clean.

She stifled a shudder and placed the pattern on the floor. “I need to show you this, before I get started.”

He rose to join her, bringing along the peanut butter.

“I know you wanted a full mask,” she explained. “But given you’d be reluctant to remove it, I thought it would be better if I left your jaw free.”

He snorted and licked at his hand. “Fine. You’re the professional, not me.”

Amy couldn’t help but feel he’d put extra emphasis on ‘professional’ just to irritate her. She brushed it off, along with the jackal.

“I’d better get to work then,” she said. “Have a flick through those magazines for some ideas for style, while I grab some fabric.”

She ducked behind the endless mountains of fabric and took in a steadying breath. Of course the idea of it all being a dream was too good to be true. Now not only did she have a mad man in her house, he was also potentially dangerous and being hunted down by GUN. That was why he wanted a disguise. To keep them off his tail. Well, once she’d finished kitting him out with a disguise, she’d be getting him off her tail. Maybe even contact GUN and let them know roughly where he was.

But wait… if she did that, wouldn’t she get in trouble, too? She was, effectively, aiding his escape.

She plucked some white leather from the middle of a mountain of heavy duty fabric and glanced back through the gaps between the clothing rails. Infinite was back in his seat, flicking through her glossy fashion magazines. With his clean hand, she noted. The other one was receiving a thorough cleaning as he strove to consume what was left of the peanut butter. She shook her head and selected black and blue leather before ducking back out of her storage.

Infinite looked up with a start and a strange grunting sound came from his throat. He lifted the magazine in both hands and his eyes practically sparkled.

“This! This!”

Amy cautiously approached him to take the magazine. It was a club scene, focusing on the fashion trend university students adopted several years ago. Bright neon colours against black. Hair filled with all kinds of apparel to look like otherworldly futuristic dreadlocks. One young girl had her boots strapped together with a belt Amy hoped desperately was flexible enough to not trip her.

“You like this?” Amy looked up at the jackal, absolutely failing to mask her surprise.

A playful grin spread across his muzzle and he waved a sticky hand at the magazine. “It’s perfect.”

She sighed and returned to her design. “Well it’s your outfit.”

“Is there a problem?” His voice was laced with danger.

She froze and glanced back at him. “No. I just… I tend to do more girly things. You know. Flowers. Butterflies. Pinks and blues.”

“So girly! Eurgh!” Infinite shuddered and screwed his eyes shut. “Don’t you dare give me anything pink. There’s enough of that in this house to satisfy me for a lifetime.” He snapped his eyes back open and chuckled. “And I don’t age, sugar.”

“How… what?”

“They put it all down to Dark Arms DNA.” He used air quotes then screwed the lid back onto the now empty jar.

No. No, she wasn’t crazy enough to imagine all this. She shook her head and ducked back into her storage.

“I’ll find some fabric suggestions,” she said. “Then you can choose which ones you like.”

“Ooh, I actually get a say in this?”

“Of course!” She lowered her voice and added, “Given you hate my original designs, you might as well.”

That was the problem with being a designer. You didn’t always get to stick to briefs you actually enjoyed. Oh well, she might as well enjoy it while she was at it. Maybe put her own spin on the strange cybergoth appearance he was wanting.

She rustled through her many drawers of bits and bobs, grabbing various items she’d put aside perchance she would ever need them. Ribbons, buttons, buckles, belts, hard plastics and bits of glass. Nothing sparkly. Nothing pink or blue. Colours that would contrast. Neons and blacks. At the back of one of her drawers she stumbled across some PVC piping she’d set aside for ‘a time when it might be handy’. Well, now was as good a time as any.

She re-emerged, setting all the bits down and grouping them accordingly. Infinite abandoned the table to join her, crouching on the other side of her display.

“I was thinking leather for the gloves and boots,” she said. “It’s hard wearing and comfortable.”

“Well, we don’t want blue.”

Infinite picked up the neatly folded blue leather and tossed over her clothes rails back into storage.

“Really?” Amy looked back at the fabric piles beyond the clothes. “I thought it matched your blue eye.”

“It ain’t blue by choice,” he scoffed. “Why do you think I want to hide it?”

“I guess…”

He eyed over the two choices left. Black and white. All the while slowly nibbling on a claw.

“Might I suggest the white one?” said Amy.

He looked up at her and lowered his claw. “I was kinda thinking the same thing.”

“Really?” She paused and scratched behind her ear. “That surprises me.”

“Well, my old one was black.” He shrugged. “And I don’t want anything to do with Eggman.” He paused and gazed up at the ceiling. “Maybe I should call myself Infinite-Nega?”

“I don’t recommend it.”

She tucked the black leather through the rails to join the blue one and placed the white one beside her. When she turned back, Infinite was going through all the bits and bobs she’d picked out.

“What’s this?” He held up some red glass.

“Red plexiglass,” she said. “I’ve had it set aside for years and never found a use for it. So I thought it would make a good lens for your mask’s eye.”

“Won’t it make everything look red?”

“It’s one way,” she said. “To you, the world will look normal. But to everyone else, your eye will look all crazy and weird.”

“I do like crazy and weird.” He grabbed the plastic piping she’d found. “What on earth is this?”

“Fibre-optics tubing. Usually for protecting wires, but I thought it would make nifty cyber dreads.”

He nodded his approval, setting it beside her with the white leather. Then his eye fell on the selection of belts. He picked up a red one and frowned at her.

“And this?” he asked.

“A belt?”

“And this is for…?”

She cocked an eyebrow at him. “Really?”

He gestured to his own body. “I know what a belt does, but I don’t wear pants!”

A small chuckle escaped her and she shook her head. “I know that. But a fashion designer can find more than one use for a belt.”

He smirked at her over his claw, giving her a leering look that sent a chill down her spine. A strange grating noise rattled with his breathing and she wasn’t entirely sure whether or not it was a laugh.

“I guess I picked the right one, then, didn’t I?” he purred.

She turned back to her work, desperately trying to avoid his eyes. “Just… leave me to it, okay?”

“Okay.”

He rose and vanished beyond the clothes, into her storage area. As she glanced back, she spotted him folding up the discarded blue leather. She let out a sigh and screwed her eyes shut, harshly berating herself for choosing a life in the city.

...
Tsunami released the ladder rung to drop down behind the train station. Shrouded in the shadows cast by a tall office block, she crouched beside the tracks as she waited for her allies. Rough dropped down beside her, followed by Crash and Espio. Tsunami had not been too happy to leave Decode alone with the other two Chaotix, but she knew the bush baby could hold his own. Besides, she highly doubted Vector would abandon his own team-mate.

She looked up at the chameleon as he adjusted his gloves, and something glinted as he tucked away one of his weapons. Part of her didn’t really want him with them, but Espio’s ability to mask his presence might actually come in handy while detaining Infinite.

Then there was Rough. She glanced over at the skunk and brought up her visor. As for him, well, he’d insisted on coming along. After she’d punched in the code for the jackal’s microchip, she didn’t even need him or his computer anymore.

The red dot blinked amid the red map overlay of Station Square, moving swiftly away from them back towards the thick of Central City.

“We’re gonna have to give chase,” she said.

“Aye,” said Rough. “At the speed he’s movin’, I’d say he’s got himself a car.”

“Put that away.” Tsunami placed a hand over his computer. “We don’t need it.”

“You’re the one who wanted a tracker, love.”

“And now I have one.” She tapped her visor. “If all you do is trace an illegal tracking chip, you’re not exactly what I wanted.”

Crash laughed and struck his knee. “Whoa, burn!”

“Hey, I told you I can track better on the ground,” Rough protested.

“Anyone can navigate a wreckage,” said Tsunami. “Now we should get a move on before we lose him.”

Espio placed a hand on her shoulder, halting her in her tracks.

“How are you at traversing rooftops?” he asked.

She turned fully towards him. “Fairly adept. Why?”

“I suggest we split up so we can cover ground faster,” he said.

Tsunami cocked her laser. “Don’t be ridiculous. It’s safer in numbers.”

“Hear me out,” he said. “You and I are fast. We could get a run on Infinite and herd him back towards these two.” He nodded towards Rough and Crash. “We tranquilize him and he’ll be easy to detain with their combined strength.”

Crash gave the skunk a wink and Rough flashed his sharp canines, looking between Crash and Espio.

“Why should you two get to team up?!” Rough barked at Espio.

“Like I said,” Espio said calmly. “We’re fast. You two are brawlers. You’d make a decent wall.”

“Hey, I seen what that guy can do to a floor never mind a wall!” said Rough. “He’d tear through me’n’Spike here like paper.”

Crash raised an eyebrow. “’Spike’?”

“If anythin’, each of you should take one of us.” Rough pointed between himself and Crash.

“All right,” said Espio. “You want to come with me?”

Rough’s jaw fell and he stared at Espio, aghast. As if the chameleon hadn’t taken the hint at all.

“I’m fine taking Crash, if you think that’s the best option.” Tsunami gave Rough a pointed look. “This isn’t a date, pirate. If you’re going to jeopardize this mission, you can head straight back to my brig.”

“All right, fine.” Rough didn’t take his eyes off Espio. “We’ll go with Slimy’s plan.”

The chameleon pointed a kunai at Rough. “I am not slimy, fart-squirrel.”

“Take that back!”

“Oh this is ridiculous!” Tsunami clenched her fists and seethed. “I knew I should have done this solo. Are you two going to co-operate, or do I have to stick both of you in my brig?!”

Espio sheathed his weapon. “I was co-operating just fine until he opened his big mouth.”

Crash chuckled and looped an arm around Rough’s shoulders. The skunk jumped slightly and growled at the mercenary, but Crash wasn’t remotely phased.

“C’mon,” said Crash. “Let’s go be awesome somewhere.”

He steered Rough away from Tsunami and Espio. The space pirate glanced back over his shoulder, snarling at Espio, before strutting off ahead of Crash.

Tsunami watched them go and let out a small sigh.

“Do you have tabs on them?” Espio asked.

“Crash, yes,” she said. “But he won’t let that pirate out of his sight.”

“You remember I’m a pirate, too, right?”

“As if I could forget.”

She made to holster her laser then decided against it. Her eye snapped back to the blinking dot, now in the middle of Central City. It had stopped.

“Come on,” she said. “Let’s try that rooftop plan.”

The pair scurried along the edge of the station, sticking close to the shadows. On more than one occasion, Espio began to fade away then snapped himself back again. Tsunami began to wonder if it was a habit or instinct, and he knew full well she’d struggle to keep a track of him.

He stopped beneath an apartment block and nodded when she joined him.

“Can you scale buildings?” he asked.

“No,” she said. “I’ll sneak inside and take the elevator.”

“No need,” he said. “You can ride on my back.”

“Are you kidding?” she scoffed. “You’re not much taller than I am.”

He glanced her up and down. “Well you don’t look heavy.”

Her cheeks flushed and she turned sharply from him towards the door. “I shall take the elevator. Meet me on the rooftop.”

A quick hack into the control panel and the door slid open seamlessly. She sought out the elevator on her right, already waiting for a passenger. Fourteen stories, not including the roof. It rose up silently and she watched the numbers scroll, silently willing it to not stop for anyone. It didn’t, but she heard the elevator beside her ping as she passed the twelfth floor.

When she reached the roof, Espio was already there, leaning back against the wall. He gave her a playful smile and kicked back from the wall to join her.

“Not bad,” he said. “Did you break the door?”

“No,” she said. “Unlike you, I know what I’m doing.”

“Oh, I know what I’m doing,” he said.

“Tell me that again when you don’t break one.”

She moved across the roof, keeping an eye on the blinking dot. It drifted back and forth as if it were lost, and every worst possible scenario crossed her mind. Was Infinite in trouble? Or worse… causing it? She frowned and looked out at the streets below. The hover-cars whizzing along them like colourful tiny beetles. After his threats she’d honestly expected a wreckage, but there’d been nothing.

In the distance, the long neck of an EggPatrol Strider Drone glided along above the lower rooftops, its head rotating left and right as it scanned the streets with its flood light. Calm. Just doing its duty. No alert light. No alarm siren blaring. No predatory chase. No helicopters homing in on the robot’s target.

“I don’t like how quiet it is,” she said. “Something’s not right.”

“You think he’s lurking somewhere, waiting to strike?” asked Espio.

She pushed back from the wall and checked the distance to the next rooftop. Four feet. She could jump that.

“I guess the only way to find out is to track him down.” She looked back at the chameleon. “Try to keep up.”

He zipped past her, almost gliding over to the next roof. Using her tail, she propelled herself after him, bounding from rooftop to rooftop along the busy main road of Central City.

...​

T-Pup was zipping back and forth as it sniffed the sidewalk, desperate to go back the way they’d come. Sonic watched it, wishing Tails had programmed the robot with the ability to speak. But they’d already been back that way. Infinite’s trail had ended randomly half way along Ninth Street. There’d been no sign of any wreckage. No sign of a break-in on any of the apartment blocks. No boarded up houses he could have escaped into. How had his trail just ended like that?

Sonic’s brow furrowed as he pondered the jackal’s potential ability to fly. Then his eye wandered to his companion’s twin tails. Swaying as the fox mused over his computer. The microchip was locked in a little compartment as Tails took some readings from it.

“How are you getting on?” Sonic asked. “Any joy?”

“Oh, it’s riddled with DNA,” said Tails. “But I don’t think I can trace him down on that alone. Not without constructing a homing device.”

Sonic let out a defeated sigh. “So we should call it quits for tonight? Try again when we have a better means to find him?”

“It’s either that or wait for him to destroy the city,” said Tails. “And I’d rather avoid any needless casualties.”

T-Pup stiffened and lifted its head. A low ‘wuff’ sound came from deep within it and its headlamp eyes trained on the distant shadows across the road. Light leaked into them, but not enough for Sonic or Tails to see into the alleyway.

“What is it?” Sonic asked. “Have you found something?”

The robot dog’s ears swiveled back and forth and it tottered off towards the alley. Sonic took a step after it, but Tails placed a hand on his shoulder to stop him. The fox had put away his computer in favor of his rifle.

“You wait here,” he said. “Contact me if Infinite shows up.”

Sonic rolled his eyes. “Urgh, why do I get the boring job?”

He watched Tails take off after T-Pup then leant back against a wall, tapping his foot. Something flashed across the rooftops opposite him and he abandoned the wall to grab his weapon. Two shapes landed on the roof of a low tower block and light glinted again off a small blade. It flew towards him and he leapt aside, narrowly dodging it as it embedded itself into the wall right where he’d been standing.

Feet clattered along the fire escape and Sonic aimed his rifle at the pangolin racing along it. Just one? He was sure there’d been two. He abandoned his gun and braced himself to leap towards her. One bound across the street and he’d have one of his assailants taken out already. Then he could worry about the other one. Cold metal brushed against his muzzle before his feet could even leave the floor, and he found himself backed up against a wall, staring into the golden eyes of a reptilian space pirate.

...​

Rough shoved a trash can aside, sending it to the floor with a clatter. Garbage spilled out, which he stepped over without giving it a second thought. Crash sighed at it and climbed over the mess with one long stride.

“Great. Make more noise,” he said. “That’ll help us find Infinite.”

“I don’t appreciate your sarcasm, Merc,” said Rough. “Besides, it were in my way.”

“I think you’re just throwing a little tantrum because you’re stuck with the wrong twin.”

“As much as I’d rather be stuck with Nami, I’m only helpin’ so you lot can save my brother.”

“Heh, she told me about that. You’d have more luck paying another pirate to do it. We don’t get caught up in your affairs.”

Rough leered back at him over his shoulder. “You sayin’ she lied to me?”

“Did she outright say she’d help?”

A look of confusion crossed the skunk’s face. Then he sighed and waved Crash off.

“Whatever,” said Rough. “I’ll talk to her about it later.”

“I hope you mean ‘talk’.” Crash’s voice was laced with ice, and it chilled Rough to the core. “Because if you so much as lay a finger on her…”

“I ain’t in the business of hittin’ girls,” Rough spat. “What do you take me for?”

“A pirate.”

Rough’s muzzle creased and he turned his back on the alley mouth. “What’s your beef with pirates? We’re just guys tryin’ to get by like the rest of ya.”

“Well, Nami and I weren’t always anti-pirate.” Crash stepped past Rough to look out into the street. “We used to read stories about them when we were kids. Nami even had this embarrassing dream about being swept off her feet by a rogue of the skies.”

“Really?” Rough chuckled and folded his arms. “I can work with that.”

“Then she started reading about mercenaries instead and her dreams kind of changed.” Crash flashed the disappointed skunk a boyish grin. “So don’t get your hopes up.”

Rough snorted and rolled his eyes.

“By the way,” said Crash, “it looks like Infinite is on the other side of those buildings.”

“So we need to take another alley?” Rough shrugged and pushed past him. “All these narrow places are givin’ me anxiety.”

Before he could step out onto the main road, Crash grabbed him by the scruff and dragged him back into the alleyway. The pangolin nodded towards a club, with a huge crowd milling around it. Their voices were faint in the night air, but the shrill laugh of a girl reached their ears.

Crash lowered his muzzle to Rough’s ear. “Check your surroundings before you get us killed?”

“They’re just drunk teenagers!” Rough hissed.

“Yes, and we’re both wanted, you moron.”

Crash threw Rough back into the alley and glanced up and down the street. Despite the crowd, it seemed relatively clear. If he ran - quietly - he shouldn’t draw any curious eyes.

The streetlight glinted off metal as it whizzed down from the rooftops by the club. The crowd froze, staring at the shuriken embedded in the tarmac. A pair of excited boys ran to grab it, squabbling among themselves, while the rest of the crowd were too fixated on locating where it had come from.

“Thanks for the help, pirate,” Crash muttered.

Rough tutted. “Show off.”

Crash grabbed Rough by the wrist and dragged him after him towards the next alley. He tossed the skunk ahead of him and then glanced back to make sure none of the crowd had spotted them. Sure enough they were still fixated on the mysterious shuriken.

“Flippin’ reptile.” Rough grunted as he stomped down the alley. “Tryin’ to act all cool with his ninja stars. I coulda done that. Just hand me a rock.”

“He might be showy,” said Crash, “but at least he’s a team player.”

“Hey.” Rough turned so he was walking backwards. “I can be a team pl-”

His tail bumped a garbage can, causing its lid to clatter and slide from its top. Crash’s lip curled in a grimace as he watched Rough twist on the spot to grab it, setting it back in place.

The pangolin tucked his arms behind his head and sighed. “Not very good at this whole ‘stealth’ thing, are you?”

He jerked his head up as light leaked into the alley ahead of them. The blinking dot drew closer towards them as the light began to intensify.

“Oh great, he’s coming this way,” said Crash as he slipped past the skunk. “I really hope this isn’t because of your racket.”

He lifted a hand to shield his eyes against the bright lights, but it didn’t make much difference. Infinite was going all out to make it near impossible to stop him. A canine shadow appeared in the mouth of the alley. Ears trained on them. Two tails swaying behind him.

Two tails…

Crash squinted at the shadow as he began to block out most of the light. Drawing closer as a small dog barked behind him. The canine lifted a gun and Crash heard the audible click as the safety was knocked off. As the canine stepped further into the shadows, it revealed itself to be a fox with golden-orange fur and an expression in his eyes that said he couldn’t care less.

“GUN,” Crash growled.

So GUN were here. Did that mean they’d already apprehended Infinite? Or was it all some big trick?

Crash clenched his fists and lunged at the fox, knocking his gun aside. It fired into the wall and a metal dart pinged off the rocks.

“Try and get behind him!” Crash barked at Rough.

“How?! It’s much too narrow!” said Rough.

“Find a way!”

Crash strained to hold the rifle at bay as he brought his other fist down towards the soldiers head. It barely skimmed the fox’s ear as he ducked and spun his entire body around. Twin tails tangled around the pangolin’s legs and he staggered back as they were pulled out from beneath him.

The robot dog rushed past him, cutting off Rough’s path. The skunk shouted profanities as it snapped at his feet, trying to drive him back towards its handler.

No. It wasn’t going to end like this.

Using his tail as a pivot, Crash pushed himself back up and swung his right leg around at the fox. The light from the robot dog glinted off his blue eyes. Emotionless and empty. Crash faltered for a moment, a fatal move that gave the soldier time to dodge his attack and ready his weapon.

It fired and Crash flinched as a dart struck him in his right shoulder.

“Nice try,” said the fox. “But you’re both coming with me.”

“I don’t think so, punk,” growled Rough.

Metal clattered as the dog rolled past Crash’s feet, blurring as the tranquilizer flooded into his system. His strength was already failing. He couldn’t fight now. Well… not effectively. Rough threw himself between Crash and the soldier, panic in his crimson eyes. He’d reached the same conclusion. He urged the pangolin back out into the main street as the weapon fired again, skimming Rough’s ear to bury itself in the soft part of Crash’s upper left arm.

Crash staggered onto the main road as his eyes unfocused. Streetlights dazzled with streaming beams that danced across his vision, and he had to raise a weak arm to block them.

The crowd screamed, turning to run away from the GUN soldier. Dropping glasses and knocking over chairs and tables as they flowed away from the club like a startled herd of gazelle.

The mechanical dog had recovered, rushing out on three legs as it barked at its handlers side. It lunged for Crash’s right boot with its jagged maw. With what was left of his failing strength, Crash kicked out, striking the robot in its torso. It yelped like a wounded pup, careening past the fox as he readied his gun once more.

The strength left Crash’s legs and he stumbled backwards, sinking to the floor. Rough leapt past him, bringing his fist down towards the fox’s head. The GUN soldier ducked and Rough landed on all fours behind him. Then he curled into a ball, whizzing around the fox’s feet leaving a pungent stink trail. The fox spluttered with coughs and screwed his eyes shut, aiming his gun blindly into the street.

Rough stopped beside Crash, coughing and blinking tears from his eyes as he dragged the pangolin onto his shoulders.

“Whew, caught myself in that one.” He took off down the street, away from the club. “C’mon, Spike, we gotta bail.”

...
Espio frowned at the blue hedgehog. “I think it’s safe to say this isn’t Infinite.”

“No.” Tsunami tapped her fingers along her arm. “My tracker says he’s back that way.”

She nodded towards the alley where the robot dog had vanished to. The blue hedgehog didn’t look scared, yet he was also not putting up a fight. Instead staring into Espio’s eyes as though he’d been challenged to a staring contest and refused to lose.

“So you’re also looking for Infinite?” the hedgehog said. “I take it you lost him then?”

“I wouldn’t say ‘lost’,” said Tsunami.

The hedgehog glanced her way and cocked an eyebrow.

Tsunami sighed and rolled her eyes. “But yes. Lost.”

“Have you any idea what you’ve unleashed?” the hedgehog spat. “He was locked up for a reason!”

He knocked Espio’s blade aside and ducked, leaping away from them in a streak of blue. They lost sight of him for a moment, but he stood crouching in the middle of the road, one hand pressed to the tarmac while the other flicked blood from his chin. Espio glanced down at his kunai and flicked a few drops of blood from its tip.

“Well I have no qualms with a GUN soldier,” said Tsunami. “Unless you plan to make this difficult?”

“I could get a lot of money turning you both in,” said the hedgehog. “But… if we’re gonna round up this alien we’re gonna need all the help we can get.”

Espio pointed his kunai at the hedgehog. “It’s bound to get ugly sooner or later. Because we aren’t turning him back over to GUN. Not after what we’ve recently learned.”

“We know you’re planning to turn him into a weapon,” said Tsunami.

The hedgehog huffed and straightened. “Only to get rid of Eggman.”

“No, I think there’s more to it than that,” said Espio.

‘Nami! Nami, can you hear me?’

Tsunami’s spine went stiff as Rough’s voice screamed down her ear.

“Yes?” she replied, not taking her eyes off the GUN soldier. “What are you doing with Crash’s head set?”

‘He’s been shot!’ said Rough. ‘By some GUN maniac. I stink-bombed him, grabbed Crash and ran!’

Tsunami’s blood turned cold. “He’s been shot?”

‘Yea, with tranq darts. Guy’s out cold but the maniac is still chasin’ us. How do I get back to your ship?’

The hedgehog’s expression softened. “If your friends are being hunted by Tails, they’re dead.”

Tsunami narrowed her eyes at the hedgehog and he met her glare. “Rough, listen to me. Drop Crash and kill the soldier.”

The hedgehog’s quills bristled and he balled his fists. That was exactly the reaction she’d wanted.

‘What?! Kill him?!’ Rough gasped. ‘Nami, I’m no killer!’

“I have faith in you, now do it.” She locked eyes with the hedgehog. “Call your little friend off, and I’ll call off mine.”

The hedgehog sighed and pushed a button on his visor. “Tails, stop the hunt. It’s not worth it.” Pause. “We’re meant to be hunting Infinite, not criminals. Leave them to the GUN patrol.”

‘Nami, he’s backin’ off!’

“Good,” said Tsunami. “I’ll have Decode pick you up.”

‘Roger!’ came Decode’s voice.

The hedgehog nodded and took a step towards them. Espio cut in front of Tsunami and aimed his kunai, but the soldier raised his hands.

“Listen,” he said. “We’re not allies, but we have to co-operate with this. Infinite is dangerous and he needs getting off Mainframe’s streets before he causes any trouble. Otherwise he could destroy the entire planet.” He paused. “Did he threaten it when he was with you?”

“Yes,” said Tsunami.

“Figures,” said the hedgehog. “He’s been threatening our world since he was first apprehended. That’s what I hear, anyway.”

“I know full well he’s dangerous.” Tsunami pushed Espio aside then drew her laser. “That’s why we wanted him out of your hands. I don’t usually fight against GUN, but I couldn’t overlook your little scheme. And I refuse to work with you to hand him back to the nutcase who wants him.”

“I can’t say I disagree with you,” said the soldier. “But I have to hand him back. I don’t have much choice.”

Espio made a thoughtful noise and lowered his weapon. “You’re talking as if they’ve threatened you.”

The hedgehog was silent, and behind him a fox rushed towards them, clutching something in his arms. Whatever it was, it was whimpering. Or was that the fox?

“The name’s Sonic,” said the hedgehog. “Are you with me in this, or not?”

“That depends,” said Tsunami. “Are you going to let GUN go ahead with their plans, or not?”

“I told you,” said Sonic. “I have to hand him back. I have no choice.”

“Then it’s a race.” Tsunami twigged the ladder as it dropped down behind the building she’d climbed down. “We’ll see who catches him first.”

Sonic’s hand twitched as he braced himself to spring.

Espio aimed his kunai at his face and nudged Tsunami. “Go.”

The pangolin turned and rushed towards the alley beside the low office block, keeping her laser clasped at her side. It wasn’t long before she heard Espio racing after her.

...​

Tails fixed blank eyes on Sonic’s. “Why did you let them go?”

“Because it’s not them we’re after.”

“But they’re responsible for all this.”

“Yes, and they’re trying to catch him,” said Sonic. “Like I said to them, we need all the help we can get.”

He turned to Tails and his eye went to the robot trembling in his arms. Whimpering like a wounded puppy.

“What happened to T-Pup?” Sonic asked.

“Nothing I can’t fix.”

“Oh, buddy…” Sonic placed a hand on the robot’s head, bringing its whimpers to a halt. “You need to be more careful. You can’t get wounded like this.”

“Its just a robot, Sonic.”

“It’s not just a robot!” Sonic snapped.

T-Pup lifted its head to lick at Sonic’s hand.

He took a breath and ran his fingers through his quills. “Sorry, Tails. Just… let’s get back. I’m tired.”

Tails shook his head. “I should never have put those files in this thing. You’re too attached.”

“They’re not files.”

Tails met Sonic’s glare with a blank stare. “They’re files.”

Sonic sighed and ran a hand down his muzzle. “Whatever. I’m not arguing with you about this again. You get T-Pup repaired, and I’m going home. I need a rest.”

Tails was silent for a moment and Sonic braced himself for a run back home. If he could even make it that far.

“Do you need a ride?” Tails offered.

“Actually, yes. Just… try not to wake up my family or I’ll never get any sleep.”
 

DeliriousAbsol

*Crazy Absol Noises*
Staff
Location
Behind a laptop, most likely with tea
Pronouns
She/Her
Chapter Eight​

Tsunami clambered back onto The Raptor, ignoring Espio’s offered hand. Her mind was spinning between the strange conversation with the GUN soldier and Crash being taken out. She spotted Crash sprawled over Rough’s shoulder. The skunk looked like he was about to crumple under her brother’s weight, but a small smile appeared on his muzzle when he saw her.

Vector poked his head out of the bridge door. “What happened down there?!”

“I’ll fill you in later,” said Tsunami. “Or Espio can do it.”

Her priority was to get her brother looked over. She brushed the crocodile off and scanned over the unconscious pangolin. A small red dart stuck out of his right shoulder.

“How is he?” She moved over to the skunk, not taking her eyes off her brother.

“Think he’s fine,” said Rough. “Although he did take two-”

“Whoa!” she wafted a hand before her face and took a step back. “You smell like a truck of rotting onions crashed into a chemical plant.”

Rough’s eyes narrowed and he tried to shrug. “I told ya. I had to stink bomb the guy just to get away!”

“What, did you bomb yourself, too?”

“A little…”

“Well, I advise you shower before you step foot on the bridge.”

Rough rolled his eyes and adjusted Crash over his back. “Where do you want me to take him?”

“This way.” She led the skunk into the corridor. “Omachao?!”

“Yessum?” Omachao’s chrome head poked out of the kitchen door.

“Grab a first aid kit and join me in Crash’s room,” said Tsunami.

“Roger!”

Omachao zipped back into the kitchen then fluttered out clutching a green box. He moved on ahead of them, his metal wings creating an audible buzz.

“Why do you need a robot’s help?” Rough asked.

“Because he knows first aid,” she replied.

“I could help you there,” said Espio.

Tsunami stopped and looked back at him. “I thought you were relaying our mission to your team?”

“It’s just I’m familiar with tranquilizers. Having used them myself.”

Rough bared his canines and a low growl came from his throat. Tsunami fired him a glare which he didn’t appear to notice.

“It’s fine.” She turned back to Espio. “I think Omachao’s First Aid Program should be sufficient.”

“Very well.” Espio vanished into the bridge.

Tsunami followed after the robot chao and Rough slumped after her.

“I have first aid, too, yanno,” he scoffed.

“Stop trying to impress me,” she said. “Because it isn’t working.”

“I weren’t tryin’ to impress ya. I’m tryin’ to help!”

“You can help by not causing trouble amid your team.”

She marched on ahead of him, and he let out a sigh before following after her. When she reached Crash’s door it was already open. Omachao hovered patiently by the bed, still clutching the first aid box.

Rough brushed her aside and rolled the pangolin off his shoulders onto his bed. He then gave Tsunami a sad look as he turned to leave the room.

“Wait,” she said, freezing him by the door.

He looked back at her over his shoulder. “What? You actually want my help?”

She clenched and unclenched her fists as she looked between the skunk and Crash. Omachao hovered above her brother silently, attaching a stethoscope to his ‘ears’. Something wasn’t settling right with her. The whole ordeal in Central City was just strange. Sonic not putting up a fight. The deadly hunter solider tailing her brother and Rough. The lack of destruction from Infinite. Hints of hidden threats inside GUN.

“What actually happened down there?” she asked Rough.

“I told ya,” he said. “We ran into a GUN soldier and Crash got hit with tranq darts.”

“You fought him?”

“Had no choice,” said Rough. “Guy were like some freak android from some horror movie.”

“Well that’s reassuring,” she said. “Crash can be a bit hot-headed. So long as he wasn’t just being foolish.”

‘Reassuring’ was a strange way of putting it. Something still seemed off about GUN, and the more she heard the more unsettling it became.

“And this soldier was only after Crash?” she asked. “He didn’t try to shoot you?”

“Yeah, I think he did, but he missed me and hit Crash again.” Rough paused and brushed back his mohawk. “I dunno if it matters, but one of the darts fell out when we were runnin’.”

“Are you sure you didn’t just use him as a meat shield? I mean, you didn’t want to work with him in the first place.”

“You accusin’ me of this?” He waved a hand to Crash’s unconscious body. “Of course I didn’t! I tried to get us both outta that alley!”

“All right. In that case, did it never occur to you to just drop Crash and run? To save your own hide?”

“You kiddin’ me?!” Rough’s jaw went slack and his ears drooped. “He’s your brother, Nami. Would you really want me to do that?”

She shrugged. “What does that mean to you? That soldier could have shot you both and neither of you would have made it back.”

He narrowed his eyes, almost causing her to take a step back. “But we both did. You should be thankful. It ain’t worth both our brothers gettin’ caught by GUN.”

Tsunami felt a jolt in her gut and she met the skunk’s eyes. No longer warm or playful. She’d struck a nerve.

“Well at least I know who’s side you’re on,” she said.

He gave an exasperated sigh and shook his head.

“He’s okay!” Omachao removed his stethoscope and slammed the first aid box shut. “He’s just sleeping. I recommend a meal high in energy once he wakes. I shall get cooking right away.”

The robot chao zipped from the room, plunging it into silence. Rough backed out of it and turned his back on her. His tail was no longer up and alert, instead dragging behind him like a dead weight.

“I’m gonna go back to the brig,” he said. “I ain’t good to be around right now.”

“No need,” said Tsunami. “I can have Omachao set you up a room.”

“Eh?” He looked back at her, brow furrowed.

“I don’t lock good guys in my brig.”

She followed him from the room, careful not to step on his tail.

He sighed again and waved back into the room as she locked the door behind her. “Then what were all that about?”

“I don’t really know what your motives are,” she explained. “And I wasn’t there to witness that fight to see for myself.”

“You knew my motives when you asked for my help,” he said. “But I don’t think you’re gonna hold up your end of the bargain.”

Bargain… she smoothed out her scarf, watching the creases vanish under her glove.

“I never agreed to any bargain,” she said. “But… if the chance arises, I’m not exactly going to leave your brother in GUN’s custody.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean we’re not going to just run in there and save him unless a door opens for us to do so.”

“That hardly seems fair!” he snapped. “You lot didn’t bat an eye ‘bout runnin’ in there to bust out that psychopath!”

“That was different! Leaving him in their hands was a risk that could have affected the whole of Mainframe!”

“And now he’s out there, roamin’ the city.” Rough clapped his hands. “At least my brother ain’t a walkin’ time-bomb of disaster.”

Tsunami sighed and pinched her muzzle. “Exactly. And I don’t appreciate the sarcasm, pirate. I’m not willing to throw all of us to our deaths barging into that cell again, especially now we’re all wanted criminals!”

“What, so we’re gonna just wait for GUN to drop their guard?” He shook his head. “That ain’t good enough. They coulda killed him by then!”

“Are you seriously willing to risk the lives of every single person on this ship?”

He fidgeted his feet and glanced up and down the corridor. Anywhere but at her.

“Look,” she said. “The offer’s there. Take it or leave it.”

“I’ll leave it,” he said. “But I ain’t gonna go back on my offer. I’ll help you get that Infinite back and then I’m off. I’ll rescue Tumble myself.”

“So you don’t want anything in return? That’s very unlike a space pirate.”

He lifted his hands in a shrug and walked backwards down the corridor. “Call me?”

Then he turned and made for the shower room.

...​

Amy leant back in the lush grass of a green meadow. Small animals scurried about her, chattering to themselves, while flickies flew overhead. The tiny birds congregated in the branches of an apple tree to preen their feathers, their musical melody only adding to the serenity. A soft breeze blew through Amy’s quills and she closed her eyes briefly. Only briefly, as a squirrel hopped up onto her lap.

“Oh!” she exclaimed, giving the small rodent a smile. “Do you want a snack?”

It said nothing, instead reaching out to swipe her nose. She recoiled slightly and the animal reached up to do it again.

The meadow vanished and Amy snorted, swatting at whatever was pestering her muzzle. Whatever it was insisted on poking at her nose. She snapped her emerald eyes open, meeting Infinite’s mismatched gaze. He crouched on all-fours low to the ground so his face was almost level with hers. He retracted his claw from her face and smirked.

“What the…” She pushed herself upright, rubbing at her snout. “What are you playing at?”

Her voice was almost a mumble. She ran her bare fingers through her disheveled quills and slowly took in her craft room. She’d managed to nod off on a pile of fashion magazines she’d been browsing for inspiration.

“I’m not playing anything.” Infinite sat back on his haunches and shrugged. “I got bored.”

“I thought you were organising my storage closet,” she scoffed.

“Oh, I finished that hours ago,” he said. “So I watched you sleep for a while. You drool, by the way.”

“What?” Her cheeks flushed and she absently wiped her mouth on the back of her hand. “Do you know anything about boundaries?!”

“Yes,” he said. “They’re pointless.”

“Really? And how would you feel if I watched you sleep?”

His nose twitched and he diverted his attention to one of her magazines, idly flicking. “I don’t think I’d really care.”

“Well, I have boundaries and I expect people to respect them.”

When he didn’t respond, she shook her head and gathered up the glove she’d been working on.

“Not that it matters,” she went on. “You’ll be out of my quills soon enough anyway.”

That got his attention. He lowered the magazine and scanned his eyes over her body. It was enough to cause her needle to falter and she shifted beneath his gaze.

“I don’t want to be in your quills,” he said. “They don’t look comfy. Much too prickly.”

“Yes,” she said slowly in a bid to mask her discomfort. “I’m a hedgehog.”

A grin spread across his muzzle and he grew restless, nibbling on a claw as his eyes darted around the room. They landed on a tin of odd buttons and he tugged it open and poured them out onto the floor.

“You don’t have very good social skills, do you?” Amy commented as she returned to hand-stitching his glove.

“I’ve not had much practice.” He turned a brass button in his claws then set it aside next to one of similar size and colour. “Everyone I’ve spoken to in the past fifty or so years hasn’t exactly been good company.”

“Jail wardens?”

“You wish,” he said.

She looked up from her work, waiting for him to elaborate. But his full attention was on the assorted buttons.

“You make it sound like they didn’t look after you,” she said.

“They were only interested in what they could get from me.” He fixed a golden eye on hers, chilling her. “Hurry up with that. I’ve got work to do.”

She recoiled from his gaze and he turned back to his button sorting. But her hands were shaking too much to continue stitching. She dropped the glove and pushed herself up, smoothing out her red dress. Then she excused herself and slipped out of the studio to her bathroom. She faltered in the doorway, eyes fixed on the shower. Each bottle of shampoo and soap had been arranged by size along the shelf. Even the plush pink shower mat had been folded neatly over the heated towel rail.

She shook her head, deciding maybe lurking in the bathroom to calm herself wasn’t the best choice. So instead she opted for making a coffee. The hum from the coffee machine drowned out the clinking of buttons, allowing her once again to believe everything was just some paranoid delusion. But she found herself making two mugs anyway.

Infinite’s eyes widened as she handed him a solid green coffee mug, with a biscotti perched on its saucer. He took it gingerly and raised an eyebrow at her.

“It would have been rude not to make you one,” she said flatly, returning to her sewing station.

He grunted and abandoned the mug on the table behind him. She stared at him over her cup’s yellow rim and shook her head.

“I’ve not poisoned it,” she said.

“I never said you had,” he replied. “But one can never be too careful.”

“Okay. And what good would poisoning you get me?”

“One dead jackal.” He flicked a button into the air and caught it in his right hand. “Although that would be something, given I apparently can’t die.”

“You said you don’t age,” she said. “So are you immortal or something?”

He shrugged and clambered into the seat beside his coffee. “I don’t know. No one’s ever tested poisons on me. I guess we’ll see?”

He dunked his biscotti then took a bite from it. His tail swished with delight and he leant back into his seat.

“I kind of guessed you like peanuts.”

Amy returned to her sewing, although her hands still shook slightly. It probably wasn’t the best idea to make herself a coffee of all things.

“So… are you a science experiment?” she ventured.

He flashed a glare in her direction. “I don’t like talking about it.”

“I’m sorry,” she muttered. “I’m just trying to pass the time. You just showed up and I don’t know what to do.”

“Make clothes,” he said. “Like I told you to.”

She took in a trembling breath and lowered her sewing. “Please, just talk to me. At least let me feel like you’re not some kind of threat.”

“Oh but I am a threat.” He licked crumbs off his fingers. “And you’re terrified of me.”

He slipped from his seat and crouched before her, fixing his mismatched eyes on hers. No snarl. No smirk. Just a painful stare that had her transfixed with fear. As if he’d strike if she looked away.

“Please.” Her voice wobbled. “Just stop.”

He spat air then stood up, idly dusting the red jewel in his chest. “Everyone is terrified of me.”

“Well have you tried not deliberately scaring people?” Her voice still wavered, but she turned her attention back to sewing.

“No point,” he said. “Pretty soon this world will buckle beneath me, starting with Eggman. And that crazed scientist Gadget. And anyone else who gets in my way.”

She jerked her head up towards him, her emerald eyes wide. “You want to destroy Mainframe?!”

“Sure.” He shrugged and returned to his coffee. “Why not.”

“Because… billions of people live on it?! Including you!”

He shrugged again and cradled the green cup in his hands. “They’ve not done anything for me.”

“That’s hardly a reason!” she scoffed. “And what about yourself? You’ll just float immortal in an empty void?”

“There’d be rubble.”

“You’d be alone.”

A smirk tugged at his lips and he scratched the corner of his mouth. “I’ve had fifty years of experience in that area. What’s another millenium?”

Amy stared down at her sewing, but she wasn’t seeing it. Her mind swirled with what he’d just said. Blatantly admitting plans of mass genocide. Planetary destruction. Was that why he’d been locked up for so long? Did GUN know all this? Did Sonic?

Her fist fastened around the glove. “I can’t let you do this.”

He swallowed a mouth full of coffee and cocked an eyebrow at her. “And how exactly do you plan to stop me?”

“I don’t know,” she said. “Some way?”

“I think I made it pretty clear where you stand in the pecking order the second I disabled your toy hammer.”

She flinched at those words and a burning anger welled up inside her. But she swallowed it down. It was no use. She knew she’d lose in a fight with this maniac. At least… in a fight of physical strength.

“Maybe I don’t have to use violence,” she said.

“So what? You’re gonna use words?” His voice practically purred, sending a chill down her spine.

She forced herself to ignore it, returning to her task of finishing the glove. Just a few more stitches and it would be done. All that would be left was his crazy hair-do. Then she could find some way of stopping this maniac. Get a level head. Maybe track down Sonic and her other friends and work together to detain him.

They didn’t need to kill him. He was still a life. He still had a chance at redemption, and being mentally unstable wasn’t grounds for voiding him that chance.

She knotted off her thread and looked back up at him, meeting his eyes. He was still leering at her. A daft grin plastered on his face, mildly menacing with a playful look in his eye. Was he just toying with her? Did he have no desire to destroy Mainframe at all? She greatly hoped that’s all it was.

He hadn’t hurt her yet. Maybe he was all talk and used his powers simply to show off?

She turned the glove the right way out and set it beside her with its pair. The left one had a red belt fastened to its buckle, hammered firmly in place. The right belt was green. His choice. She didn’t think they went together at all.

“Okay,” she said quietly. “I think it’s time to fix your mane.”

The jackal brushed his fingers over his white mane as a thoughtful look crossed his features. Then he dropped down before Amy, turning his back to her as she indicated. A little too close. The pink hedgehog shifted uneasily as the warmth from his body spread to her left shin. She tucked her legs in and groped for the hair brush, nestled among the pile of tubes and belts she’d previously prepared. Each one had a clip to hold it in place. Hair styling wasn’t exactly her forte, let alone Mainframe’s nightclub culture, so she’d had to go with what she knew and hope it worked.

She bit her lip, bracing herself to drag the wire brush through his thick mane. It snagged slightly, but he didn’t seem to mind. After a short while he visibly relaxed, ears drooping as if he was about to nod off. The brush practically glided through his fur and she found herself wondering how often he’d actually had the chance to groom it. It was unusually soft and she had to resist the urge to trail her fingers through it. Her heart knotted as she thought back at those club photos. It would actually be a shame to knot his entire mane into dreadlocks. Maybe she could fashion up something else? Braids, maybe? Or…

She looked over the curling pile of apparel once more and her eyes fell on a tin of ribbons. She grabbed it and yanked off the lid, then rifled through the various odds and ends. Nothing long enough to work with.

Infinite’s right ear swiveled back towards her and he tensed slightly.

“What are you doing?” he asked.

“I have an idea.” She discarded the tin and rose to her feet. “Give me a minute.”

As she entered her storage room she did a small double-take. Neatly organized, each mound of fabric folded and arranged by colour. Style. Pattern. Size. Even the shelves had been straightened. Tins and boxes stacked upon them, no longer threatening to crash to the floor or cause her shelving units to crumble. Where did she even begin to look now?

Oh wait. Above the boxes were her ribbon wheels. Arranged by thickness and main colour. She opted for a red one, medium width, and carried it back out with her.

Infinite’s gold eye fixed on her over his shoulder and his mouth turned down in a frown. But he said nothing as she sat cross-legged behind him. Not until she unwound the ribbon, anyway.

“You’re not planning on giving me a cute little bow, are you?” he scoffed.

“No,” she said. “I just want to try something. Your mane is too nice to tangle into dreadlocks.”

He grabbed some in his fingers and twirled it, making a thoughtful noise. Then he fired her a playful grin.

“You just want to play with it, don’t you?” he teased.

She did, but she wasn’t going to admit it. At least not to someone who had just threatened to destroy her home.

She snipped off a generous length of ribbon and returned to his mane, dividing out a hefty clump. Then she wound the ribbon around it, crossing over in an ‘X’ pattern. It had ended up being a motif she’d adapted into the rest of his outfit, playing on the ‘punk’ element. It took a few attempts, but she managed to keep the ribbon in place by winding through the make-shift dread. Once the ribbon looked no longer set to fall free she smoothed it out, just to test it. It seemed fine, but it might take a bit of maintenance. But at the end of the day, he couldn’t very well keep everything in all the time. How would he sleep? Or shower, for that matter?

She shrugged it off and set about doing the same to the rest of his mane. Once the ribbons had held each dread in place, she then began to attach the accessories. Organizing them tidily throughout his mane. Some extensions were longer than others, but she felt it echoed the overall look he was going for without being too dark. The black PVC pipes had been spruced up with some neon yellow plastic she’d found. It took the edge off the black and added some colour among the red ribbon and green belts.

She sat back and dusted down her hands. “Done! You can put on the rest of the outfit when you’re ready.”

A wide grin spread across Infinite’s muzzle and he stood up, reaching for the gloves. White leather, to match his boots. The latter had a crimson ‘X’ on the outer side. The inside had a buckle used for attaching the belts from his gloves. Amy helped him with that, crossing them over his back. One red. One green. They’d likely trail a bit when his arms were relaxed, but they’d hardly provide a trip hazard. They’d be more hazardous if they were too restricting.

Then there was the mask. As she’d designed, it lacked a lower jaw. Hard plastic with a red lense over the left eye. The right was obscured behind a large black cross. Each ear had a black and white triangular pattern which was asymmetric, and they fastened over his ears snuggly. Something he’d requested to help hold it in place, but Amy couldn’t help but feel it was a massive design flaw. Such restriction was surely a recipe for cramp? But she couldn’t argue. Her last efforts to give his ears some release was to add a strap to the back, fastening the mask over his muzzle.

The jackal grinned down at his outfit, spinning left and right to take it all in. Then he twisted to eye himself in the mirror.

“Perfect,” he crooned.

Amy let out a sigh of relief and smoothed out her dress. “Then I guess you’re free to go?”

He turned back to her, that grin melting into a smirk. A thoughtful smirk that pushed her quills on end.

“I guess I am,” he said.

She nodded, trying to avoid the one eye she could see. The white was completely red, and the golden yellow iris was tinted orange. It made him look completely psychotic, aided further by the fact he wouldn’t take it off her. His expression was unreadable, like he was planning something. Like a predator stalking its prey.

“Then…” She paused to clear her throat. “I can show you the door? I mean, you did come in through the window, so…”

She trailed off as the jackal approached her, and took a hesitant step away from him. She could run. She always had the option to run. And she was quick. But could she outrun him? He was taller than her, with longer legs. She glanced down at them, bracing herself to leap between them and scramble for the door. But of course there were the belts.

She clenched a fist and glanced back up at him, trying her best to remain calm.

“You promised you’d leave if I helped you,” she said.

“I did.”

“Well I’ve held up my side of the bargain… so if you don’t mind…”

The white fur on his body lit up with a red tint and her eyes widened as the cross on his mask turned from black to crimson. But it was only brief. A weight tugged at her hands and her eyes flew towards them. A long red chain spread between them, winding up to Infinite’s right hand. Each link looked like an infinity symbol.

Her heart sank and she looked back up at him, prompting an explanation. The jackal flashed his canines in a sinister grin.

“I never said I was leaving alone,” he said.

He jerked the chain, dragging the hedgehog after him as he left her studio.

“You’re kidnapping me?!” she screamed.

“Think of it as insurance,” he said.

“Insurance for what?”

“You know my face.” He turned towards her and gestured to his body. “And you know my disguise. How do I know you won’t set GUN after me?”

Her jaw went slack. “And this didn’t occur to you before you demanded my help?”

“Eh.” He lifted his hands in a shrug. “I needed a disguise, and robbing a shop would have been too risky. This route seems less risk and more fun.”

“Fun?!” she squeaked.

“Yes, for me.” He turned and opened the door. “You might want to scream less, or you’ll draw attention.”

“As if this chain won’t do that for me?”

Right on cue, the chain vanished. But not from her hands. She could still feel the weight. She looked back up into Infinite’s grinning face and he winked his visible eye.

“Already got that covered, Freak.” He turned and dragged the thrashing hedgehog from the front door.

“Just let me go!” she squealed. “I won’t tell anyone! I won’t turn you into GUN! Just let me go!”

He rounded on her, glancing at the other closed doors dotting the hallway.

“I told you to stop screaming!” he hissed.

Amy clamped her mouth shut and tears filled her emerald eyes. “This has to be a bad dream…”

“Yeah, keep telling yourself that.” He dragged her out of the door, letting it lock on its latch. “You’d better think of somewhere for us to lay low, because GUN are gonna be hounding me like the dogs they are.”

Amy gave a mournful glance back at her apartment, then reached into her dress pocket. She pulled out her mobile, now fully working. Several text alerts dotted the screen. Of course… she was meant to be going out that night. Her friends would obviously be wondering where she was. Maybe she should let them know?

She glanced up at the jackal who eyed her curiously. No. There’d be no way she could contact anyone with him watching her.

So she sighed and tucked it away, following reluctantly after the frightening jackal to an unknown fate.
 

DeliriousAbsol

*Crazy Absol Noises*
Staff
Location
Behind a laptop, most likely with tea
Pronouns
She/Her
Chapter Nine​

Gadget browsed over his notes, barely taking them in. He’d read them twice already, and nothing had changed. Progress was slow. The big skunk pirate had been sedated and set aside as a test subject for the control harness. Apparently his physical strength was greater than Gadget had first predicted, and given Infinite hadn’t yet been retrieved, they couldn’t just put the entire project on hold. The harness needed testing, and once the jackal was back in their custody they could go ahead with Gadget’s original plan.

His door creaked open, but the wolf didn’t even look up from his computer.

“You’re late,” he said.

“I know.” Sonic strolled in and flopped into the chair opposite Gadget. “I overslept.”

“That’s what alarm clocks are for.”

Gadget finally looked up at the hedgehog, taking in the heavy rings beneath his green eyes. The disheveled quills and the huge yawn that was probably not just for show.

“The caffetiere should still be hot.” Gadget returned to his task, leaning his head on his left hand. “Help yourself.”

Sonic didn’t need telling twice. He dragged himself up and poured out a large cup. Then a second for the wolf. Good, he’d taken the hint. Gadget accepted his coffee and watched Sonic flop back down into his seat.

“I’m going to guess you’ve not caught Infinite?” Gadget ventured.

“Oh, there’d be much more fanfare if I had.” Sonic sipped his coffee and flinched as it burnt his mouth. “He’s removed his tracking chip.”

Gadget raised an eyebrow at that. He let out a sigh and rubbed the bridge of his muzzle. That jackal was going to be the death of him.

“So he could be anywhere,” he said. “Fantastic. Where is this chip?”

“Tails has it,” said Sonic. “T-Pup can use it to track his scent.”

“Really? And you haven’t found him yet because…”

“The trail ended.” Sonic ventured his coffee again, not having learned from the first time. So he set it on Gadget’s desk and tucked his arms behind his head. “Just like that. Gone.”

“So he really could be anywhere.” Gadget sighed and covered his face with his hands. “We’re going to need many more soldiers on this task since I don’t imagine you’re ‘up to speed’?”

“Don’t count on it, I’ve barely slept in days.” The hedgehog yawned again and brushed his quills back from his face. “But I can try. Circle the city a few times and see if I can spot anything.”

“And Tails?”

“Like I said. He can track with T-Pup. Or use the Tornado. I imagine any wreckage will be visible from the sky.”

But that was just the point. There hadn’t been any wreckage. Just a few citizens commenting on a strange jackal vanishing and reappearing at odd intervals. Distorted squirrels and bears, and the alarming news tag-line that the famous and much-loved sweetheart Honey the Cat had hissed at a child. It all screamed ‘Infinite’. It only went to show how little Gadget knew about the jackal’s strange powers.

How much did Infinite even know about them? Maybe that’s why there hadn’t been any destruction since he’d escaped the prison. He didn’t know what he was doing.

No, that couldn’t be it. It was more likely he didn’t want to leave a trail. First escape, rest up, then make a scene. But that didn’t make sense either.

“Are you okay, doc? You look like you’re getting a headache.”

Sonic peered at him over his steaming mug of coffee.

“I’m just trying to make head or tail of this,” Gadget explained. “It makes no sense why he’d just vanish and not at least try to destroy something first.”

Sonic shrugged and slowly sipped his drink. “Maybe he doesn’t want to destroy anything.”

Gadget flashed him a glare. “And all those threats were because of what? Just for show? To make us fear him?”

“Probably. I mean, he was locked up for decades. Have you ever thought that maybe he just wants to be free?”

Gadget narrowed his eyes at the soldier and jabbed his finger repeatedly into his desk. “I don’t want him to be free! I want him here, working for me!”

Sonic huffed and leant back in his seat. “’Working’ is a funny way of wording it.”

“Are you testing me, hog?”

Sonic’s eyes widened and he lowered his coffee again. He hadn’t intended Gadget to hear those words. The wolf sighed and shook his head, turning back to his computer.

“Just get out of here and find him,” Gadget growled. “And don’t mutter such things in my presence again.”

Sonic slipped from his seat and left the room, pausing only to utter a polite ‘goodbye’. Gadget waved him off and once the door had closed he groaned and scratched behind his ear. They really were going to need more soldiers on this mission. Maybe he should pick up a gun himself and give chase?

His eye wandered to the closet at the back of his office, and he abandoned his desk to open it. Weapons and various gadgets lined the shelves and hung from the inside of the door. Tazers, tranquilizer guns, various laser weapons from sniper rifles to close range pistols, anti-gravity emitters… A low chuckle left his throat as he removed the latter from its hook. A rounded device, larger at the firing end. A few tweaks and Infinite wouldn’t stand a chance against it.

Blue lights flickered back and forth along its sides as he activated it, then he aimed it at his desk. He squeezed the trigger and his computer became engulfed in a translucent blue haze. The computer was lifted clean off his desk to hover above it, motionless. Gadget chuckled again and eyed the weapon, rotating it in his hands. Gravity might be a necessity to keep one grounded, but too much or too little and you could really mess something… or someone… up.

“Oh, gravity. How heartless can you truly be?”

...​

Tsunami rubbed her eyes as she stepped foot onto her bridge. Sunlight leaked through the windscreen, dulled only by the anti-glare coating. The artificial click of a computer keyboard alerted her to Decode’s presence and she glanced the bush baby working away at his holo-computer. How Decode could get up so early in the morning always baffled her. Although there was also the ever present possibility he just hadn’t slept at all.

She muttered under her breath as she stepped over the sleeping crocodile sprawled across the floor then slumped into her captain’s seat. Charmy was curled up in Crash’s seat, but there was no sign of Espio anywhere.

“Good morning,” said Decode, somewhat delayed.

The pangolin rubbed her hands over her muzzle, longing to still be tucked up under her sheets. But after the chaos of the previous night she’d tossed and turned, barely catching a wink.

“Have you checked on Crash?” Decode ventured.

“Not yet,” she said. “Omachao told me he’s fine, and I don’t want to wake him.”

“Understandable.” Decode’s large eyes scanned over the various photos loaded up on his holo-screen. “I wouldn’t want to wake the beast, either.”

Charmy squeaked as he rolled over and one of his eyes cracked open. He spotted Tsunami then sat up and yawned, rubbing the sleep from his eyes.

“What time is it?” he mumbled.

“Six thirty in the morning.” The words almost pained Tsunami.

Charmy’s brows knit together and he gave her a bewildered look. “Six thirty? Are you insane?”

She gave a glance around her bridge at the two space pirates, then her eye wandered to the door. Four pirates on her ship. Breaking out a criminal, then losing him. Fighting against GUN.

“It’s starting to look that way,” she muttered.

Omachao fluttered onto the bridge, balancing a silver tray on one hand. He paused beside Tsunami to give her the lone mug of coffee it carried.

“Good morning, ma’am!” he chirruped. “I trust you slept well?”

“Think again,” she said.

“Oh dear.” Omachao managed to look aghast. “Well that’s no good, is it? I suggest a massage. If you return to your quarters, I can be with you in-”

“Out.”

The robot chao bowed then fluttered from the room.

Vector rubbed his head and looked between the retreating chao and Tsunami.

“The robot offers free massages now?” he asked. “How did you program that in?”

“They have an evolving personality,” said Tsunami. “I did nothing. He’s programmed to help.”

“I may have discussed butlering with him at some point,” said Decode.

“What butler offers massage?” Vector spat.

“A good one. I had back ache.”

Tsunami sighed and pushed herself from her seat, cradling her coffee as she retreated from the bridge.

“Where are you off to?” Vector asked.

“To see if the kitchen is less noisy,” she said.

The crocodile kept one eye on her but said nothing as he reached for his discarded headphones.

“I’m coming with you!” Charmy buzzed after her, causing her to bristle. “I need cereal bad.”

The kitchen was not less noisy. Omachao busied back and forth by the stove, instructing Espio on the art of pancake tossing. The chameleon seemed much too focused on the task, almost as if failing would cost him a limb. Or his pride. Tsunami faltered by the door, torn between her desire for a quick breakfast and the urge to go back to her room for another hour.

Charmy landed at the table and reached for one of the several boxes of sugared cereal adorning it. He didn’t even empty the contents into a bowl. He upturned the milk into the box then reached for a spoon.

Tsunami had seen enough. She left the kitchen and made her way back to her bedroom. But she almost walked right into Rough as he left the room next to hers. His red eyes widened and he lifted a hand to steady her. It didn’t stop the coffee swishing over the edge of her cup and sloshing down the front of her dress. She grimaced, and not just from the heat biting through the cotton.

“Sorry ‘bout that.” Rough released her arm to close his door. “You all right, love?”

She mentally swatted away his ‘pet name’, not in the mood to argue with him. For some reason she was relieved to see his tail was once again curled over his back. And the lack of dark rings under his eyes suggested he’d slept much better than she had.

He looked down at her and raised an eyebrow. What did he want? She matched his expression then realized she’d not yet answered him.

“Oh. I’m fine.” She idly dabbed the damp spot on the geometric pattern across her stomach with her scarf. “It’ll wash.” She met his eyes briefly and carefully cradled her coffee. “It’s nice to see you’ve washed the funk from your fur.”

“Well it wasn’t impressin’ ya, was it?” He gave her a half-smile then made to step around her. “So I guess you’re off to check on your brother, then?”

“No, I was actually…” She sighed and shook her head. “Oh, what’s the point.”

She turned to follow him to the bridge and he looked back at her over his shoulder.

“Somethin’ wrong?” he asked.

“Mornings and space pirates,” she spat.

“I’m afraid we can’t all be sunshine and rainbows.”

She matched his pace as they made their way through the corridor. “Oh they are less sunshine and more rainbow. Loud… obnoxious… neon rainbows.”

Rough threw his head back and laughed. She leapt aside, almost spilling her coffee again. He wiped a tear from his right eye and tried to calm himself.

“That’s the best description of a ‘morning person’ ever,” he said. “I think that woke me up. So what’s the deal on breakfast in this joint?”

“Whatever Omachao feels like cooking,” she said. “I’ll grab mine when the kitchen has calmed down.”

The bridge felt a lot quieter without Charmy and Vector in it, so she retreated back there to leave Rough to forage a breakfast. A clatter emanated from the kitchen, followed by a surprised yell, signaling that someone, somehow, had thrown the pan in an attempt to flip a pancake.

She chose to ignore it.

Decode was still working hard at his computer, so she took the opportunity to peer over his shoulder. Photos of the city, but each one had something in common. A blurred or distorted person walking along it, appearing on edge or as if they were looking for something.

“What’s this?” she asked.

“Sightings that might be Infinite,” he explained. “But each one was recorded before last night.”

“So it’s safe to assume he’s no longer in the city?” The voice was Espio’s.

The chameleon joined Tsunami’s side, rather too closely she felt. So she scooted to the other side of Decode’s chair.

“What makes you think he isn’t in the city?” she asked him. “He could just be hiding?”

“I’m with both of you on this one,” said Decode. “There’s no evidence to support either fact.”

A loud yawn came from the doorway, and Crash lumbered onto the bridge. He stretched his arms behind his head and yawned again. Then leant on the back of Decode’s chair as he rubbed his eyes.

“It’s good to see you up,” said Tsunami. “How are you feeling?”

“Like I’ve been hit by a truck,” he said.

“That’s understandable given the circumstances,” said Espio. “You did get hit by two of those tranquilizer darts.”

Crash blinked his blue eyes a few times and frowned. “I barely remember any of it. Just some… weird GUN soldier who acted like a robot.” He paused and rubbed his nose. “He also had a robot. Some dog thing.”

Espio tapped Crash’s plated shoulder. “It’ll come back to you eventually. I have too much experience with that stuff.”

Crash gave him a sideways glance. “Got hit with it yourself, huh?”

“I don’t like to talk about it,” said Espio flatly.

A playful grin spread across the male pangolin’s muzzle. “Hit yourself with it, then?”

“Again, I don’t like to talk about it.”

“That’s a yes,” said Decode.

Tsunami shook her head and sipped her coffee.

“So what are we doing?” Crash asked as he received his own coffee off Omachao.

“Looking for evidence Infinite might still be in Central City,” Decode explained. “Or anywhere, for that matter. But I’m still scouring Central City News.”

He scrolled through the images, giving a brief explanation for each one. But none of them were relevant now. Why would he use the same disguise again? Although some were so distorted it was almost as if they were hoax shots set up to spread fear.

“Wait.” Espio leaned over Decode’s chair. “Scroll back up.”

Decode complied, his muzzle creasing with confusion.

“There.” Espio tapped the screen, bringing up a separate news article.

‘New Fashion Superstar, Rose Designs, Spotted With New Boyfriend?’

The three mercenaries looked at the space pirate with matching looks of surprise.

“Fan of Amy Rose then?” Crash asked.

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Espio spat. “Look! Who does that look like to you?”

Tsunami frowned at the photo of the pink hedgehog. She stood talking - or shouting - at a black and white canine, adorned from head to foot with an outfit that suggested he’d stepped right out of a night-club.

“Can you zoom in?” Espio asked Decode.

“I can try, but it’s a news article,” said Decode.

He tapped the same key repeatedly to make the picture bigger. But the bigger it got the more pixelated it became. Regardless, Espio leant further over his seat and tapped the holo-screen.

“Look,” he said. “Right there.”

The mercenaries followed his finger, frowning at the mass of pixels. But there it was. A hint of red amid his black and white fur. Right in the middle of his chest.

Tsunami’s eyes widened and she pushed herself back from the navigation deck. So it was him? Just out in the open like that? With a civilian?

“I don’t get it,” said Crash. “Why would he go to all that effort to disguise himself and not mask that jewel thing in his chest?”

“It is odd,” said Decode. “I’m more curious about why he’s just strolling the streets with a celebrity. Like… he’s not destroying anything at all.”

“A waiting game?” Tsunami ventured.

“I don’t know,” said Espio. “But not covering up one of the biggest give-aways to his identity? To me that suggests he’s either stupid, or so sure of his own strength it borders on arrogance.”

Crash turned his head towards him. “So… the crazy outfit is because…?”

“To blend in?” Espio shrugged. “From behind, with all that stuff hanging off him, no one would think it was Infinite. Just some other jackal. But from the front, he’d see his opposition and wipe it out before they even had the chance to fight back.”

“So it’s hardly a disguise?” Tsunami tutted. “Well, at least we know he’s still in Central City.”

“Hanging out with Rose,” said Espio. “Now what does he want with a fashion designer?”

“Think she made him that outfit?” Crash grinned.

“Actually, yes.”

“Really?” Crash’s eyes widened and he tucked his hands behind his head. “I was joking.”

“I’m not.”

“Then let’s get a move on,” said Tsunami. “Catch that jackal before he causes any more trouble.”

“We need to find him first,” said Decode. “This was taken before dawn.”

Tsunami froze by her seat. Decode was right. He could be anywhere in that city. So she turned to enter the kitchen to quiz Rough on his tracking skills. Her stomach growled and she glanced down at her coffee-stained dress. Maybe she’d also finally get a bite to eat.

...​

It felt like they’d been walking for hours, but it wasn’t even eight in the morning. Amy groaned as she followed after the jackal. He’d not said much, even when she’d been scolding him for dragging her along. All he’d given her was a hissed warning laced with venom that if she drew unnecessary attention he’d be forced to silence her.

‘Silence’.

She wasn’t sure whether or not to be relieved he’d not outright used the word ‘kill’. But there was always the chance he’d been sugar-coating it. They were in public, after all.

Whatever. She was too exhausted to kick up a fuss. She’d been up most of the night making his ‘disguise’, as had he. Yet he showed no signs of exhaustion. When he paused at yet another map stand she let out a flustered sigh, which quickly evolved into a yawn.

“What are you looking for?” she finally ventured.

“Somewhere to hide,” he said flatly.

“What, like an abandoned warehouse?” She hugged herself as she tried to picture a deserted place filled with rats and spiders. “There are a ton of them on the outskirts.”

“Nah,” he said. “Too dusty.” Then he added under his breath, “I learned that the hard way.”

She scanned over the map herself, wondering if there was anything she could offer. Somewhere she could sleep, and get off the street. The wind was brisk and she hadn’t had the chance to grab a jacket. She was fortunate enough she was even wearing shoes and her gloves, the latter of which had been stuffed into her dress pockets.

“Might I suggest a hotel?” she said.

Infinite’s spine stiffened and he stared down at her with a mixture of surprise and humor. She felt herself shrink and hugged her arms about her even more.

“It’s cold, and I’m tired,” she explained. “I just want somewhere to sleep. I… can pay for your room as well?”

The jackal scoffed and turned back to the map. “You really think I’m letting you out of my sight?”

Well there went that fleeting escape plan. Along with the dream of a decent sleep if he was going to be sat watching her again…

Her eye wandered back to the map as she sought out somewhere that might offer a bit of privacy while also entertaining the mad man’s desire to keep tabs on her. After a moment, the creeping realization he was watching her crawled across her skin and pushed her quills on end.

“You look like you’re about to collapse,” he said. “Fine. Find a hotel. I don’t want to have to end up carrying your exhausted ass around the city.”

Valiant.

Amy’s muzzle creased and she shook her head before turning back to the map.

“Somewhere low-key,” he added. “We end up somewhere classy it might stand out to the authorities.”

“Really?” She cast him a glare over her shoulder. “What on earth makes you think that?”

He lifted his hands in a shrug and the chain tugged her wrists. “Someone’s gonna notice sooner or after that you’re not at home, right? So where will they try to track down a famous fashion designer? They clearly won’t look in some dive of a hotel, will they? They’ll check all them four and five star places that superstars hole themselves up in.”

Really?! She screwed her eyes shut in a grimace. “Suddenly an abandoned warehouse seems much more appealing.”

“At least a cheap hotel will have a bed. Rather than some damp cardboard box in a corner that some animal used as a toilet.”

He shuddered beside her and curled his tail about his legs. But the way his head turned left and right made her wonder if it was his mental picture that had triggered it, or something else entirely.

“Hurry up,” he hissed. “People are staring.”

He fixed an arm around her shoulders and pulled her into him, and she had to stifle a squeal. The back of her head met that strange ruby in his chest. She followed his glance across the street where a ragtag group of teenagers on their way to class were stood watching, aiming their camera phones in their direction. A few of them shouted something, and for a brief moment she worried they were about to rush over to them.

Infinite let out a low growl and swished his tail, and the rabble soon returned to their commute, firing beaming and laughing faces at them over their shoulders.

His hands lingered on her shoulders, but he didn’t take his eyes off the corner the students had vanished around.

“They’re gone now.” She tried to shrug him off. “You can release me.”

He complied, but his fingers brushed her arms as he slowly let his hands relax at his sides.

“Maybe I should also have told you to make yourself a disguise?” He spoke oddly close to her ear, sending a chill down her spine.

She swallowed audibly, forcing herself to keep looking at the map. “I think me vanishing would draw more attention than people seeing me with a strange man in the street.” She paused, venturing a small glance back at him over her shoulder. “Besides, people have seen me with you now. If I ‘vanished’, who do you think they’ll track down first?”

He growled again and stepped back from her. “Very well.”

Now with a little more space around her she felt a bit more at ease. She straightened out the hem of her dress as she checked over the Northern District. The only part of Central City’s outskirts that were visible on the large map. The outskirts were a shady place. Full of street gangs and mercenaries. Not exactly somewhere to find a five-star hotel.

“There,” she said. “I think I’ve found a place.”

“Perfect,” Infinite crooned, somewhat sarcastically she felt.

She led them from the map, trying to keep a mental picture of it in her head. The outskirts wasn’t somewhere she frequented, and had very little knowledge about them. The sheer thought of stepping foot into the rougher areas of Central City without her mallet twisted her stomach.

They continued on in silence, save for the odd grating noise Infinite seemed to make whenever something caught his eye. Which was almost everything. The neon signs, animated billboards, hover cars. Even children zipping along on their hover-boards, which if anything caused Amy more of an inconvenience than a fascination.

“I get the feeling all of this is new to you,” she said quietly.

He grunted a reply as he paused to glance over the menu in a bistro window.

“Is this your first time seeing the city?” she asked.

“It doesn’t matter really, does it?” He turned from the bistro to march on ahead of her. “I won’t be in it for long.”

Was that another reference to his desire to wreck the place? She puffed out her cheeks as she glared at the back of his head. A tug at her wrist became a yank until she was forced to trot along after him.

“You don’t even know where you’re going!” she shouted.

“Yeah, and you’re meant to be leading the way.” He turned until he was walking backwards, leering at her. “It isn’t my fault if we end up lost, Pink Freak.”

‘Freak’?!

Amy was about to berate him for that, but instead her emerald eyes widened as she spotted a car whiz past behind him. She leapt forward, grabbing the jackal by the wrist. He locked eyes with her briefly as a look of alarm crossed his face. But any retort died on his lips as she whisked him back from the curb. Just in time for a freight wagon to trundle past, dragging its segmented carts behind it loaded high with iron and cement as it made its way to a nearby building site.

“Watch out for the cars!” She rounded on Infinite, balling her hands into fists. “You’re going to get yourself killed, you idiot! Do you have no street sense?!”

He looked between her and the passing wagon, then relaxed his arms at his sides.

“I told you.” He inclined his head on one side as he stared down at her. “I can’t die.”

“That’s no reason to wander out into moving traffic!” She tutted. “Are you forgetting you’re tied to me? Unlike you, I can die.”

Infinite clicked his tongue thoughtfully. “Oh yes. So you can.”

On that chilling note, he turned from her to wait for the traffic to stop. Almost mockingly. The lights changed, followed by a shrill beeping siren.

“That means it’s safe to cross,” Amy chided.

He narrowed his eyes at her and bared a canine. “I’m not stupid.”

“Says the guy who was about to walk out into moving traffic.”

He paused to let her pass, but she could feel him watching her.

“You know, for a hostage you’re very argumentative,” he said. “Most people wouldn’t have the gall to fight back. They’d be too busy quaking in fear.”

Her foot faltered as her blood turned cold. Infinite moved in behind her and his breath tickled her ear.

“But a fiery hostage is much more entertaining.”

Well that made every retort die on her tongue.

His grin melted away and he tucked his arms behind his head. “Are you taking us to this hotel or what?”

She nodded stiffly and turned on the spot. But then the ground vanished beneath her and she tumbled over the edge of the curb. A scream left her throat, drowned out by the frantic horns of traffic. Something tugged on her arm, sending her careening backwards into Infinite’s warm body. He locked his arms around her stomach and chuckled in her ear.

“Watch out for the cars,” he purred.

Amy could do nothing but stare out at the stream of colourful hover cars whizzing along the dual carriageway. Her heart pounded in her chest as her mind played over the situation like a stuck record. Had he actually just rescued her? She wriggled from Infinite’s grip and stood trembling before the traffic. She glanced up at the jackal, meeting his smirk with a bewildered expression. Words wouldn’t form right, and what was meant to be a strained ‘thank you’ came out instead as;

“Why did you save me?”

He huffed, but that playful smirk didn’t leave his face. “You’re welcome.”

“But I thought you were evil?”

“You’re more use to me alive.”

She tutted and pushed the button to cross the road. “’Evil’ it is, then.”

The siren encouraged them across and the pair walked in silence towards the Northern District. The difference between the outskirts and Central City began to show as they strolled past boarded-up shops and alleyways teaming with torn trash bags. Infinite began to tread carefully, eyeing the gutter with a grimace. Amy didn’t have the heart to tell him this was only the tip of the iceberg.

Fortunately the hotel wasn’t too deep into the hole that was the Northern District. Perched beside the sticky doorstep of a night club stood Strobe Street Inn. A fluorescent pink sign hung in the window, declaring it had vacancies. It tinted the white of Infinite’s fur and he pawed at it in a bid to make it go away.

The door tinkled as Amy opened it, and she tugged at Infinite’s cuff until he followed her.

“Flippin’ pink everywhere,” he muttered.

A greying beaver looked up from behind the reception. Her jaw dropped at the sight of the pair and she nudged her glasses back up her snout, rapidly shunting her magazine aside.

“Can I help you?” she ventured.

“Yes. We’d like a room?” said Amy.

The spectacles almost fell off the beaver’s face. “Really? Well… what room would you like? Double?”

Double?! Not a chance.

Amy forced a smile regardless, fighting the urge to look up at her companion. “Do you have a family room?”

The beaver looked between them, then leant over the counter just in case there was a third, much smaller person, standing between them.

“She fidgets,” Infinite deadpanned.

Amy glanced up at the jackal. That was a nice save.

The beaver nodded and reached for her clipboard. Such a primitive object that Amy hadn’t seen much of even in offices.

“We have two available. One has a view of Central City,” she said. “The other looks over the building site, but I hear they’re making it into a nice set of houses.”

Amy hugged her arms around herself as the reality of the situation began to dawn on her. “The city is fine.”

“Names?”

Amy opened her mouth to answer, then faltered. If she gave her real name, that would make it easier to track her down.

“Put it under mine,” said Infinite.

Amy’s heart lurched. Surely GUN would find him if he did that?

She leapt in before he could give it. “Niffy.”

The beaver’s pen glided over her clipboard without her even questioning it. She didn’t see the jackal’s gob-smacked face as he stared down at the pink hedgehog. Speechless.

“Okay Mister Niffy.” The beaver reached behind her for a key card. “It’s the third floor, room twenty-one.”

He took it and turned from the reception without so much as a ‘thanks’. So Amy thanked the beaver instead and trotted after Infinite. He held the elevator door for her and gave her an unreadable expression as they closed behind her.

“’Niffy’?” he spat.

“I had to think fast!” she said. “You can’t give your real name! What if GUN find you?”

“I have you know I had it all planned out,” he said. “I wasn’t going to give her my real name, and I certainly wasn’t going to use ‘Niffy’! Where did you even coin that name?”

“Shortly after you introduced yourself and I asked if I could shorten it.”

He made a spitting noise and looked away from her. “Good grief. And you think I’m evil? Niffy…”

The elevator let out a loud ping and let them out on the third floor. Room twenty-one was only a short way down the corridor. Infinite flashed the card and pushed the door open, entering before Amy.

One bed filled up most of the room, and at the foot of it was the door to the en-suite and a low dressing table. A sofa bed sat against the far wall beneath the window, the arm hidden beneath a yellowed moth-eaten curtain. Thankfully the bed sheets didn’t appear as moth-eaten. Or as yellowed.

Infinite leapt into the air and landed on his back on the bed. Amy rolled her eyes and resigned herself to the sofa bed. A blanket lay folded on it, and she spread it out over the cushions.

“I’m going to get some sleep now,” she said. “I recommend you do the same.”

“Don’t need it.” Regardless, he yawned.

Fantastic. The reality of sleep rapidly became a fleeting dream.

“Then what do you plan on doing?” She deeply hoped he didn’t declare he’d watch her again.

“Oh, I dunno.” He lifted his hand and a red haze spread out around it, tinting the white leather of his glove. “I might practice for a while. Can’t destroy the world if I don’t have a good handle on my powers now, can I?” He flashed her a toothy grin.

Amy sighed and slumped onto the sofa bed. She placed her hands either side of her, but didn’t lean back.

“Why do you want to destroy this world?” she asked. “What’s it done to you?”

“That’s none of your business.”

“So you’re just doing it to be evil? Because you can?”

He fired her a sideways glance. “What makes you think I’m evil exactly?”

“Oh I don’t know. Maybe kidnapping me and declaring you’re going to destroy the world I live in?”

“And that makes me ‘evil’ why?”

“Because people don’t just go around destroying planets and taking lives! That’s evil!”

He shrugged and turned back to his hand. A quick flick and several red cubes formed around it.

“Did you ever consider the world might be evil?” he asked. “Or the people in it?”

Amy’s mouth flapped open and closed as she struggled to find a response. He noticed this and shook his head.

“Think about it,” he said. “The high standards you set. The lies you live. People who take what isn’t theirs. The scientists who want to use you! Tell me. Who is the evil one here? The world, or the one trying to stop it?”

“All right,” she said. “Say you have a point. What about those who are innocent? Those who strive to help others? Sweet little children? The ones actually trying to make a difference?”

Infinite shrugged. “Sad casualties.”

Well… at least he thought of them as ‘sad’. It still didn’t make it okay, however.

“Go on then,” he said. “You had a list of those you think are innocent. Why not give me an example of someone who is ‘evil’ in your eyes and let’s see if I really fit the bill?”

She stared at him, but he didn’t look her way. Not that he could. His blacked-out eye was the one closest to her, and he was too focused on playing with those red cubes.

“Oh, I don’t know,” she said. “A mindless murderer?”

He visibly stiffened and narrowed his eyes at the red cubes hovering above him.

“I mean… that’s kind of what you’ll be if you commit mass-genocide to fulfill some warped ideal.” She wound her fingers together. “I’d say that’s pretty evil.”

“’Mindless murderer’,” he muttered. “Heh. I know a thing or two about that.”

What was that supposed to mean? She frowned at him.

“So you’ve killed other people before?” she asked. “Back in your own world?”

“I had my reasons.” His voice was barely a whisper.

She kicked her legs against the edge of the sofa, drawing his eye again. He narrowed them until she stopped, and she muttered an apology, only to then berate herself mentally for doing so. He didn’t deserve one after everything she’d heard.

“What would you even do once you’ve destroyed this world anyway?” she asked. “Given there’d be nothing left but rubble? Build it anew with your own idea of perfection?”

“What? No!” He almost dropped the red cubes. “I’m not a god! What a ridiculous idea! No, I just want to wipe it out. Erase it from existence. I was meant to destroy my old world, but the evil followed me into this one.”

Her eyebrows raised at that. “You mean Eggman?”

“Precisely.”

“Then why not just wipe him out? Why include everyone else?”

“Because there’s more evil in this world than just Eggman. You see, he was a catalyst. It spread. Made it all so much worse. It infiltrated your government and vomited itself all over your little disk of a world. Even those who hate him are evil, wanting to use others for their own sick gain. I see it all, Amy. All I have to do is touch someone and see how truly evil they really are.”

“What do you mean by that?!”

He gave her a playful grin and span the cubes in the air. If that was a point she didn’t get it, and he didn’t appear to want to give her a straight answer.

She shuddered and hugged her arms around herself. “Then what about yourself? Surely even you can’t breathe where there’s no air.”

“You’re right there.”

“So…?”

He ignored that question and returned to focusing on his hand. Did he know he’d actually die? Was he really willing to go that far just to get rid of Eggman? That eerie red glow intensified, and with a flick, he sent the red cubes flying away from him one by one. One into the other, shattering them.

Just like her home would be shattered…

No, she couldn’t just let him destroy Mainframe. She had to try something, even if it meant risking her own life.

“Listen,” she said. “I know you might kill me for even suggesting this, but… if I can prove to you there is something worth saving in this world, will you spare it?”

His head jerked slightly in her direction and his expression grew thoughtful. “You care about this world that much?”

“Of course I do. And I think you would too if you gave it a chance.”

His visible eye closed and a smirk spread across his muzzle. Then he chuckled.

“All right.” He flicked the final red cube, and it shattered against the one left standing. Taking it with it. “Humor me. I have some time before I’m ready to destroy this wretched place, anyway.”

She let out a sigh and leant against her knees. Well, it was a start. Even if she wasn’t sure if he was merely playing with her.

“Okay, I’ll do my best,” she said. “But… there is one question still bothering me,” she said.

“Then make it your last one,” he growled.

“Fine.” She took a steadying breath. “If you want to destroy Mainframe, then why are you keeping me alive?”

“I told you, you’re more use to me alive.”

“How?”

“GUN won’t hurt you.”

“What makes you think that?” she asked. “I’ve practically aided your escape. Once they find that out, I’ll be nothing but a criminal in their eyes.”

He raised an eyebrow and shrugged. “Then we both die.”

“Exactly,” she said. “So I’m more of a burden on you than a use. People recognize me. Rather than keeping me alive, you could have got rid of me and not had to put up with dragging me around.”

That red haze fizzled out and he turned his head to look at her. “You sound like you want me to kill you.” He paused, trying to read her. “Is your life really that miserable?”

“Why would you care? You want to destroy the world anyway, and I guess that means me with it.”

“I don’t care.” Another smirk spread across his muzzle. “But you’ve made this a bit more fun. I’ve agreed to your little game. If you can make me care for something - anything - in this world, then I’ll spare it. Because I’ll admit, Pink Freak, you’re right. If it’s possible to care for something that exists in this mire then it’s actually worth saving.”

“And if I fail…?” she asked.

“Do you really think you will?” His voice came out husky, but she saw a glimmer of amusement behind the red glass of his eye piece. “It would be a real pity, wouldn’t it?” A grin.

Her quills bristled and she stared at him, slack-jawed. He threw his head back and laughed, beating the mattress with a hand. What was his problem? Was this all just some sick joke?

She clenched her jaw and turned away from him, fixing a longing look on the window. His laughter stopped as abruptly as it had started.

“Get some sleep,” he said. “You can’t watch the world burn while you’re tired, sugar.”

She dug her fingers into the sofa cushion as her heart practically galloped. How on earth could she sleep now?
 

DeliriousAbsol

*Crazy Absol Noises*
Staff
Location
Behind a laptop, most likely with tea
Pronouns
She/Her
Chapter Ten​

Gadget glanced at his desk clock. Almost five pm. That meant he’d spent practically all day working on his gravity weapon. But if it worked as he hoped it would, then it would have been worth it. He swiped a few stray pastry crumbs from his desk as he stared down at the chrome and white hand-gun. Small and compact, still sporting a bulky nozzle.

He scooped it up in one hand and switched it on, and immediately the blue LEDs flickered up and down either side of the body. A vast improvement to earlier, when his last attempt to test it fried its insides. That had been a costly job in both time and funds to repair.

Now to test it actually worked.

He glanced around his office, clicking his tongue as he sought out something he could sacrifice as a test subject. Well, he’d broken the chair the previous night. He dragged it away from his filing cabinet - no sense in getting that caught up in it all if things went awry. Then he stood back behind his desk and lifted the weapon.

He squeezed the trigger and a beam shot from the nozzle with a deep ‘whum!’ It enveloped the chair, sucking all the gravity out from around it. The chair drifted from the ground, higher as Gadget lifted the gun. Well, at least the anti-gravity setting was working.

He adjusted the dial on the back, controlled by a slider next to the trigger, making sure it was set to ‘compress’. The green light turned yellow, then amber. The chair slowly began to creak as its secluded gravity field was amplified. The corner of Gadget’s mouth turned up in a smirk. Perfect.

The light turned red and the chair collapsed in on itself, forming a ball of chrome and plastic. Gadget released the gravity field, and what was left of the chair struck the floor and bounced before rolling away from his desk.

The wolf let out a cheer and clasped the weapon in both hands, grinning down at it. It worked perfectly. Now to try it out on something else.

His eye fell on the cupboards beside his mini-fridge and he rifled through them. A few opened boxes of cereal and a tin of beans he’d long forgotten about. That would do. He could get creative with that.

He set the tin of beans where the chair had been sat and aimed his weapon again. This time set to ‘warp’. The tin can was lifted to eye level in the anti-gravity beam, then Gadget reversed the gravity. Beans splurted from the tin can’s sides as it twisted, tearing the paper label around it. The metal creaked as it continued to warp in the adjusted gravity.

Gadget laughed and let it drop back to the floor in a mass of crushed beans and metal.

“I’ve done it,” he gasped out. “Infinite won’t even know what’s hit him!”

The wolf placed the weapon back on his desk and reached for his chair. Then muttered to himself when he spotted what was left of it mere inches from his feet. So he opted to perch on the edge of his desk instead and brushed back the fur between his ears.

Of course, he didn’t want to kill the jackal. He needed him. No, the weapon was to just assure he’d actually listen. Or drag him back, if need be. The latter was actually very plausible. If Gadget had to hurt him a bit to make him remember who was boss, then so be it. At least he wouldn’t be able to fight back if he had no gravity to aid him.

Gadget chuckled and placed his fingers over the handle of the gun. Now he just had to track him down. A few soldiers… Sonic could arrange that.

The wolf reached for his phone and dialed the soldier. This would be interesting. It had been a long time since Gadget had seen any real combat.

...​

Amy scratched her cheek, desperate to remove whatever was tickling it. The itch spread to her hand which she idly scratched at, then vanished. She yawned and pushed herself up, discarding the light blanket she’d been huddled in. It took the musty smell with it and she grimaced. Oh yes, of course.

She finally opened her eyes, taking in the worn-out room. Then she spotted something brown scuttling away from the sofa bed to vanish beneath the dressing table. She screamed and tucked her feet back under the blanket.

“Yeah,” said Infinite. “That fellow had been crawling on you for about an hour.”

“What?!” Amy fixed livid eyes on the jackal. “You never thought to remove a cockroach from me?!”

He shrugged as he toyed with the end of one of his white, fluffy dreads. “It was more interesting watching you swat at it in your sleep.”

She shuddered and covered her face with her hands. “Urgh, you haven’t the faintest clue how to be a gentleman, have you?”

He huddled back against the pillow he was resting on and smirked at her. That was enough of an answer. She pushed herself from the sofa, whisking the blanket aside to check for any more cockroaches. She half-expected to find a family of them, but she let out a sigh of relief when she found the sofa bug-free.

Well… visible bugs, at least.

Another glance around the hotel room with its moth-eaten curtain and yellowed peeling wallpaper and her eyes filled with tears. It was all too much.

“Please,” she choked, turning back to Infinite. “Just let me go.”

“Go where?” He scratched beneath his mask, ruffling the thick white fur over his cheeks.

“Back to my apartment! Away from you and all this! I promise I won’t say a single thing about you. To anyone!”

“And how can you promise me that?” he asked. “You said yourself people have seen me with you. GUN must know by now, especially if those kids’ photos go viral. You really think you’ll hold up under torture? A fragile little pink spiky freak like you?”

She blinked the tears back from her eyes. “Torture?!”

“Oh yes. GUN have no restraints when it comes to that. Believe me.”

Her jaw hung open as she ran over that. She’d seen the scar over his eye. Was that GUN? She shook her head and balled her hands into fists.

“I won’t say anything! I’ll… I’ll move out of Central City if I have to! Please, I just want to go back to my own life.”

“What life?” he spat. “Holed up in some fancy apartment surrounded by clothes while you pine over some blue spiky freak?”

Her jaw hung open again. “What? Pining?!”

“Oh come on, his photo was everywhere!” He waved an exaggerated arm. “It doesn’t take a genius to work that out. And you weren’t in a single one, so I think it’s easy to say it’s fairly one-sided.”

She screwed her eyes shut, squeezing out those restrained tears. The bed creaked as Infinite slipped from it, but she didn’t move. She didn’t want to. She just wanted to go home.

He brushed a claw under her chin and tipped her head back so she was looking up at him. A couple of tears trickled from her eyes to travel down her cheeks into her tie.

“Such a sad, pathetic, lonely life,” he said. “I can offer you a life filled with excitement if you’ll only let me.”

She choked and swatted his hand away. “What? Until you destroy everything?”

He chuckled and let his arm hang at his side. “You’re the one who thinks you can stop me by making me care for something. What happened to that? Do you have such little faith in yourself?”

She turned away from him and closed her eyes again. “Just leave me alone.”

“Fine.” The bed springs creaked wildly as he threw himself back onto it.

She gave him a glance then looked towards the bathroom. Maybe she could actually get a little peace if she went for a shower. Although the thought of showering in a hotel room with cockroaches running wild didn’t settle well with her.

Neither did sitting in the same room as a maniac. She still didn’t know what he wanted with her. Wouldn’t it be easier to just kill her than drag her around?

Then there was that chain. It might have been invisible but it was as solid as any iron.

She hugged her arms about herself. “I want a shower. Could you drop the chain?”

“Why?” he scoffed.

“Because I need to close the door?” she scoffed back.

“Then close it,” he said. “It won’t stop you. Believe me, Pink Freak, I don’t wanna see anything.”

Her cheeks flushed and she rounded on him. “Where did this whole ‘freak’ thing come from?!”

“You’re pink and you’re spiky,” he said. “Why wouldn’t I call you a freak?”

She shook her head and stomped into the bathroom, slamming the door behind her. True to his word, the chain didn’t stop it. Instead it flowed through the woodwork as if it were made of nothing but air.

“Oi!” Came Infinite’s voice.

“What?!” she barked.

“Leave that phone out here. I don’t want you calling anybody.”

She clenched her jaw and tugged the door back open, tossing her phone onto the dressing table. Then she slammed it again. Oh, he was impossible. She let out a sigh and leant back against the door. Then she took in the bathroom.

A shower stood at the left, well the head of one. Poking out of the wall with nothing to stand on. Just an iron grate in the floor that let the water drain away, and was clearly meant to be something impossible to slip on. A loose curtain hung beside the grate, dotted with black mildew. Mold spread up the corner of the wall to congregate on the ceiling, right beside a fan she guessed probably didn’t work. The only other fixtures were a sink and toilet, and a heavily streaked mirror.

Those tears broke free with full force and she let her head roll back against the door. “Oh this is ridiculous!”

She tore off her dress and necktie and clambered onto the shower grate. As she whisked the curtain aside, a family of silverfish vanished into a crack in the floor. She let out a squeal and turned on the shower, wrenching it off its hook to aim the water spray at the retreating insects. A deep hum came from the ceiling and she set the shower head back in place.

Well, at least the fan worked…

And at least the hotel had thought to provide soap.

She didn’t understand that jackal at all. Was everything he said just an act? And what was the deal with his powers? She got the impression he didn’t really know how to use them. That fractured image he’d been projecting was enough to back that theory. Seconded by his request for her to make him a disguise. So either he was unskilled or they had severe limitations.

As for calling Eggman a catalyst for evil, what exactly did he mean by that? It was common knowledge both beings had shown up in Mainframe at the same time. Did they have some kind of history? Were they enemies? And if so, which one was the bad guy? Eggman had aided Mainframe in its technological advancements. But he’d also brought along some very strict laws. And the death penalty. Many people wanted him out of power, but everyone was too scared to do anything about it. And with good reason.

Once she was clean and blasted dry by the fur dryers, she dragged her dress back on and forced herself to leave the misty bathroom.

Infinite glanced up at her from the bed. He clutched her phone in one hand and what looked like a ginger biscuit in the other. She looked between the two then seethed when she realised what exactly he was doing. She leapt across the bed and snatched her phone from his hand. His lone eye widened and he dropped the biscuit onto the duvet.

“Do you have no sense of boundaries?!” she shrieked.

The jackal choked on his crumbs and dusted himself down.

She fell onto her knees beside him and growled. “What do you think you’re doing?”

“I had to make sure you weren’t ratting me out, didn’t I?”

His expression turned dangerous and she became increasingly aware of how close she was to him. So she scooted backwards off the bed and tucked her phone back into her dress pocket.

“I told you I’m not going to rat you out!” she said.

“Well I don’t trust you.”

“Believe me, the feeling’s mutual.”

She turned to the dressing table and tugged open a drawer. They had also provided a brush. Plastic-wrapped, so she assumed it was clean and not left by some forgetful mercenary.

“Where did you get biscuits from anyway?” she asked.

“Room service.”

“What, they have room service here?” She looked up at his reflection in the mirror. “In a two-star hotel?”

“They do if you threaten them a little.”

Her face paled and she felt her quills stand on end. “Tell me you didn’t!”

He grinned at her. “What do you think?”

She decided to shrug it off and tugged the brush free from its wrapping. She settled into the chair and began brushing out her quills, still slightly damp from the shower. Infinite’s reflection stared back at her, watching. Chilling her. Then he slipped from the bed and moved over to her.

She faltered, staring back at his reflection. “What?”

He reached for the brush, prising it from her fingers. Then examined it, removing one of her shed quills. He tugged his left glove off using his teeth then reached for her.

Amy ducked from him, causing him to freeze. “What are you-”

But it didn’t deter him. He brushed her quills with his fingers then let out a thoughtful noise as he let them flow over his hand.

“Not as spiky as I thought,” he muttered.

He eyed the brush again then began to drag it through her quills.

She narrowed her eyes at his reflection. “I can do it myself you know.”

“You brushed my mane,” he said. “It’s only fair.”

She sighed and leant her head on one hand. What was the use in arguing? She watched as he used the brush to comb out her quills and his un-gloved hand to smooth them out. Or make a mess. He really didn’t seem to have a method. His claws brushed the back of her ear and she twitched it until he withdrew them. A small smile appeared on his muzzle. Genuine. Not intimidating like one of his smirks. He nudged her ear again and she flicked it, narrowing her eyes at his reflection. He laughed and shook his head, then returned to brushing her quills.

“So who are Tangle and Whisper?” he asked.

Amy jolted slightly. Her words came out slowly, warily. “My friends.”

The jackal nodded, keeping his attention on her quills.

“I was meant to be going out with them last night,” she went on. “Before you showed up.”

“Well, they might not be your friends for much longer,” he said flatly.

“What?”

She jerked her head around to look at him, almost causing him to drop the brush. But he managed to regain his emotionless composure.

“What did you tell them?!” she snapped.

“Nothing.” He turned her back to the mirror with all the air of a professional hair stylist. “They’ve seen the photos, that’s all. They think you ditched them to be with your new boyfriend.”

“But you’re not my boyfriend!”

He huffed and shrugged his shoulders.

“I hope you’re joking,” she growled.

“I’m not. Check the messages yourself if you don’t believe me.”

She watched him as she removed the phone from her pocket. Sure enough, the messages were there. A joint conversation with her two friends. Turning from playful to bitter as the night drew on. She tucked her phone away again, wondering if there was any way she could rectify this situation before it dragged on for much longer.

“See? You should play along,” said Infinite. “It sounds like a good disguise.”

“Well I’m not doing.”

“Would it really be such a bad idea?” A devious smirk spread across his muzzle and he fixed his lone eye on hers.

Amy felt her face flush. “I thought I was too pink!”

He shrugged again and fell silent, still wearing that chilling smirk. She desperately wanted to change the conversation. No… she desperately wanted to contact her friends. But there was no way she could do that with him breathing down her neck. She’d need to wait until she found a chance… surely they wouldn’t tell GUN about her? Or would they? Whisper’s parents worked for GUN, and Amy was practically a fugitive now. Maybe it wasn’t the best idea after all, and given what Infinite had said about torture she really wasn’t willing to put herself at risk.

Oh, what was she going to do?! She really needed to take her mind off all this.

Her eye wandered to the jewel in his chest and she found herself thinking over her shower thoughts again.

“Does everyone in your world have a power like yours?” she asked.

He glanced up at her reflection briefly. “No. Why do you ask?”

“Curiosity,” she said. “I’ve not seen anything like it before.” She paused as he returned to brushing her quills. “So where did you get it from?”

Silence. But his jaw tightened and she wondered if it was worth pressing the matter.

“Sorry,” she said. “It’s just… if you insist on keeping me around then we might as well get to know each other.”

“Does a hostage normally get to know their captor?”

She sighed and rubbed the bridge of her nose. “I don’t know. I guess not?”

A brief silence passed over them, broken only by the brush running over her quills and the bathroom fan still humming away.

“You asked if I was a science experiment,” he said. “I am.”

Her eyes widened and she looked back up at his reflection. He stood back from her, letting her quills go, and deposited the brush on the table. Neatly.

“Were you always one?” she asked. “You know… made, not born?”

“Of course I was born,” he said. “I’m a Mobian like everyone else like me.” He waved a hand at himself then at her. “I’d say like you, but your world has a different name, so…”

He drifted off, and his lone eye grew distant. He turned back to the bed, stopping at the foot of it, and Amy turned in her seat to watch him.

“Was it forced on you?” she asked.

“No, I asked for it.” He hugged his arms around himself and his tail curled around his legs. “Look, I don’t like talking about it. So drop it.”

She nodded and turned back to the mirror. Then the window. Infinite moved over to it and tugged the curtain aside.

“When does it get dark here?” he growled.

“Are you wanting to go somewhere?” she asked.

“Somewhere big and quiet. I don’t have enough space to practice in here.” He released the curtain and looked down at her. “Any ideas?”

She shrugged and looked out of the window. “The park closes at around seven.”

“The park?” He followed her gaze and and grunted. “That’ll do. We’ll go there.”

He turned from the window and left the room, leaving Amy with no choice but to follow him. Well… her other choice was to be dragged along.

“We’ve got a couple of hours yet!” she said.

“Yeah? Then there’s enough time to grab something to eat. I’m starved.”

She hugged herself and joined him in the elevator. She had to admit she was pretty hungry herself.

“Anywhere good around here?” he asked.

She shrugged her shoulders and made a thoughtful noise. “There’s a bistro just on the edge of the outskirts.”

“Pasta, eh? All right. I’m game.”

When they reached the reception, the beaver looked up from her desk and beamed as a pink flush peppered her cheeks.

“Such a sweet young man.” She gave the pair a wave. “I’ve another pack of biscuits for you both when you get back?”

Amy looked up at Infinite with a start, receiving a grin in return. Once they’d left the hotel, she cleared her throat.

“I thought… I thought you said you threatened her…”

The jackal tucked his arms behind his head and strolled on ahead of her. “I can be charming when I want to be.”

...​

Sonic hunched over his coffee, head nodding as exhaustion tried to claim him. Something nudged his arm and he jerked awake, almost knocking his paper cup over Tails’ newspaper. The blue hedgehog rubbed his eyes as he looked across at his friend. T-Pup sat beside him on one of the chairs, metal tongue lolling as it read the paper.

Sonic tried to read his friend’s blank face. “What’s the matter?”

Tails nodded to the newspaper and Sonic leant across the table for a better look. A small column stood beside a larger, somewhat sugar-coated article about a prison break. He didn’t even need to read that to realise it was GUN’s loose explanation to the increase in soldiers and GUN robots patrolling throughout Mainframe. He knew there’d be no mention of Infinite or his abilities. Just ‘a dangerous criminal’. No physical description - given his ability to disguise his presence then what was the point? No mention of the red jewel in his chest. No mention of his species. No attempts to get Mainframe to turn him in or report him whatsoever. Mainframe had merely been asked to report ‘strange occurrences’ that might point to the criminal’s location.

So that made the small column slapped beside it all the more ironic. A celebrity gossip leak. Photos taken by fans who had seen the semi-famous fashion designer walking the streets with ‘their new boyfriend?’ Sonic frowned at the photo, noting the jewel in the jackal’s chest immediately. If the random outfit he’d adopted was meant to be a disguise, then it was completely pointless. Despite the black and white print, it was obvious to both Sonic and Tails who this ‘new boyfriend’ was. Sonic eyed the girl clutched in Infinite’s arms and raised an eyebrow.

“Is that Amy?” he said.

Tails nodded and sipped his own coffee. “It looks like we’ve found a lead.”

Sonic’s eyes widened and he slumped back in his seat. Amy… he’d not spoken to her in years. Not since they’d left college. And now she was roaming the streets with the very criminal he was meant to be hunting down. Of course, the column was likely all gossip. But he couldn’t be sure without any facts. What exactly was her relationship with Infinite? Was she in any danger, or was it all harmless?

One thing he knew for certain, however. Infinite was definitely not harmless. He needed to track them both down and deal with this. But if Amy was involved in any way in aiding the criminal’s escape then her life would be at risk.

Sonic bit his lip as he absently nursed his coffee. It bothered him. Both himself and Tails had been good friends with Amy for many years throughout school and college. She was part of their group, along with other people he’d long lost touch with. He knew she wasn’t a bad person. So what was she doing?

This complicated things. Badly.

“She lives just outside Station Square,” said Tails.

Sonic snapped out of his reverie and sipped his coffee. “Where?”

“Ninth Street.”

Hot coffee came out of Sonic’s nose to splatter over the newspaper. Tails stared at him for a moment, then shook the paper onto the floor.

“What?” Sonic wiped his nose on his glove. “That’s where the trail ended.”

“Precisely.”

Sonic tried to picture the street, but it had been devoid of any clues. Given how the trail had just ended, all he could guess was that Infinite had in some way flown into Amy’s apartment. Any apartment, actually. Why hadn’t he considered that a possibility that night?

“I say we go to her home and look for clues,” said Tails. “We might find something.”

“We might even find them,” said Sonic.

“Unless she’s staying somewhere else?” Tails spread the paper out again. “I mean, if there are photos circulating then it only makes sense, otherwise GUN could track him down easily.”

“So you think all we’ll find is an empty apartment?”

Tails shook his head. “I think we’ll find an abandoned apartment.”

Sonic jabbed a finger onto the photo. “So you don’t think she’s with him by choice?”

“There’s only one way to find out. We see if we can find any sign of a struggle.”

“Great.” Sonic abandoned his coffee and pushed himself from the table. “Let’s get a move on then. I don’t want to drag this out any more than we need to.”

“Roger that.”

Tails and T-Pup joined his side and the group made their way towards Ninth Street. It was a short walk from ‘Station Square’s Coffee ‘n’ Cakes’. The hedgehog had been waiting around the train station before deciding to call it a day and hop on a train back to North Cipher. A train. He was too tired to run all the way back home. His plan had been to try and swing a sick day just to get some much needed rest. But now, things were starting to look up. If he could turn in Infinite, he could then get all the rest he needed.

One might hope.

His foot crunched over broken glass and he froze. Ninth Street. He hadn’t even realised they’d made it. He looked up at his left at the huge apartment block, then back down at the street. Glass lay haphazard over one small section of the sidewalk.

“Sonic, look at this.”

Tails stood on the other side of the road with T-Pup, and the pair of them peered up at the windows above. Sonic joined their side to follow their gaze and his eyes widened when they fell on a shattered window.

“That wasn’t there yesterday,” he said.

Tails shook his head. “It was not.”

Sonic’s mouth turned down in a frown and he tapped his foot rapidly. Something was definitely amiss.

“You know what I think, bud?” he said. “I think that sneaky jackal masked the window.”

“It’s a possibility,” said Tails. “We know very little about his powers. All we know is they seem to create illusions.”

“Oh this makes me so mad!” Sonic waved his hands at the apartment. “We were right here! We were here! And he was in there! We could have caught him!”

“If he masked the window, Sonic, then he clearly knew we were here.”

T-Pup yipped in agreement.

Sonic sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose. “I know. It just… it vexes me. Now he’s got Amy.”

“We should get inside and have a look around,” said Tails. “Before we leap to any conclusions.”

Sonic nodded and turned back to the huge building. Its steep wall would have been nothing to him if he’d been at full strength. Now it was a monolith of an obstacle.

“Think you could give me a lift, bro?” he asked.

A deep thrumming filled the air as Tails spun his twin tails like a propeller. He linked his arms under Sonic’s and hoisted him from the ground with little effort. T-Pup rose up beside him on its own little propeller, panting jovially. When they reached the window, the robot dog went on ahead. Tails swung Sonic forward and the hedgehog curled into a ball as he whizzed through the jagged opening. More glass crunched beneath his body as he rolled over it.

He stood and dusted himself down, and moved aside for Tails to land in the small bedroom.

Pink. It was very pink. He nudged the glass with a foot, clear evidence that, if it was Infinite, he’d forced an entrance. Then there was the hammer. A giant mallet lying beside the bed. He stooped to pick it up and his heart sank.

“She’s never without this,” he said.

“Like I said.” Tails walked past him towards the open door. “Abandoned apartment.”

Sonic set the hammer down on Amy’s bed and followed after the fox. His eyes fell on several photos dotted about Amy’s room and the small hallway outside it. Mostly of him, with the odd one of her family.

He grimaced and shook his head. “Oh, Amy…”

“Sonic?” Tails voice came from somewhere deep in the living room. “You might want to take a look at this.”

Sonic zipped through the living room into a small room off the left of it. A studio, scattered with magazines and bits of fabric. It looked like it hadn’t met a vacuum cleaner in weeks. Tails stood over a pile of scrap fabric and clippings, clutching a hand-drawn pattern. He offered it to Sonic. A mask. Just like the one Infinite had been wearing in that photo.

Sonic clenched his jaw and handed the pattern back to Tails. The scrap fabric spoke for itself. White leather, bits of red and green belt, black piping…

“She’s aided him,” he said flatly.

Tails looked up from the pattern and T-Pup let out a low whine.

“You really think she’s helped him willingly?” Tails asked.

“Look at it!” Sonic waved a hand around the studio. “She’s helped ‘hide’ him, hasn’t she? This evidence won’t slide, Tails. She’ll be labeled a conspirator.”

“Under threat?”

Sonic’s face fell and he gave another glance around the room.

“She left her hammer,” Tails went on. “I think you’re letting your heart get ahead of your mind. He barged in, her hammer is discarded. There is evidence of a struggle.”

He met the fox’s emotionless eyes. “So you think she’s helping him out of fear? Because she didn’t look scared in that photo, Tails.”

“Amy never scared easily. She’d always get angry first.”

“Yeah, that’s true.”

“You need to think more rationally. Try to think like her. I say we find her and get to the bottom of this before turning over a potentially innocent girl to the authorities.”

“Well they’ll be looking for her as well, now,” said Sonic. “I doubt she’ll be seen as a victim, especially if that photo is anything to go by.”

“Exactly. We know her, so we should be the ones to do this. There’s no sense in an innocent life being lost.”

Tails stooped to check over the fabric pile. No reaction to what he’d just said, yet Sonic’s heart sank at those words and he balled his hand into a fist.

“And how do you plan to do this without Infinite seeing us?” he asked.

“Easy. T-Pup has espionage programming.”

T-Pup barked and its slender tail thumped the floor with excitement.

“I’ll send T-Pup to scout her out,” Tails went on. “It can deliver a message to her for us, and hopefully we’ll get one back.”
 

DeliriousAbsol

*Crazy Absol Noises*
Staff
Location
Behind a laptop, most likely with tea
Pronouns
She/Her
Chapter Eleven
Red light flashed across the grass as Infinite unleashed his illusions over it, transforming his small area of the park into a concrete battlefield. Amy watched from the shelter of a hydrangea bush, sitting with her knees tucked up to her chest. Egg Pawns marched across the concrete only for each one to meet its end at the jackal's crimson spears of lightning. Each attack lit up his white fur with red highlights. Yet the more intense attacks made him look like a black shadow surrounded by a red haze. It made her wonder if the latter was an illusion merely for show.

Despite the fact it was all fake, it was still nightmarish. Each robot let out a mechanical screech as it sparked on the ground, right before erupting into a cloud of smoke. Infinite didn't so much as smile, too occupied with taking out his illusory opponents. Well, at least he wasn't practicing on flesh and blood creatures, illusion or otherwise.

The terrain warped again into the winding corridors of a pristine building that reminded Amy of a laboratory. She could even smell the ammonia disinfectant. Or it was all in her head? The corridor ended at her little hiding place, giving her the feeling of sitting in a doorway. She momentarily lost track of Infinite as he made his way around the corridors, the only sign he was still there being the odd flash of crimson light as it spread across the clean white tiles. Bits of robot crashed and bounced along the floor, and one of their spears embedded itself in the wall and quivered with a reverberating hum.

Wait… that wasn't the spear.

The hum grew louder, coming from her right. Her ear twitched and she glanced up out of the bush. A robot dog not much taller than a toy terrier hovered beside her, fixing glowing eyes into the hydrangea. When it spotted her, its metal tongue lolled out and it panted with excitement. It landed on all fours and retracted its propeller into a hatch in its back. A smile tugged at Amy's lips as the dog inclined its head on one side and gave an endearing yip.

"Well, where did you come from?" she whispered.

She gave a glance back to the illusory corridors. Infinite was still deep inside them, battling something she couldn't see. Something that could actually scream. Her spine tingled with dread and she forced the morbid image to the back of her mind and instead turned back to the dog.

"Are you lost?" she asked it.

The dog sat down and its eyes lit up brighter, creating a beam that struck the floor at her feet. She shuffled backwards from it perchance it might harm her. But instead a pair of holographic GUN soldiers stood in the beam, no taller than six inches high. Her eyes widened at the blue hedgehog and twin-tailed fox and she failed to stifle a gasp.

"Sonic?" she squeaked.

'Amy?' Sonic replied. Could he hear her? No… surely not. 'I have to be quick, so I'm sending you a message through T-Pup.'

'You don't need to introduce the dog,' said Tails.

Sonic frowned at his friend. 'I'm introducing the dog!' Then he turned back to Amy. Or… whatever was recording it. 'We believe you might be in danger. We've seen your photo in the paper and we're worried, Amy. The man you're with is wanted by GUN, and we don't believe you are with him by choice. I'm letting you know we're looking to rescue you before GUN gets their hands on you. You can send me a message back through T-Pup. It will record it and let us know where you are.'

Was it a trick? She looked up at the dog and it retracted the image as Sonic leant forward towards the camera. It yipped once, almost as if it was prompting her to say something. Her heart raced as she ran over the message in her head. Sonic was looking to rescue her? She'd not spoken to him in years.

"A…Are you really from Sonic?" she asked. "It's not a trick?"

The dog shook its head and panted again, striking the floor with its antenna of a tail. So all she had to do was say something and it could relay it back? Well, she'd need to do it quickly.

She licked her lips and leant towards the dog, and its mouth snapped shut. Tense. Everything had gone oddly quiet. No sounds of robots being decimated. No screams. No flashes of red light.

Heavy breathing flooded her ear and her quills bristled. Infinite leant over her shoulder leering at the robot dog. He grabbed Amy by the back of her dress and tugged her towards him. His other hand crackled with crimson electricity.

"No!" she squeaked. "Leave it! It's just someone's pet robot dog!"

"It might be from GUN," he said. "I'm not taking any chances."

"Does it look like a GUN robot to you?"

T-Pup looked between Amy and Infinite then stood up, tongue lolling out in a happy dog-smile. Infinite's electricity fizzled out and he lowered his hand with a sigh.

"Fine," he growled. "I'm not exactly going to kill someone's pet. It's a waste of energy."

T-Pup's mouth snapped shut and its propeller popped out of its back. It took to the air and zipped off away from the hydrangea towards the city, slowly fading away as its body became translucent.

Infinite grabbed Amy's arm and jerked her around to face him.

"I heard voices," he breathed.

"I was talking to the dog," she replied.

His lip curled up at one side in a sneer. "A man's voice. That robot didn't exactly talk."

Amy tensed and fought the urge to look after the retreating robot.

"I think someone's looking for you," said Infinite. "And they sent a little recording through that barking tin-can."

"Then why didn't you destroy it?"

"Waste of strength," he said. "People already know you're with me. Why waste my powers on one measly little dog-bot? It's not as if it were weaponized. But… I'm not about to hang around waiting for it to come back with its master."

He fastened his hand around her back and tugged her into him. A grin spread across his face as the red cross over his right eye lit up bright red.

"I guess we'd better find somewhere else to play?" he purred.

Before Amy could retaliate, a pink cloud surrounded them. She screwed her eyes shut and held her breath to avoid breathing any of it in. Her stomach shot into her throat as she was whisked away from the park. When she opened her eyes again, she was standing on a street beside a very disgruntled jackal. He released her and she beat down the front of her dress.

"Is there a problem?" she asked.

"I was trying to get back to the hotel." He rounded on her and growled. "Where are we?"

She stood back from him and looked up and down the street. The large train station stood on her left, silent save for a few commuters who couldn't care less about those around them. The train shot along its hover track to rise into the air, following the plexi-glass tunnel towards the outermost cities.

"Station Square," she said.

Infinite grunted and flicked his tail. "Nowhere quiet around here, then?"

Amy pursed her lips, looking over to her right. Infinite followed her gaze and his jaw dropped slightly. He pointed a finger and tapped her shoulder with his other hand.

"What's that?" he asked.

She narrowed her eyes at a fence in the distance. Beyond it stood the towering pinnacle of an enormous roller-coaster.

"Twinkle Park," she explained. "Central City's only theme park. But it'll be all closed down now…"

She trailed off as she realized what she'd just said. But it was too late to take anything back. The grin he gave her told her that much. He grabbed her by the wrist and sprinted off towards the theme park, dragging her behind him. She clasped her free hand over the hem of her skirt to stop it billowing up as she struggled to keep up with the excited jackal.

Once they reached the park, he vaulted over the fence, narrowly avoiding the sharp spikes meant to deter trespassers. He landed in a crouch in the shadows of the empty theme park. A chill washed over Amy as she glanced over the motionless rides.

Infinite turned back to her and gave her a nod. "You coming then?"

She glared at him through the fence then turned her glare on the spikes. "Are you kidding me? I'm not climbing that!"

Infinite growled and folded his arms. "Well I'm not wasting my strength creating a door for you. So you don't have much choice."

"Oh I do," she said. "I can just stand here. It's not like you can drag me through the bars."

He smirked at that and moved backwards, swinging his right arm behind him. Amy lurched forwards as the chain became visible for a fleeting second, its eerie red light reflecting off the green paint of Twinkle Park's fence. She lifted her hands to catch herself before she struck the barrier face first. Then she fixed livid eyes on Infinite's amused one.

"You were saying?" he said.

She sighed as he gave the chain enough slack to let her stand back from the fence. It towered over her. Her hands flailed inches from the top no matter how hard she leapt.

Infinite sighed and waved her back from the fence. A red haze surrounded his body and he rose into the air. His eye lit up with delight and he grinned down at her. Then in one swift movement she was in his arms and being carried into Twinkle Park. He landed them well beyond the fence, between a carousel and a candy-floss stand. The latter was surrounded by shutters, but the sweet and sickly smell was still present.

She glanced over at the carousel. Each horse standing stock-still, but she couldn't shake the feeling they might start moving on their own at any moment. She shook it off, forcing herself to focus on anything but the empty ghost-town of an amusement park.

"So you can fly?" she scoffed.

"Apparently." Infinite chuckled and wagged his tail slowly. "First time for everything, I guess?"

He moved past her, turning his head left and right as he took in the theme park.

"So what do you plan to do here?" She knew the answer, so it didn't surprise her when he gave it.

"More of what I was doing in the park."

She sighed as the theme park warped before her. A deep, pulsing hum tore the air as his chosen battlefield opened up before him. The laboratory, filled with robots and GUN soldiers. Once again he left her on the outside of his crazy illusion. A spectator to his massacre of blood and scrap metal.

Amy screwed her eyes shut and turned her back on it, clasping her hands over her ears. But it was impossible to tune out. The screams and mechanical screeches, weapons whizzing past her as they broke free of the illusion. She yelped as a spear landed just before her feet, and a robot arm tumbled past her to join it. With a scream of her own, she turned and fled to hide beside the candy-floss stall.

The entire floor of the illusory laboratory warped with red energy, creating spears that shot across it like the ocean's waves. Each one spearing a robot or GUN soldier as they flooded towards Infinite in a never-ending surge. An effortless massacre. Their own attacks fell short, or were deflected by a barrier of red energy. The jackal hovered above it all, basking in his newfound discovery of flight.

A flick of a scimitar-like blade flew from his tail, severing the head of an Egg Pawn. It bounced along the floor, coming to a rolling stop just before the carousel. Amy grimaced and screwed her eyes shut.

"Stop! Please just stop!"

Infinite froze and turned his head towards her, freezing his own attack.

"What's the problem?" he asked.

The illusory army, however, had other ideas. Bullets sprayed from a large robot's machine gun and he lifted an arm to create a barrier, sending them right back to the robot that had fired them. Along with the two soldiers stood on either side.

"I can't stand this!" Amy screeched. "Can't you just… do something else? Do you have to keep creating bloody battles?!"

"Yes." Infinite turned back to his battle, impaling two soldiers and finishing off the large robot. "If GUN are going to fight me, I'm going to fight back."

He sent out another flurry of attacks, each one varied. Flying crimson spears, rolling spikes, swirling blades. The soldiers and robots couldn't fight back against it. They were crushed, impaled, sliced to ribbons. Each soldier wore a terrified expression. Their pleading voices rose over the chaos as they begged for their lives, lifting their disarmed hands in a desperate bid to defend themselves.

It was all too real. Amy shot from her hiding place, screaming at the jackal to cut it out. But it fell on deaf ears. So she threw herself before the illusion of a panicked and cowering soldier and thrust her arms out at her sides.

"Stop!"

She hadn't seen the red spear coming. Not until it was flying right at her face. There was nothing she could do about it. Her feet had rooted themselves to the spot. So she screwed her eyes shut, waiting for the spear to strike.

Infinite let out a strangled noise and the sound of shattering glass snapped Amy's eyes back open. She was back in the dark theme park, still standing with her arms spread like a target. Infinite hovered a few feet away from her, and his expression changed from surprise to disgust to anger much too quickly for Amy to fully process.

"What do you think you're doing?!" he hissed.

"I couldn't watch it any more!" she snapped. "It was cruel!"

"They're fake!" he roared.

"I don't care! They were begging you to stop! If you made them, then why make them scream like that? Do you enjoy hearing it?"

He didn't answer, his expression turning unreadable.

Amy shook her head and let her arms fall to her sides. "What's wrong with you?"

He lowered himself to the floor and that red haze vanished. She took a step back as he approached her and lifted her hands to her chest. Her back met the cold pole of a street lamp and she flinched as he stopped close to her ear.

"When I was screaming for them to stop hurting me, begging for my own life, do you think they stopped?"

Her eyes widened and fixed on his. Somehow cold behind the red glass of his mask.

"No, they didn't." That strange grating sound left his throat as he took a breath. "They kept pushing it to see how far they could go before they almost killed me. Originally for information, then for the sake of science."

A chill washed over Amy and she glanced away, but he turned her face towards him again.

"Those illusions are fake," he said. "I, however, am not. Remember that the next time you decide to judge me."

He released her and marched past her, leaving her staring at the spot he'd been standing. He'd mentioned torture before. What exactly did GUN do? Were they the reason he was like this? She hadn't thought much about it before, but most of the soldiers looked alike. Something she could easily have dismissed as a limited imagination. Just creating faces in a crowd. Were they actually the faces of people who had hurt him?

The FBI weren't averse to torturing people for information. Usually those behind terrorist crimes. If the rumors were true, Infinite had fallen into GUN's hands shortly after he'd arrived in Mainframe. If that was what GUN did to someone alien to their world 'in the name of science', then was he right to assume her world was evil?

"You're right," she said.

He turned his head to see her over his shoulder. His mouth hung open, speechless.

"If that's what they've done to you," she went on, "then they are evil. I mean… you hadn't done anything to them, had you?"

"I woke up in one of their labs," he said. "Strapped down and surrounded by people holding blades and needles…"

"And you didn't try to use your power to escape?"

He shrugged weakly. "I didn't know how."

"Then they had no right," she said. "It's not like you were a threat."

He fixed his eye on her and bared his canines. "But I am a threat."

"But you don't have to be! They conditioned you to be a threat."

He let out a bitter laugh. "Oh you naive girl. I was a threat before I was even dragged here. I told you, I was created to destroy my own world! To exact revenge on the ones that ruined me! But I never got that chance! The wretched lab exploded before I was even finished, and I woke up in some alien world where the man who created me - his best experiment ever! One with phenomenal, alien power! - left me to die!"

Amy flinched as he kicked out at a soda can, sending it soaring past the carousel. Then he slumped into a shuttered prize stand and let his face fall into one hand. All she could do was watch as he rubbed his muzzle, standing with his tail wrapped around his ankles. From the angle he stood at she could barely see the red jewel in his chest. That fierce demeanor was also gone. He could have just been any other Mainframe jackal, and in that moment she wasn't afraid of him.

She joined his side and placed a hand on his arm. His entire body tensed and he glared down at her, fur bristling. But she didn't withdraw her hand. He looked between it and her face then visibly relaxed, letting out a sigh.

"I'm sorry," she said. "But everyone who hurt you is either in that lab, or Eggman. They're a lot smaller than Mainframe, and you're free now."

"Yes, but they're looking for me."

"They'll give up eventually, especially if you show you're no danger to this world or anyone in it."

He laughed and shrugged her off. "Oh, they won't stop looking for me. They want me, and I know what they're planning." A grin spread across his face and Amy took a step back. "Destroying this world would be mercy compared to what GUN have planned."

Her spine stiffened and she felt her jaw go slack. Infinite merely laughed and moved backwards away from her, tucking his hands behind his back.

"You have no idea, Pink Freak," he said. "This world will be begging me to destroy it when GUN unleashes its mindless army."

"Then why not fight to stop them rather than destroying Mainframe?"

He grinned again, refusing to give her an answer.

Amy jolted and stared back at him, aghast. "You were only destroying GUN soldiers and robots…" She pushed back from the prize stand and clapped her hands together, beaming. "Does that mean you finally care about Mainframe? Have I won?"

"Hah!" He stood up straight and turned his back on her. "Don't bank on it, Pink Freak. You're reading into things."

She ran after him. "But you didn't hurt me! You canceled your attack when I got in the way!"

"I told you, you're more-"

"I'm more use to you alive, I know."

She stopped at his side and a glimmer of amusement crossed his lone eye.

"So are we heading back to the hotel?" she asked him. "Because I have to admit, empty amusement parks give me the creeps."

"Really?" Infinite chuckled as he looked over the empty park. "It looks like a lot of fun to me."

"Then we can come again when it's daylight." She turned back the way they'd come. "Let's get out of here. I could use some supper."

The jackal snapped his fingers and the carousel ahead of her lurched to life. She leapt backwards and yelped, landing against his body. He steadied her and let out a dry chuckle, and she clenched her teeth and growled. The jaunty music from the carousel sounded ominous and eerie in the dark of night, especially given no other ride was active.

"Yeah, that one's a bit tame, I think." He snapped his fingers again and the ride came to a halt, plunging the park into silence once more. "I think we'll find something a bit more… daring."

A chill ran down Amy's spine and she moved free of his hands.

"I thought your power created illusions," she said.

"And how exactly will illusions destroy the world?" he asked. "The Phantom Ruby overwrites reality."

He waved a hand towards the large roller coaster and the neon green lights flickered on along its tracks. Amy stared gobsmacked at the jackal's smirking face, and he leant towards her.

"Care to join me?" he purred. "It can get awfully dull when you're alone."

The shuttle rumbled along the roller coaster's tracks, devoid of any passengers. Seeing the empty amusement park spring to life was almost as if her nightmares were becoming a reality. Still, there was nothing she could do about it. If he wanted to play in the park then she had no choice, given she was chained to him.

So she let out a begrudging, "Fine!" and followed him towards the roller coaster's boarding docks.

The little shuttle was waiting for them, and Infinite wasted no time in clambering aboard. Amy settled down beside him and the safety harness snapped over her shoulders, fastening her in place. She swallowed audibly as the shuttle rumbled forwards towards its first incline. Her knuckles turned white as she clasped them around the safety rail. Infinite, however, leant back with his arms tucked behind his head, humming to himself.

Amy screwed her eyes shut as the roller coaster took its first plunge. She'd never been a fan of this particular ride. Much preferring the swans, or the little story-book fantasy. Even the log ride. As the shuttle shot along its tracks, rising and falling and loop-the-looping, she began to silently beg her stomach to keep hold of her dinner.

She opened her eyes again as they arrived back at the docks, taking a breath as she prepared to disembark. But the wretched thing didn't stop. She caught a feigned yawn off her companion and that red haze took over his body again.

"That was a little weak," he said. "How about we make the next lap more interesting?"

The shuttle began to speed up as it clambered up the slope to the first drop.

"You have to be kidding me?" Amy squealed. "This thing is fast enough!"

Then it plummeted, taking a drop right through a hole in the ground. Amy's eyes widened as they were plunged into darkness, and her stomach left her as the shuttle corkscrewed through the void. Then it emerged again and she let out a scream. A huge reptilian mouth greeted them, snapping over the shuttle as it fired along the tracks into the creature's throat. It was only brief, however, as they found themselves careening along the set of some monster B-movie. More oversized monstrous reptiles patrolled the ride, bringing their fists down towards them to shatter the tracks, giving the shuttle little time to reach safety.

Amy could no longer close her eyes to shut it out. She was much too terrified, clutching the rail for dear life. Infinite burst into hysterical, high-pitched laughter as his illusion powers took over the ride, making it longer, faster, and much more chaotic.

Fireworks went off around them, forming into the shapes of battle planes with the soul intention of taking out the monsters. But of course, the shuttle got in the way. Narrowly avoiding a peppering of bullets as the soldiers aimed for the behemoth behind them.

The shuttle rounded a sharp bend before shooting over the edge of the next slope. Amy's scream reached a crescendo as a monstrous worm leapt from the ground, cutting through the roller coaster's track, bending them backwards like a ski-slope.

"Smile for the camera!" said Infinite.

The shuttle left its tracks, soaring through the air, past a huge scaly creature and narrowly missing its snapping maw. The shuttle crashed back down onto its tracks and came to a screeching halt back in the docking bay.

Silence.

Everything had returned to normal. No more monsters. No more battle planes. The roller coaster was exactly how it had been before Infinite's illusion took over it.

Amy's fingers hurt from clutching the rail too tight. But she refused to release it. She sat trying to calm her frantic breathing. Infinite shifted beside her and she turned to look at him, to say something. To give him a jolly good scolding. But her eye went to her right hand clasped firmly over his wrist. It was little wonder he wasn't saying anything. No longer laughing. When had that happened? She snatched it back and yanked off the safety harness, deciding to leave the situation unvoiced in favor of climbing out onto solid, safe, forgiving ground.

He stepped out behind her and her voice suddenly came back with vigor.

"What on earth was that?!" she screeched.

He chuckled and nodded towards the holo-screens dotting the boarding bay. "Fun?"

Amy stared back at her panicked face, contrasting the wild laughter from the jackal as the jaws of some rabid reptile snapped at the shuttle.

Infinite gave her an unnerving smile. "Would you like a copy?"

Amy had no response to that other than 'urgh!' She turned sharply to move away from the monstrous roller coaster. But much to her surprise it had returned to its former self. Not a single hint of damage over its neon tracks.

"What shall we go on next?" Infinite asked as he caught up with her.

"Are you kidding me?" she squeaked.

No. He wasn't.

She sighed and shrugged her shoulders. "Fine. Just choose something a little slower? And less deadly?"

He rolled his eye. "All right. What do you like?"

She wanted to suggest the swan boats for a much needed change of pace, but given his abilities he'd probably fill the entire lake with flesh-eating piranha.

As Amy looked around the silent theme park, the possibilities of what he could do to the place to 'make it more fun' were endless. She really couldn't win this. So she resigned herself to following him through it until he found his next target. Deeply hoping she wouldn't be frightened to near-death.

...​

Tsunami nodded along to the deep bass flowing through her headphones, keeping her eyes closed as The Raptor soared along Mainframe's sky. Soothing and pleasant. The rude awakening came in the form of a firm hand shaking her out of her daydream. For that briefest of moments she'd almost forgotten she had a ship full of space pirates and a mission to apprehend a criminal she'd aided in busting out of his cell. She cracked an eye open to see Vector stood over her and she nudged her headphones back to free one ear.

"What?" she growled.

"I said we think we've found him!" replied Vector.

Charmy buzzed over his head, looking a little too triumphant.

Tsunami pushed herself from her seat and let her headphones fall around her neck. Everyone was gathered around Decode's seat, but it was Espio who had his computer out. He smiled at Tsunami as she joined them and offered her his computer.

"We believe he's at Twinkle Park," said the chameleon.

"What on earth would he be doing in an amusement park?" Tsunami realised how pointless that question was when she saw the photo.

The chaos of planes and flying roller coasters made it look like GUN had already found him. But the giant monsters made that seem like less of a reality.

"Pretty bad photo if you ask me," said Vector. "But the evidence is there."

Crash cocked an eyebrow at his sister. "Do you think he's got that Rose girl with him?"

"I hope not." Tsunami handed Espio his computer back. "I dread to think how she feels about all this. What is he thinking doing that in a theme park?"

"Testin' out his powers?" Rough offered.

"Well it seems a bit public," said Tsunami. "Surely he must be aware someone will see it? I mean, it's a theme park. And you can see that roller coaster from behind Station Square. It's huge!"

"Looks like he made it huger, n'all," said Rough.

"It might be bait," said Decode.

Espio nodded at the bush baby's suggestion. "I say we go in carefully."

"All right." Tsunami returned to her seat. "Set a course for Twinkle Park then. How long will it take us to get there?"

"I'd say ten minutes at a steady pace," said Decode.

"Can you make it five?" she asked Crash.

"In the atmosphere?" Crash chuckled. "Sure, but you might wanna hold onto something."

...
Sonic and Tails stood by the hydrangea bush as T-Pup sniffed around it. No sign of Infinite or Amy, but Sonic was convinced this was where T-Pup had found her. Once again, the jackal had vanished, and this time he'd taken Amy with him.

"I'm beginning to think Infinite can teleport," said Sonic.

"I think that's pretty obvious at this stage," said Tails. "The question is 'where to'?"

The twin-tailed fox had pulled out his computer and was scanning the recent news site. Sonic leant over his shoulder, but he didn't need to. Tails had already found something. He turned it so the hedgehog could see it, yet the fox's expression remained unreadable.

Sonic's eyebrow rose as he took in the blurry photograph. "Is that Twinkle Park?"

He took the computer from Tails, scanning over the photo that looked more akin to a still from an ancient B-movie. Huge monsters standing over a towering roller coaster, swatting at planes and what appeared to be a small shuttle with two passengers. However the picture was too blurry to make out the latter.

But his answer was clear. It was indeed Twinkle Park. He could make out the sky tracks in the distance marking out Station Square, complete with a train hurtling along them. The photo must have been taken through someone's window in a frantic bid to be the first to report the anomaly.

"Well." Sonic handed Tails his computer. "I think we've found where he escaped to."

Tails tucked his computer away and quickly checked over his tranquilizer gun. "I say we get there fast."

"Way ahead of you."

Before Tails could even reply, Sonic zipped out of the park and vaulted the fence. That solid evidence had given him his second wind. Hopefully it wouldn't wear out before he'd turned Infinite back over to Gadget.

...​

Gadget pursed his lips as he stared at the odd photograph gracing his holo-screen. Was that really Twinkle Park? If so, then one thing stood to reason. That was Infinite's doing. He'd seen the jackal's powers at work on more than one occasion. He'd even found himself on the receiving end of it. But no one in GUN knew fully what Infinite was capable of. Given what Gadget knew, it wouldn't be unreasonable to assume he could work to such a huge scale.

The wolf was tickled pink at the thought. Infinite's powers were shaping up to be more than he could have dreamed them to be. And now he knew exactly where to find him.

Gadget grabbed his gravity gun and his phone, quickly dialing for the lead soldier on duty. He'd be needing a small army for this.
 

DeliriousAbsol

*Crazy Absol Noises*
Staff
Location
Behind a laptop, most likely with tea
Pronouns
She/Her
Chapter Twelve​

Red eyes glared at Amy and Infinite as they shot through a pitch black tunnel. Water sprayed over the edge, soaking through fur and quills alike. Screams and hysterical laughter echoed off the illusory walls, and Amy ducked as bats flapped over her head, beating her with their frantic wings.

Then starlight met them as the log carriage shot back out into the open air, careening over the edge of a waterfall. Amy's screams reached a crescendo as the log plummeted towards jagged rocks below them. But before it could shatter onto them, a huge reptile leapt from the waterfall and knocked the log off course. It instead landed steadily on its tracks, sending water flowing over the sides and showering its passengers.

The little log reached its docking bay and came to a steady halt. Amy sat trembling from both fear and the wind chilling her waterlogged body. She found herself unceremoniously dragged from the log as Infinite clambered out, tugging on their invisible chain.

"What next?" he asked as he looked around at the various attractions.

"Home?" Amy suggested. "If you haven't noticed, I am both freezing and soaking wet!"

He tilted his head back to look at her and shrugged. "But I'm not done."

"Well I am!" Amy thrust both her arms down at her sides and bristled. "So unless you can suggest something that might actually get us both dry-"

"Run in circles then or something," he deadpanned, turning back to the attractions.

Her ears drooped as she sighed. "You have to be kidding…?"

"Oh! Oh!" He dragged her towards him and pulled her close, pointing excitedly. "How about that? I could do something awesome with that!"

Amy's heart sank as she realized what he was getting excited over. A carousel of round seats that, even ordinarily, would spin dramatically as they swerved up and down over the ride's uneven platform. Its name was The Helter Skelter, and had a space-travel theme.

"We could go in separate pods and have a space battle." He chuckled and squeezed her shoulder.

Amy's eye traveled to her hands. "All right. But they spin. Wouldn't we just get tangled in this chain?"

"Oh, don't worry about that," he purred too close to her ear. "I know what I'm doing. Besides… you won't be going anywhere."

Those words seemed to carry a sinister air that made her spine tingle and her blood turn to ice. Whether or not he meant it as such was irrelevant. She'd been on that ride. She knew how impossible it was to get off once it started spinning. Passengers found themselves pinned to the sides of the pod as each one jerked around in an unnecessarily dramatic fashion.

"Come on!" Infinite's voice dragged her out of her unsettling memory.

The jackal's face was lit up with amusement and delight, and he tugged her after him as he raced towards The Helter Skelter.

...​

Twinkle Park spread out beneath Team Datastream as The Raptor glided smoothly over it. Tsunami stood in the hatch, clutching one of the ladder's light beams. Everything seemed to look normal. The roller coaster that had taken over conspiracy sites and the front page of Central City News was no longer a towering monolith surrounded by monsters and battle planes. There appeared to be no sign of the deranged jackal whatsoever.

So what was going on?

She felt a tap on her shoulder and turned to find Espio beckoning her to join him. She followed the chameleon back onto the bridge and joined the rest of the Chaotix, Rough and Crash by the control deck.

Vector caught her eye and pointed a huge green finger. "There. See that?"

Tsunami had to squint to spot what everyone else was puzzling over. In the distance, on the other side of Twinkle Park, was what she could only describe as chaos. Fleeting images kept flickering over one of the rides. More battle planes and monsters? It was impossible to say.

"That's got to be Infinite," said Crash. "Right?"

"Either that or the strangest red herring in history," said Tsunami. "Do you think you can get us closer? And keep us cloaked until we're close enough? If it is him and he sees us coming, he might flee."

"If it is him," said Espio, "what on earth is he doing in an amusement park?"

"I've no idea," said Tsunami. "The roller coaster is undamaged, and there's no sign of a struggle or an assault at all."

"I reckon he's just practisin'," said Rough.

"Or he's merely enjoying his freedom," Decode chimed in.

The group turned from the window to the bush baby, but he didn't look up from the navigation deck.

"I mean, let's face it," he went on. "An amusement park must be like paradise after being cooped up in a padded cell for the past five decades."

"But he's drawing attention to himself," said Espio. "That hardly seems wise."

"Eh, he probably isn't all that bothered," said Decode.

"Well, we saw what he did to those GUN soldiers," said Tsunami. "So he clearly doesn't have much to fear."

Crash grunted as he steered the ship closer to the chaotic attraction. "Let's just hope he doesn't see us as enemies, then, eh?"

...​

The colourful spinning pods soared through a horde of battle ships, and Infinite aimed his illusory weapon at them, taking two of them out before his pod span like a spinning top once more. The galaxy became a blur of stars and lasers as he cut through the horde, and ships fell around him like dead flies as his stray weapon fire hit home. Behind him he could hear Amy's screams and the pulsing of her own weapon as she fought to keep their enemies at bay.

Infinite only laughed and shook his head as much as he could from his pinned position against his seat. That was the problem with the weak. They feared for their own existence too much.

His pod began to slow again, coming to a halt. Stray battle ships hovered overhead, and with a flick of his hand they vanished. The Helter Skelter returned to its former self, and the jackal pushed the safety rail away. He staggered to his feet as the entire world continued to spin around him.

Amy climbed out of the yellow pod beside his blue one, her entire body trembling like a leaf. Before she could even attempt to make a break for it, he called that chain back. But she wasn't going anywhere. She slid from the ride and placed a hand against it, doubling over as she brought up the entire contents of her stomach.

"Oh lovely," said Infinite. "It wasn't that bad." His own stomach churned and he turned from the hedgehog. "Scratch that…"

He took a few deep breaths to steady his stomach. Then a strange rumbling reached his ears. His right ear attempted to flick towards the sky, but it was held fast behind his mask. So he turned his head fully to follow the ominous sound. Slowly peeling out from beyond the clouds was a familiar sight. A golden ship with a curved 'beak' and wide wings spread out at its side, reminiscent of a bird of prey gliding in for the hunt. His lips peeled back from his canines and his hackles bristled. He wasn't willing to be that prey.

Amy staggered to his side, wiping her mouth on her bare hand. "We need to run."

Infinite let out a low growl in response and surrounded his body with a red haze. The familiar hum of the Phantom Ruby reverberated in his ears as it pulsed through every nerve in his body. He wasn't going anywhere.

"Please," Amy begged. "I don't want to be arrested by GUN any more than you do!"

"It isn't GUN."

A green head poked out of the ship's hull and a neon pink ladder began to descend.

"Infinite!" the girl cried.

She landed on all-fours then straightened up, brushing off her scales. Then she lifted her hands to show she was unarmed.

Infinite sneered back at her, flexing his claws.

"GUN are looking for you," she said. "You'll be safer if you come with us."

"I don't need your help, pangolin," he growled.

Two more people dropped down beside her. The male pangolin and a blue skunk. Infinite stared at the latter for a moment then burst out laughing.

He waved his hands towards him but kept his eye on Tsunami. "I thought you wanted to arrest that guy!"

"He proved his worth," said Tsunami.

"Yeah, I proved my worth!" The skunk blinked then looked up at the pangolin. "Hey, what's that s'posed to mean?"

"Focus," she hissed at him.

Crash shook his head and turned back to Infinite. "Look, we don't wanna have to take you by force. But if GUN get their hands on you again it could spell the end to Mainframe."

"Oh, it will. But I won't let them take me." Infinite grinned and a deep pulsing hum cut through the air as the Phantom Ruby intensified. "Given you got me out of that cell, I don't want to destroy you. But if you keep pushing then I have no choice but to wipe each one of you out."

Amy trembled beside him, her voice barely a whisper. "Please don't. Please."

"Is that why you have a hostage?" Tsunami waved towards the hedgehog. "Because I can tell you now, GUN won't care about one girl over the rest of Mainframe. And that group we rescued you from most certainly won't care. So you might as well release her."

Infinite met Amy's eye and a fierce smirk spread across his muzzle. When he turned back to the mercenaries more had dropped down to join them. Those, however, were not unarmed. Moonlight reflected off a blade in the chameleon's hand, his amber eyes locked on Infinite.

"Let her go," the chameleon warned. "She's innocent."

Infinite chuckled and tightened Amy's chain. The hedgehog didn't even flinch. Infinite clenched his fist, calling up a small army of crimson cubes. The unarmed mercenaries reached for their belts to draw their weapons, but the reptile noticed something the rest of his allies hadn't. A blue streak, zipping towards them from the log flume. The chameleon sent a throwing star towards it, and it embedded in the ground. A blue hedgehog screeched to a halt, green eyes fixed on the quivering blade. A twin-tailed fox landed beside him along with a robot dog.

Infinite growled when he saw the robot and fired Amy a venomous look.

"Amy!" barked the blue hedgehog. "Move away from him!"

Amy whimpered as she clasped her hands together. "I can't! Sonic… help me!"

Infinite glared at the soldier. That blue hedgehog… he recognized him from the photos adorning Amy's apartment. So he was being noble? The jackal tensed as the hedgehog and his fox ally aimed their rifles.

Tsunami's squad did the same. Although most of their fire was aimed at the GUN soldier. The hedgehog scattered as he dodged a torrent of laser fire. The robot dog yapped, encouraging its allies. The fox, however, kept his gaze locked on Infinite.

Then he fired.

Infinite shot into the air, clutching Amy to his side. A dart bounced off one of the steel pods of The Helter Skelter, landing harmlessly on the floor.

"Put me down!" Amy squealed, flailing her legs as she kicked Infinite in the shins. "Sonic, please!"

"Cut it out!" Infinite roared. "Or do I have to bind your legs as well?!"

His red cube army flew out at either side, each one forming in the perfect image of Infinite clutching a struggling Amy. Each one mirrored the originals' movements. Then they span rapidly as Infinite led them in a spiral, losing himself amid his clones. Tsunami's squad and the gun soldiers twisted and turned with confusion, firing their weapons at the illusions as their voices rose into a panic.

Infinite laughed and threw his free arm in the air. The ground shook, splitting and caving, and scattering the army as they fled for their lives. Deep rivets shot across the tarmac, and the robot dog couldn't run fast enough. It was swallowed up in the void, clutching the rim for dear life while it whimpered and barked.

"T-Pup!" Sonic screeched to a halt and zipped back to the robot's aid.

The ground split, cutting him off from the robot, and Infinite raised his arm to ready an attack. A crimson spear. A grin split his face as he drew his arm back to launch it.

"No! Don't hurt him, please!"

Amy dug her fingers into Infinite's shoulder, her sharp claws cutting through her gloves. Her voice echoed in his mind, distorting to a panicked, shrill voice. Begging, screaming… He hesitated, his breath catching in his throat. His mind snapped back to reality, stunned as his lone eye glanced between the pink hedgehog and the soldier. Sonic vaulted the deadly gap to land nimbly beside T-Pup, and he stooped to pull the robot free. Oblivious of the threat aiming right at him.

Infinite gave himself a mental shake to dispel the memory and readied his attack again, but it fizzled out along with each and every one of his clones as a roar akin to thunder split the air. A dreadful noise that grew with intensity, causing all on the ground to cover their ears. Amy flattened her ears to her skull and buried her muzzle into Infinite's chest fur. The jackal flinched, zipping back towards The Helter Skelter to face whatever it was that was speeding towards them.

Five ships appeared in a flash, one after the other. Then the noise cut out, plunging Twinkle Park into silence. Black ships each with four jagged wings, sporting GUN's symbol on the nose and flanks. The lead one opened, and a soldier dropped to the ground. Followed by a red wolf in a lab coat.

Infinite bristled from ear to tail and Amy began to squirm in his grip. He realized he was clutching her too tightly and loosened his grip enough for her to catch her breath. But he refused to take his eyes off the wolf.

Gadget locked eyes with him and smirked. Then he pointed to his growing army of soldiers and motioned for them to deal with the mercenaries. The ground below Infinite erupted into gunfire as the soldiers attempted to maneuver around the cracks and holes left over from his attack. Well, in that case he'd make it harder for them. He threw out his right hand, and more fissures followed suit. Quick ones that caught the soldiers off guard, swallowing them up below. Their screams filled the amusement park, and Amy squirmed and kicked at Infinite, screaming at him to stop. The jackal was deaf to her. He let out a hysterical laugh as he threw his hands into the air. Geysers of soil, rock and tarmac erupted from the ground, raining rubble down onto the small army. They scattered like frightened mice, desperate to avoid the crushing debris.

Bullets and darts sprayed out towards Infinite. He threw up a shield, blowing them back towards their targets. Then he peeled one of the bars off a nearby Runaway Train, sending it hurtling towards the nearest soldier. It pinned him into the floor, dragging a blood curdling scream from the flailing fashion designer.

The air around Infinite glitched and flickered, and he found himself rapidly growing weak. He lowered himself to stand on the roof of The Helter Skelter and called off his assault on Twinkle Park. Once the dust had settled, the ground before him was a mess of rubble and bodies.

"Sonic?!" Amy twisted in his grip and let out a sigh when she spotted the hedgehog dusting debris off his quills.

She struggled and kicked against the jackal and he growled by her ear, fastening his left arm tightly around her. He was beginning to question why he was even still holding her anymore. She was becoming nothing more than a nuisance.

Tsunami and her group stood beyond the rubble, desperate to fight off the soldiers brave enough not to run and flee. Those still stuck by Gadget trembled, their faces twisted with fear. But the wolf seemed almost unfazed. Foolishly so? Either way, it didn't settle well with Infinite at all.

Gadget tutted and stepped over one of the more narrow cracks to reach Infinite, tailed by what remained of his soldiers, including Sonic and Tails.

"Interesting," said Gadget. "You'd choose here of all places to 'hide'. You weren't doing a very good job, were you?"

Infinite panted as he tried to catch his breath. The crimson haze around his body was fading, along with the Phantom Ruby's familiar hum. He muttered to himself under his breath as he took in the chaos still unfolding. Soldiers trying to rescue their wounded allies. Whimpers rising from amid the wreckage. Tsunami's team were being beaten back, teetering on the edge of a canyon. Beyond that, a teacup ride lay at an odd angle, swallowed up by the weakened ground.

Infinite growled as he turned his sights back on Gadget. Not a scratch on him, just a little dust peppering his pristine lab coat. Infinite needed to get away somehow. Especially given his strength was failing. He sent a crimson lightning bolt towards the wolf. Gadget took a step back, letting it strike the floor. He cowered back from the heat with the rest of his soldiers, then straightened and dusted down his singed lab coat. His lips turned down in a frown.

"Well now, that was rude," he said. "I hope you realise that clutching a feeble little fashion designer isn't going to save you?"

He pulled out his own weapon. A strange, white, rounded gun. It unleashed a blue ball of energy, and Infinite leapt aside, tossing up another shield. The light was deflected, but it tugged at his fur and dragged his tail towards it. Anything it touched found itself floating in the middle of that strange light.

Anti gravity?

Infinite sneered and turned back to Gadget, tossing several crimson bolts towards him. He leapt back, but one of them struck him square in the chest. Then another one struck his hand, disarming him. He seethed and rounded on his soldiers.

"Fire! Unleash everything! Ignore the Rose girl. I don't care about her."

The soldiers readied their weapons again, and Infinite caught Sonic's eye. Hesitant. Then he screwed his eyes shut then pulled the trigger.

Drat. Why had he spared the wretched hedgehog earlier?!

Infinite twisted, throwing Amy between him and the weapon fire. The hedgehog flinched as one of the darts buried itself into her shoulder. It was enough time to summon up the strength to bail. Pink smoke engulfed the pair and the amusement park warped around them. When it faded, Infinite found himself up to his knees in water, surrounded by darkness. He blinked a few times until his eye adjusted, and he met the scowling face of a pirate with its gun pointed at his muzzle. He growled, staggering back and tapping into the Phantom Ruby. Its weak hum filled his ears, but it vanished just as quickly. Nothing but a wax model.

He turned to take in his surroundings as Amy squirmed in his arms. His breathing rasped in his throat as it came in heavy bursts. Still in Twinkle Park… deep in the belly of the storybook ride. He cursed under his breath and looked down at the hedgehog. That dart still stuck out of her arm. A GUN tranquilizer. He was highly familiar with them. He tugged the offensive thing out and tossed it aside, where it landed in the water with a soft plop.

"What… Where are…" Her voice slurred and she let out a weak whimper. "Sonic?" Then her eyes fluttered shut as her body went limp.

His eyes widened and he steadied her in one arm while reaching for her wrist with his free hand. When he found a pulse he released a breath he hadn't been aware he was holding. At least GUN hadn't decided to use poison in a bid to kill him. But now he had to deal with an unconscious hedgehog while finding his way out of Twinkle Park without alerting GUN to his location.

He let out a low growl and stamped his foot, splashing water up to his waist. What was he meant to do now?! It was too much of a risk to stay in Twinkle Park, yet his ability to warp was wildly unpredictable. He could end up anywhere, and he had no clue how to get back to the hotel. And with Amy out cold, he had no idea how long he'd be stuck in this ride.

He searched the surrounding nautical attractions. Pirates, ships, cannons, sea monsters… there. A pile of hollow barrels. It would have to do for the time being.

...
Yet another dart bounced off Tsunami's tail. She lowered it enough to fire her laser, striking the hand of a yellow porcupine. He dropped his weapon with a yelp, then ducked as she fired again. Another dart flew her way, skimming the scales on her back. She turned to fire at the soldier, hitting the nozzle of the tranquilizer gun. It flew clean from his hands to be swallowed in one of the many gorges.

"There's too many of them!" roared Vector.

The crocodile struggled to fire his own weapon while clutching Charmy under his other arm. The bee had been struck shortly after the weapons started firing, thankfully only with a tranq dart. The soldiers hadn't held back with their other weapons. Tsunami raised her tail as a barrage of bullets showered over her, clinking off her hard scales. She didn't see the squirrel rushing her, blade brandished as bullets flew off his GUN armor. He crumpled at her feet and Rough stood back from him, grimacing as he shook his right hand.

"That squirrel's got an iron jaw or somethin'," he muttered.

Tsunami quickly thanked the skunk then aimed over his head to take out a jerboa. Her eyes widened as something soared from his hands to land among the mercenaries and space pirates.

Crash yelled and kicked at the silver container, but it exploded the moment his foot struck it. Gas sprayed out, stinging Tsunami's eyes. She yelped and clasped her free hand over them, staggering back into Rough's fluffy tail.

Some of the soldiers had been caught in it, reducing their attacks to nothing more than yelps and whimpers.

"All right! Let's wrap this up."

Tsunami squinted through the tear gas, but everything was a blur. What she guessed was the red wolf patrolled before her, clutching his weapon tightly. She knew what it was. Some kind of anti-gravity weapon. He'd narrowly missed Infinite, so she didn't doubt she could dodge it if she needed to. But if any of them were caught in that, it was safe to say they'd be helpless.

"Infinite's fled," he said, turning to his soldiers. "He could be anywhere, and finding him is our priority. I need you to spread out and search the park. As for you. You lot are coming with me."

He turned back to Datastream and the Chaotix, and plucked Tsunami's laser from her hand. The soldiers did the same, snatching her allies' weapons from them at gun point.

Gadget's muzzle crinkled and he tilted his head back to the sky. "Oh, is that your ship?"

Tsunami grimaced. Her ship? She followed Gadget's gaze. The tear gas billowed up above them, spreading out beneath the invisible belly of her cloaked Raptor.

"Detain it!" he barked.

Two of the soldiers milled about beneath The Raptor, looking for a way in. Tsunami's heart clenched as she remembered Decode waiting for them. He would have seen everything unfold. Why hadn't he fled?

"I can bomb him," Rough muttered quiet enough for Gadget not to hear. "I'll catch you in it, but it'd give us a chance."

"What, and leave Decode?" she hissed.

The soldiers had managed to find a way to board her ship as the twin-tailed fox carried one of his allies into its hidden hatch, his tails whirling away behind him like a propeller.

"Rough has a point," said Espio. "It's one of us, or all of us get caught. We can always-"

"I'm not leaving him," she said flatly.

Espio sighed and pulled out one of his throwing stars. "Then I guess we'll be rescuing two of you. Rough?"

The skunk snorted and fired a glare over his shoulder at the space pirate. "I ain't leavin' Nami."

"Fine," said Espio. "We'll do this the hard way."

The shuriken flashed under the dim light and whizzed past Gadget's hand. He yelped, dropping the gravity weapon. It leapt back into the air as if it had bounced, but it hovered in the air and aimed itself at the scientist.

Espio slowly unveiled himself and an audible click came from the weapon as he dropped its safety. Gadget's expression warped into one of utter horror as he looked between the gun and the space pirate.

"I don't know what this thing does," Espio said slowly. "But I'm willing to bet it's nasty."

"Drop it."

The voice was unsettlingly calm. The twin-tailed fox stood beneath The Raptor, clutching Decode with one arm while a pistol was pressed against the bush baby's head. The robot dog whined at his side, shuffling its forepaws on the cracked ground.

Tsunami's heart shot into her stomach and she screwed her eyes shut. "Drop it, Espio."

The chameleon kept the gun level and adjusted his hands over the handle. But he was hesitant. He knew if he pulled that trigger, so would the fox. To make that point known, the soldier knocked off his own safety. Tears shimmered in Decode's huge eyes and he screwed them shut.

Tsunami clenched her teeth together. "Drop it! They've won…"

"No they haven't," said Espio. "We can still get out of this."

The chameleon's spine went rigid and he turned his head to his shoulder. A lone dart stuck out of the back of it. His legs shook and he slumped to the ground. In a flash, Sonic was at his side, lowering the chameleon as he retrieved the gravity gun.

"Great timing." Gadget took the gun off Sonic and slapped it into his open hand. "Couldn't you have been a little faster?"

The hedgehog ignored him and aimed his rifle at Tsunami. "Just tranq them, Doc. There's no need to kill anyone."

"I wasn't going to do anything of the sort!" Gadget turned to the group, but his wounded expression was blatantly faked. "I was just hoping they'd co-operate a bit more."

"Co-operate my tail!" Rough barked. "What was all the weapon fire for then, eh?!"

Tsunami wasn't the least surprised to find he was the first to be struck by Sonic's tranquilizer darts.
 

DeliriousAbsol

*Crazy Absol Noises*
Staff
Location
Behind a laptop, most likely with tea
Pronouns
She/Her
Chapter Thirteen​

The porcupine soldier muttered under his voice as Gadget hung up on him, and not for the first time. Nothing ominous had turned up on The Raptor. The ship was clean. If it still held the information for Project Wreckingball then it was well and truly hidden. Maybe they had the wrong ship? The Chaotix had their own, yet they'd been traveling around with the mercenaries.

He returned to the bridge for another once-over. Maybe he'd overlooked it? Maybe it was tucked in the back of a drawer, or under one of the floor tiles? He tapped his foot over one of them. Then another. The same noise. Hollow, covering up the wires and heating pipes.

Hollow.

He stooped to grab the edge of one and give it a tug. Welded down. But maybe one of them would come up?

A hollow clang filled the air and he lurched forwards as pain exploded across the back of his head. Stars danced across his vision and he found himself sinking forwards as they spread out over a deep, black sky. The last things he remembered were falling, and the deep roar of an engine igniting its hyper-drive.

...​

T-Pup's barking reached a crescendo as it leapt up and down, splashing water from the shallow pool. Sonic rushed to catch up with it, reaching the robot before Tails. It stood at the mouth of a ride called Pirate Cove, hovering on the edge so as not to submerge itself in the water.

"You think they're in there?" Sonic asked.

T-Pup looked up at him and gave an affirmative yip.

"It's as good a place as any to hide." Tails landed neatly beside him. "Out of sight. Water. They'd hear us coming."

"They'd hear me coming." Sonic shook water droplets off his red boot. "You don't have to wade through all this."

"My tails aren't exactly silent."

Sonic grimaced as he watched the fox wade into the water. "Can't we get a boat?"

"It would take too long, and we've been searching for over an hour already."

Sonic sighed and slowly stepped onto the tracks. Cold water sloshed over the top of his boots and he took in a sharp breath, his entire face creasing with disgust.

"Argh! Wet socks! Wet socks!"

Tails turned to look back at him. "You could have removed your boots."

"You're kidding right? Who know what's lying beneath all this."

He waded after Tails into the deeper water, flinching as it rose up over his hips. He'd never liked water. The whole endeavor was an unpleasant hearken back to his soldier training days, forced to trek along the mountain river. He half expected a fish to brush up past his ankle, causing him to squeal like a piglet and clamber for the shore.

The ride itself was pitch black save for the bouncing, blinding lights from T-Pups eyes. Sonic brought up his visor, and Tails' body became a haze of orange and yellow under its thermal scanner. That would make finding Infinite and Amy in all this a breeze. If they were even inside the ride.

T-Pup hovered ahead of them, its little propeller beating the air and its headlights bouncing left and right as it sniffed for Infinite's trail. The robot's confidence re-ignited Sonic's hope that they would actually find the jackal lurking somewhere deep inside the ride.

T-Pup veered off to their right and Tails took off after it. Sonic wasted no time in trudging through the water after his friend. Another thing he loathed about water. It slowed him down. He leapt from it, landing between a wax pirate and the grinning face of a leviathan.

T-Pup snuffled around the cannons and gunpowder, making a beeline for a stack of barrels. Then it stopped and barked into them, its headlights lighting up the painted wood.

Sonic and Tails stooped over the frantic robot then exchanged confused glances. Empty.

"He's not here, T-Pup," said Sonic.

The robot dog whined and paced back and forth, scanning the empty barrel with his huge eyes. Then it skipped around the stack, sniffing and searching, only to return to the one that had set off its sensors.

Tails made a thoughtful noise and ducked inside, scrambling deeper into the barrel.

"It's certainly big enough to hide in," he said. "I'm willing to guess they were here until very recently."

"Hence the scent." Sonic reached over to pat T-Pup's head.

The dog calmed and panted happily.

"No worries," said Sonic. "We'll keep searching. At least we know he was here."

"Given he can vanish into thin air," said Tails, "it will make tracking him all that more difficult."

"We've found him once already," said Sonic. "We'll find him again."

"He might be inclined to be more careful next time."

Sonic glanced back at the pile of barrels before wading into the water to join his friend.

"I guess so," he said. "But we now know Amy is with him."

Tails paused to look back at him, prompting him to elaborate.

"She must have a phone with her," Sonic went on. "What if we were to track that?"

"That's illegal."

Sonic narrowed his eyes at the fox. "She's in danger. He wasted no time in using her to defend himself. I think we can skirt around the legalities a little here."

Tails shifted his weight to one leg and inclined his head on one side, but his expression remained blank.

"It would take me a while to find the details," he said. "But I think it might be possible. Provided her phone is registered somewhere. And that's if I can even trace the thing. We're talking serious hacking skills here. That's not really my area."

"But you could give it a try?"

Tails shrugged then turned to wade back out of Pirate Cove. "There's a first time for everything."

...​

Amy lifted a lead arm to rub her eyes as the haze of a dreamless sleep subsided. Everything felt sluggish. Moving. Breathing. What had happened? Twinkle Park… rubble raining down as people fled, screaming.

She took in a few sharp breaths as her eyes flew open, and she brought her heavy arm back down onto the mattress. The hotel room replaced that awful image. Its yellowed walls and tattered curtain. The mattress shifted beside her and Infinite grunted as he leant into her line of sight.

"Get away from me!" she shrieked.

She swatted at his muzzle, driving him back onto his haunches. His fur stuck out at odd angles around his neck as if he'd been caught in a strong wind after a shower and it had dried that way. Not to mention his dreads were in complete disarray. It brought it all back to her. The log ride, the roller coaster, the fight… He knelt beside her with his hands on his knees, looking her up and down with an expression she found impossible to read.

"What you did…" she said. "Turning Twinkle Park into your own playground… then to go and do that?!" She shook her head and dragged her fingers through her quills. "I was right! You are evil!"

He stared down at her silently. Her entire body began to tremble until the very bed shook.

"You killed people!" she snapped.

"I had to," he retorted. "Besides, they wouldn't have batted an eyelid at killing you. You should be thanking me."

"Thanking you for murder?" She seethed and shook her head again slowly. "You're a monster."

He narrowed his eye and straightened so he was leering down at her, like a cat watching its prey. "They are the monsters, Amy."

"You were laughing," she said. "You were enjoying it! What kind of sick freak enjoys slaughtering terrified people?!"

She met his leer, but once again his expression turned unreadable. It terrified her, but her heart was racing as anger fought to reign over her fear.

"Did it make you feel big?" she went on. "Throwing you power around like that? Watching people run screaming from you? Do you feel better about yourself?!"

He dug his fingers into his knees and the fur along his back bristled. His protruding canines became more obvious as he pulled his lips back, but Amy couldn't stop her onslaught from snowballing.

"I'm surprised you didn't kill me too!" she went on. "Let's face it, I'm clearly no use to you anymore. GUN made that very clear! I mean, you clearly had no problem with using me as a meat shield!"

"I had to!" he snapped. "I had to get us both out of there! If I didn't, you'd be dead and I'd be turned into a weapon!"

"But why? I'm no use to you now you can't use me as a hostage! So why bother saving me?!"

"I don't know, okay! I don't know!"

He hunched over panting, avoiding her gaze. So he'd saved her, but didn't know why… Had she actually got through to him?

She buried her face in her hands and took in a trembling breath to calm herself. "I'm sorry… you did save me. You even spared Sonic, too."

He shrugged and rolled his eye. "That one cost me."

Something twigged in her mind as his words dawned on her, and she licked her dry lips as she tried to absorb it.

"You said they'd turn you into a weapon…" She looked up at him again. "How do you know that? Did they tell you?"

"Not exactly."

She decided to brush over that. "What do they want to use you for?"

He shrugged again. "War."

"War…" She slipped from the bed and straightened out her dress.

"They called me Project Wreckingball."

She froze and turned back to him but he wouldn't look at her.

"Behind my back," he went on. "To my face, I was just a number."

"So there's more of you?"

He sneered and let out a snort. "I wouldn't be surprised."

"Like you?" She nodded to the ruby in his chest.

"No. Like you."

Her body began to tremble again and he met her eye.

"I told you they're evil, Amy," he said. "And the only way I can deal with each and every one is to bomb the earth like you'd bomb a house for fleas."

"But not everyone on this planet is evil. You'd be killing innocent people."

"It's either that, or I check each and every one of the billions living here for any hint of evil in their hearts."

If that was sarcasm it was in very bad taste. She closed her eyes as the image of Twinkle Park flashed through her mind once more.

That awful, hysterical laugh.

"But you enjoyed it," she said. "I can't get past that. You were laughing at them. They were helpless."

"They laughed when they were hurting me. Isn't that what you do?"

She stared back at him, slack-jawed. "They laugh when they're torturing people?"

"Well, not all of them did." He tensed and glared at the wardrobe. "It was mostly that Gadget. And the 'doctor' he replaced. Laughing at a helpless victim as he crushes their throat until they black out from lack of oxygen… only to wake up back in their cell while their body desperately tries to regenerate but is hindered thanks to that wretched detainment collar!"

The pillow launched across the room to strike the cracked glass in the wardrobe's mirror. Infinite's breath came in quick, raspy bursts and he hid his masked face in his hands.

They'd really done that to him? It certainly explained that grating noise he occasionally made. But why would they be so sick about it? Amy hugged her arms about herself, unsure where to go. Did she leave? Not that she could. Those chains were still tight around her wrists.

"I'm sorry," she muttered. "I don't know why they did that to you."

"I told you. They want to make me into a weapon."

"But to hurt you for their own amusement?"

"Some people are just sick, Amy." His eye seemed to grow distant and darker, and he dug his claws into the duvet. "They like to hurt others because they find it fun. Because they can. Or because they just want revenge."

He seethed, baring his sharp teeth at something imaginary. She half-expected him to lunge at it.

"Is that what you want, is it?" she asked. "Revenge?"

He turned his head towards her, a sad frown tugging at his lips in some kind of war with that raging snarl. But it was impossible to say whether he was sad or angry.

"I know they hurt you, but you can't just destroy the world over that," she said. "It's not okay. And you can't drag other innocent people into it all, either!"

He let out a grunt then flopped sideways onto the bed, covering his face again. "That's what I've done with you, isn't it? Dragged you into all this."

"Wait, what?" Amy's jaw dropped. "You're actually regretting it now?"

"Of course. GUN couldn't care less if you died, and if I let you go now they'd just use you to get to me."

"Oh, like you'd come to my rescue!"

"No, but they could drag the information out of you. That is if they don't just kill you for treason or something first."

"So you're keeping me around out of remorse?" she scoffed.

He paused and lowered his hands to stare at the wall. Silence. She'd nailed it and he knew it. She shook her head and perched on the edge of the bed beside him, drawing his eye.

"Look, I know you're not going to let me go anytime soon, and it's pointless of me to argue. And given I've made that deal with you, I'm not willing to throw that away if it can stop you destroying Mainframe. And I really think I can. You spared Sonic. I saw you hesitate. It makes me wonder if there is some hint of goodness in you. Something that's trying to tell you what you are doing is wrong. But… I think I'm going to find it hard to co-operate knowing you enjoy hurting people. I… can't tolerate that." She screwed her eyes shut as the memory flashed through her mind again. "That laugh haunts me."

He stared up at her silently, his lone eye trailing over her face as he tried to read her.

"I need to know you weren't laughing because you were enjoying it," she said.

"All right," he said. "I was laughing because I knew I could win."

She shook her head. "Truthfully? I don't want to be lied to, Infinite."

He took in a breath and met her eye. "I was laughing because I know I'm finally strong enough to destroy those who tormented me, and hurt me, and made my life a misery."

She sighed and turned to face her reflection in the wardrobe. "I want to say that's better, but it's really not."

They sat in silence for a moment, and he watched her reflection in the mirror.

"If it means anything," he said, "I won't hurt you."

"Until you have to destroy Mainframe?" She looked back down at him, and his eye widened. "What happened to you to make you like this?"

He turned his head away from her to fix on the wall, and his bushy tail brushed her arm as he flicked it up into his hands. He watched his fingers intently as he brushed them through it, lost in his own thoughts.

Amy sighed and pushed herself from the bed. She felt dirty, and not just from the water ride. All she wanted to do was get that awful night out of her fur. So she locked herself in the bathroom to take a long shower.

...​

It was as if a brass band was marching through Tsunami's head, lead by a maniac beating a tin drum. She lifted a leaden arm to rub her forehead and forced her eyes open, but the blinding lights only made the chaotic anthem worse. A groan left her throat and she rolled onto her side, clasping her hands over her eyes as she tried to will the fog away. What had happened?

GUN.

She remembered GUN. And some crazed wolf… Infinite…

Decode!

Her eyes snapped open and she flinched back from the florescent lights. Somewhere in the distance she could just make out a static hum. Was her headset damaged? She reached for it, finding only her ear, and her heart sank. It all came rushing back to her.

GUN. They'd been captured. Where was everyone? Her heart galloped, and she pushed herself up and forced her eyes open, throwing them around the wide cell. Every turn of her head caused a throb behind her eyes but she forced herself to ignore it.

White walls and clean tiles, all fenced off behind a thin veil of flickering light. The source of the static noise. A forcefield. Control panel on the outside. There'd be no way she'd be hacking herself through that. A quick check of her person confirmed she wouldn't be able to even if the panel was on her side. Both her belts had been removed, leaving her unarmed and without her trusty tool pouch.

Unarmed. No contact with her team. Trapped.

As she turned around she realised she wasn't entirely alone. Rough lay on his back in the middle of the cell, one arm fastened over his face while his other hand twitched on the tiles. The spiked bands had been removed from his wrists. GUN had obviously discovered they contained hidden blades. She scooted to his side and placed a hand on his shoulder.

He cracked an eye open and flinched, clasping his hand over his face. "Urgh. What on earth did I drink?"

"Come on, Rough, get up," she hissed.

"Nami?" He lowered his hand enough to squint at her as she helped him sit up. "What happened last night? I can't remember nothin'."

"I hope you're joking," she said. "Because it all came back to me pretty quickly."

He rubbed his hands over his muzzle and groaned, and Tsunami looked around the cell again. What passed as beds were three low benches against either wall. Clearly the GUN soldiers hadn't thought to make sure their captives were comfortable.

"Where's the rodent?" asked Rough.

He stared at the forcefield barring their escape between parted fingers.

"Who?" she asked.

"The kid who watches your navigation screen."

"Decode?" She closed her eyes and shook her head. "I don't know. And he's a primate."

"Long fluffy tail, big eyes… give me that one." He pushed himself up, trembling slightly, and ventured over to the forcefield. "Let's see if we can get outta this joint, eh?"

Tsunami watched him as he scurried up and down the forcefield. "Have you any experience breaking out of high security cells?"

"Nah, only ever found myself in one once," he said. "Was an overnight stay for smashin' a bottle over Nack's head."

Tsunami's spine stiffened and she flashed a canine. "You smashed a bottle over someone's head?"

"He stiffed me outta my pay for some deal we went in on together," said Rough. "Besides, I didn't come outta it very well. That weasel has some serious muscle watchin' his back. Polar bear almost knocked my eye out the back o' my skull."

Tsunami sighed into her hands and rubbed her temples. "It wasn't the same guys you were tricking money out of in Pulse City, was it?"

"Oh aye. Guy might be a sly weasel but he sucks at Farkle. Easy way to pay him back for what he owes me." Rough yelped and snatched his hand back from the forcefield, stuffing his finger into his mouth. "Yeah, we ain't forcin' our way outta here any time soon."

Tsunami narrowed her eyes. "What, you thought you could just force your way through a barrier of electricity? Moron…"

"Give me some credit. What have you tried?" He sat down heavily beside her and shook his hand before stuffing it back into his mouth.

She looked him up and down then let out a defeated sigh. "I've got no hope getting out of here if I'm stuck with you. If I were with Crash we'd probably stand a fighting chance."

He glared at her silently, sucking away at his frazzled finger.

"It's like they thought 'what's the worst possible combination to stick them in'," she went on. "'Oh I know, let's stick the space pirate captain with the merc leader. They can't work together at all.'"

"We were workin' together just fine," he growled. "Now stop bein' a martyr! I can get us outta this. I just need time to think."

"With what?"

"Hey! I have you know I'm smart!" Rough leapt to his feet and pointed a finger at her. "Yeah I might've dropped outta school, but I were the brains o' my team! I got me 'n' my bro outta all kindsa scrapes! Now gimme a chance, all right?!"

He moved back to the forcefield, tail bristling as he paced up and down it, muttering to himself. Her shoulders slumped and she closed her eyes, fighting back tears.

"I'm sorry. That was uncalled for," she said. "It's just… I'm scared. I've not been separated from Crash before."

"An' I ain't never been separated from Tumble, either," he growled.

"And Decode's just a kid," she went on. "He's smart, but he's a kid. He uses his brain, he's not a fighter! I'm meant to protect him!" She screwed her eyes shut as the tears leaked out, and she had to wipe them away on her glove. "Even if we were apart, none of us would ever really be separated. We were always in contact with each other. This is different. Without my headset I don't even know if either of them are okay!" Her body began to shake with repressed sobs and her words came out as a near-incomprehensible slur. "I don't even know where they are! Are they even in this prison, or did GUN take them somewhere else?"

Rough slumped back down beside her and fastened his arms around her shoulders. She tensed at the contact but as he pulled her into his warm body she relaxed and those repressed sobs faded away into silent tears.

"It's gonna be okay, Nami."

"How can you say that?!" she spat.

"All right, it's bad. Sure. But look at it this way," he said. "We're alive. So it makes sense to assume they are n'all. I mean, why keep us alive 'n' not them? What difference does it make?"

"I'm the leader of Datastream," she said.

"Exactly. Those two are just followin' ya."

"They could use them to get to me."

"Maybe they realise that and that's why yer separated." He shrugged. "Psychological torture or somethin'."

"Is that supposed to make me feel better?" Her voice was muffled by his fur.

"Aye. Make ya realise it's all in your head so you can help us get our tails outta here. Then we can find 'em and rescue 'em." He paused and let out a huff. "The Chaotix, n'all."

"You're right." She paused, clenching her fist over his furry shoulder. "I never did thank you for rescuing Crash, did I?"

"Not in so many words."

"Well, I appreciate it. A lot." She paused to take in a trembling breath. "Maybe… we can find some way to rescue your brother, too."

They fell into a brief silence and she became increasingly aware of the warmth of his fur, and of a scent that wasn't entirely skunky. Then she noticed his hand trailing up and down her back. And was he nuzzling her head? She snapped her eyes open and cleared her throat in a bid to dispel the sudden onset of awkwardness folding over her like a wet sheet.

"Okay." She pushed herself away from him, but he kept his arm around her shoulders. "I can't just give up. They wouldn't give up on me."

"Exactly."

She looked up at him, almost bumping his nose with hers. She narrowed her eyes and shrugged off his arm.

"If you think you can take advantage of me when I'm feeling like this…"

"Hey!" He appeared visibly wounded as he watched her climb to her feet. "Do you always think the worst of people?"

"I think the worst of space pirates," she said as she moved over to the forcefield.

"That's not what your brother told me." He joined her, moving to the opposite wall as they looked for any hidden weakness.

Tsunami jolted and glanced him out of the corner of her eye.

"He said you had this childhood dream of bein' whisked away by a space pirate." He flashed her a playful grin.

"I think the words 'childhood dream' answer that little theory for you." She turned away, trying to hide her blushing face as she intensely checked the wall. "So give up."

"Fat chance that's gonna happen, love," he said. "Now tell me… given you have scales, do you prefer mammals or reptiles?"

Her face twisted with disgust as she turned back to him, but all he did was shrug.

"I wanna know if I've got competition," he said.

"We are not having this conversation!"

"Fine."

So they continued their investigation in silence. But after an exhaustive search, there was no weakness in GUN's high security cells. No cameras inside it. No air ducts. No pulley systems to deliver food. No fault in the forcefield.

The pair sat on opposite sides of the cell, Tsunami curled up on one of the beds, as she wracked her mind for any potential escape plan. Any soldiers that showed up to lower the forcefield would be armed to the teeth. Was there any chance whatsoever of forcing her way through? No… surely she'd be killed. They'd be expecting it.

She glanced up to find Rough watching her, and not for the first time. It was beginning to make her uneasy and she found herself glancing back to the forcefield. The skunk had been silent for some time, and she'd at one point thought he'd drifted off. When she caught his eye, he glanced down at the bench and scratched his left ear.

"So what's you're plan once all this has blown over?" he asked.

"What?" she scoffed, somewhat aghast.

"Yanno. When we're outta here. That Infinite stuff has come to an end. All that jazz."

"You really think we're going to get out of this alive?" she scoffed. "Let alone get out of all this with our bounties scrubbed clean?"

"Hey, I'm an optimist."

She sighed and rolled onto her back, letting her hand flop over her face. "I guess it doesn't hurt to look on the bright side."

"I ain't lookin' on the bright side. I'm lookin' at a future where we're all free and there ain't no maniac threatenin' to destroy Mainframe." He chuckled. "And you implied I were the uneducated one?"

"Shut up, skunk."

"So go on," he said. "What's your plan?"

"Tell me yours first."

"Well, I'll have me brother back." She practically heard him grin. "An' a pretty girl on my arm called 'Nami'."

"Keep dreaming."

"Oh I will." He paused but she could feel him watching her again. "And you?"

She shifted her hand to look at the ceiling. White and bare and clinical. "I don't know. I suppose… I won't be working for GUN anymore."

"You'll still be a merc?"

She shrugged. "All this has been quite the eye opener. But probably. I mean, we need a job, and who's going to hire an ex-mercenary? We're not exactly the most trusted of occupations."

"People hire you though, right?"

"Yeah, to do the jobs that are too dirty for them to do," she said. "Mainly stopping space pirates. Or taking out rivals."

He fixed her in a sideways glance. "You ever got your hands dirty?"

"You mean have I ever killed anyone?"

He shrugged but she knew it meant 'yes.'

She fixed her eyes back on the ceiling. "I don't like it."

A brief silence passed between them and she found he wasn't watching her anymore.

"It leaves a bad taste in my mouth," she said. "I have nightmares. But let's face it - GUN would be a lot more brutal than we are. A quick death, or torture at their hands? Which would you rather?"

"Neither if I'm honest." He paused and let out a sigh. "I'd heard rumors where people refer to Datastream as 'killers'. Weren't sure if they were true."

"Do you think less of me?"

"Do you want me to?"

"You might be my next target."

Rough chuckled and shook his head. "I'd give you the run of your life, Nami. Mind you… I've heard you never miss your mark."

"I don't. Usually."

"Usually?" He rolled over so he was facing her. "You make it sound like you've deliberately missed."

"Hardly. Some people are just slippery. Like certain chameleons."

"That slimy sleeze gave you the slip then, eh?" His muzzle creased with disgust. "Show off."

"A little advice, skunk. If you want to win over a girl, stop with the jealous act."

He snorted and waved a hand. "Fine. What about your other targets?" He paused, catching her eye. "You ever had to kill someone you care about?"

She narrowed her eyes at him but he didn't so much as flinch. "It's not wise to form attachments in my line of work, pirate. Much like your own."

"The rumor that space pirates don't form attachments is just that. A rumor."

"Well the rumor that mercenaries don't is not." She shot him a glare. "So you'd be wise to stop pursuing me."

"Talkin' like that is just makin' me want to all the more." He grinned. "You're makin' it a challenge."

She glared back at him and he winked.

"I'll win you over eventually," he said.

She groaned and looked back up at the ceiling. "Seriously, how can you hit on me during a time like this."

He shrugged and flopped onto his back. "Ain't nothin' else to do."

He gave a wide yawn but cut it off as footsteps echoed into their cell. They both sat up slightly, and a huge shadow cast over the forcefield. A ocelot stepped into view, clutching a tray carrying two steaming bowls in one hand. The other hand clutched a pistol, and he searched the cell with fierce green eyes.

"Brought you your lunch," he gruffed. "Stay back while I give it to you."

He set the tray on the floor to free his hand and leant towards the panel. Tsunami could see what he had planned. Lower the forcefield, nudge the tray into the cell while keeping them at gunpoint, then erect the barrier again. She'd seen it done before. No gap to make an escape, especially when the prisoner was unarmed. It just made the situation seem all that more bleak. Even Crash would have had problems. The moment he curled into a ball, the soldier would take out whatever cellmates he had. And if he were alone, the soldier's backup would make his escape all that more difficult. Sure, Tsunami could curl into a ball, but she wasn't a living bullet like her brother.

Movement from the other bed drew her eye. Rough had sat up, perched with his hands on the edge of the bed. His eyes were fixed on the tray of food but the look on his face was calculating.

"Hold your breath," he muttered.

Before she could form a reply the barrier dropped, and Rough leapt from the bed in a striped blur. The cell filled with a thick smog and she screwed her eyes shut as it washed over her. Choking her and hampering her vision. The soldier let out a yell and there was a sick thud, followed by a grunt. When Tsunami managed to open her streaming eyes, she spotted Rough curled up on the floor, groaning as he nursed his jaw.

Her heart sank and she turned back to the forcefield. What was left of their lunch lay spilled on the floor. As for the soldier, he was long gone.

"Nice try," she grunted.

"Oh, I think it were."

He sat up, wiping blood from his mouth. His tail flopped to the floor, revealing his right hand. A baton.

She cocked an eyebrow and looked up into his grinning face.

"Pickin' pockets is one o' my talents." He brandished the baton and the striking end sparked with electricity. "We're gettin' out."

"How on earth do you plan to get out of here with a tazer?"

"Watch and learn, beautiful." He pushed himself up, swiping a trickle of blood from his rapidly swelling lip. "If I can get us both outta here alive, I think that earns me a date. Don't you?"

"It'll earn you a date if you can get the rest of my crew out of here."

Tsunami slipped from the bed, keeping her eye on him. Surely this would only end in failure? Her eyes widened when she saw him ignite the tazer and aim it at the forcefield.

"Don't!" she squeaked. "You'll fry yourself alive!"

"The handle's insulated," he said. "Trust me. I'd bet my tail on this."

As she recalled Tumble's missing tail, she began to wonder how often this was a common bet between the two brothers.

Rough brandished the sparking tazer, filling the cell with a deep, ominous hum. Then he stuffed it against the forcefield. Electricity danced from it, bouncing off the tiled floor. Then a flash filled the cell, dazzling Tsunami's eyes. Rough let out a yelp, rolling backwards from the forcefield in an eruption of sparks. Tsunami raised her hands to shield her head and grimaced as a few stray sparks peppered her arms. When she'd blinked the dazzle spots from her vision, she smoothed out the fur on her arms which stubbornly stood on end like grass. Rough groaned and pushed himself up, but he more resembled a blue and white pompom than a roguish space pirate.

A huge grin split his face and he looked up at her and winked. "I present to you one exit."

She followed his hand to the forcefield. Or lack thereof.

Her heart leapt and she slid from the bed, grabbing the space pirate by his scruff. "Come on then, before someone notices!"

He wriggled from her grip and rushed ahead of her, then paused to hand her the tazer baton. She took it then opened her mouth to speak, but he silenced her with a wave.

"I've got my own weapon built in," he said. "Just watch my back, all right?"

She didn't need telling twice. She kept close to the skunk, keeping the baton ready as she followed him to the next cell. It didn't take long for the first soldiers to show up. They readied their guns, but Rough rolled towards them, engulfing them in his stink trail.

Tsunami leapt back from it into a horde of GUN soldiers, striking them with tail and baton. Bullets flew, clanking off her scales and the cold tiles of the tunnel walls. The other forcefields sparked and flickered as the bullets struck them, and a flurry of laser fire bounced down the corridor. Panicked yells and cries of distress came from the soldiers, and the stink from Rough's stink bomb attack filled the corridor causing Tsunami's eyes to stream once more.

But she didn't let it hinder her. She fought back, lashing out with her tail and sending the soldiers' feet out from under them. Then she performed a neat somersault, bringing her sharp tail down like a great sword. Soldiers fell under the cleaving scales, dropping their weapons as they scrambled back clutching at their wounds. She grabbed a pistol from one fallen soldier and fired it, disarming a gennet with a sniper rifle. To her surprise the pistol turned out to be a laser. Good. She knew how to handle one of those.

She stood back, checking over the fallen soldiers. Blood and fallen bodies littered the corridor, and groans rose into the air. She silently hoped none of their wounds were fatal. Just enough to keep them off her and Rough's tails as they tried to find the rest of their allies.

A red dot caught her eye, dancing over the geometric print on her dress. She looked up into the fierce eyes of a puma peering around a corner, his sniper rifle fixed on her. He was going for a heart shot.

He squeezed the trigger then keeled back, a stream of blood flowing from his shoulder as he vanished back around the corner. His bullet skimmed her right head scale and vanished into an air vent in the ceiling.

Rough joined her side and grabbed her wrist, pulling her towards him.

"You all right, Nami?"

"I'm fine." She lowered her pistol, trying to catch her breath. "Thanks."

He caught her eye and nodded, then motioned for her to follow after him. "Next cell ain't our guys. We're gonna have to sniff 'em out."

"It was never going to be easy, was it?"

She sighed and followed after him, keeping an eye open for any sign of their allies, and deeply hoping it would be much easier than she was fearing.
 

DeliriousAbsol

*Crazy Absol Noises*
Staff
Location
Behind a laptop, most likely with tea
Pronouns
She/Her
Chapter Fourteen​

The siren blared as soldiers flooded down the corridors towards the high security cells. Gadget slammed his office door and rounded back on the holoscreen.

"You lost The Raptor?!" he shrieked.

The porcupine soldier flinched back from him, clasping a hand over his bandaged head. The wolf watched him sink further into the clean, white pillow of a hospital bed. The holo-screen didn't reveal much else.

"If you haven't realised already," Gadget went on, "those criminals are already much more trouble than they're worth! And you lost their stinking ship?!"

The soldier trembled, but whether it was from fear or exhaustion Gadget couldn't care less.

"Who was it?" he asked more calmly. "Did you see them?"

"I didn't see anyone," said the soldier. "They snuck up on me."

Gadget tapped his lip and glanced away from the screen. Team Datastream had three registered members. The Chaotix were also a team of three. The skunk was merely a tag-along, most likely in a bid to rescue his brother from GUN. Was there some other tag-along they'd missed? Or was it a stowaway hijacking the ship?

He turned back to the soldier, now grimacing as he tried to sip his drink. "I'll get someone else on it. Thank you for your help."

Those final words had been thick with sarcasm, and the soldier had picked up on it. But before he could even begin to beg, Gadget switched off the screen.

Fantastic. That datachip was very likely still on The Raptor somewhere. Not only did he have to track down Infinite, he now had a ship to find and criminals to herd back to their cells. The soldiers could take care of the latter. That, and his Wreckingball Prototype. His eye went to the folder left neatly on his desk and his entire body tingled. Now was as good a time as any to try that out, and silence Datastream and the Chaotix for good.

As for the ship, his soldiers could deal with that, too.

...​

Infinite yawned until his jaw popped, drawing Amy's attention from the colourful clothing stand. She shook her head and turned back to her perusing. But not before pausing to look over at the stand opposite them, that had been neatly sorted and rearranged by the jackal only a little while prior. Wherever she'd stopped to muse, he'd promptly occupied himself by 'tidying' the rails, so intently that shoppers had stopped to ask him where things were. Then he'd send them off blindly to a random area of the shop and chuckle to himself as he returned to his obsessive sorting.

That was, until the shop assistants asked him to stop or leave. In all fairness, he'd been pretty quiet until he'd grown bored.

He caught her eye then yawned again, just to make his point.

"If I'm boring you, then go and wander," she said. "I think there's a rack of jeggings over there you've not harassed yet."

"I can't." He shook his hand to jangle the chain, which made very little noise yet served as a cruel reminder. "It doesn't stretch that far. I'm as confined to you as you are to me." Then he turned and muttered, "Unfortunately."

"I thought you could lengthen and shorten it at will."

"Within limits. If I go too far, it will vanish."

"Really?" She turned her head to fix wide eyes on him, getting a smirk in return.

"Don't get any ideas," he said. "It's only if I go far enough away, not you."

She tutted and turned back to the dresses. "Then I guess you didn't really think this through then?" She tugged out a red dress to scan her eyes over it then stuffed it back where she'd found it. "Well I might be a while. If you'd just let me stay in my apartment, we wouldn't be in this situation."

"I don't see why you can't just wash and re-wear your current dress."

Amy's face flushed and she looked around at the other shoppers. Thankfully no one had heard him.

She rounded on him, quills bristling. "Do you have no sense of modesty?! What would I wear in the mean time?"

"You're already wearing something! You have fur." He waved a hand at his own body. "Like me. What do you need clothes for?"

"I'm a girl!" She turned back to the clothing rack before her face began sending a land warning to passing ships. "Good grief. It's little wonder you don't have a girlfriend."

Infinite rolled his eyes and crossed his arms over his chest. "This is the most boring thing ever."

"Stop complaining, or we're not stopping for snacks."

The jackal fell silent as Amy continued her search through the various dresses. She'd already found two she liked in another shop, but they were pretty similar in colour. A red backless dress with a white trim, and a white dainty little thing with a red floral print. She wanted something different. She pulled a lemon yellow summer dress out to look over it, but found it promptly taken from her hands.

"No." Infinite stuffed it back onto the rail.

"No?" she scoffed.

"It's yellow," he said. "Why on earth would you wear yellow?"

"So you don't like pink. You don't like yellow. What do you like?"

"I have no gripes with the colour yellow, Pink Freak," he said. "It just clashes. Makes you look like colour vomit. You'll give some poor unsuspecting soul a migraine." He pushed her aside and began yanking the dresses along the rail, making each coat hanger screech along the metal.

"But I like yellow!"

He looked back at her over his shoulder. "Well it isn't your colour. Are you a fashion designer or what?"

As he turned back to his frantic searching, Amy balled her hands into fists and seethed. But all anger drained from her when he spun on his heel, holding up a black dress before her with a thoughtful look on his face. Blue ribbing ran down its sides reminiscent of fibre tubes.

"Nope." He turned back to the rail. "Blue doesn't work either."

Amy gave a mournful look to her blue neck tie. "Really?" Then she narrowed her eyes at the back of his head. "How on earth do you of all people know this?"

"I paint."

Her jaw went slack as the image of him stood before a blank canvas nibbling on the tail end of a paintbrush crossed through her mind.

"That surprises me," she said. "You don't strike me as an artist. I mean, they make things. Not destroy them."

He turned his head slightly to see her over his shoulder, only briefly. But she thought she saw him sigh.

"I've not had much chance since I landed in Mainframe," he said. "But back in my own world it was a nice, relaxing past time. I'd hardly call myself an artist."

Before she could interject, he turned with a flourish to brandish yet another dress before her torso. Another black one, with a neon-green and pink pattern decorating its hem, crisscrossing like the intricate wires of a chipboard. Straps crisscrossed over its bare back. His muzzle twisted, but not with disgust.

"I thought it would take the edge off your pinkness," he said.

She tried to catch his reluctant eye with an unimpressed scowl. "And does it?"

He shook his head slowly, but she found the dress thrust into her hands regardless.

"If you're just rushing me-" she said.

"It works. Buy it."

He spun back to the rail to continue rifling through them, only this time he pulled out the odd dress to stick it back somewhere else.

Amy sighed and turned the dress so she could see the front. The pink and green pattern continued up from the hem towards the collar in an hourglass shape. Not ordinarily something she would have gone for, but she found herself actually liking it. And much to her surprise, the label declared it was her size.

"I'm not sure it's really me," she said. "Maybe I should try it on?"

Infinite froze in his sorting to fix her with a look of disgust. But it melted away quickly as he gave a sigh of defeat.

"It will be fine," he said bluntly. "The green would work with your eyes. But if you don't believe me…"

She jolted at those words, but he still had his back to her. He'd actually paid attention enough to make such a statement? She gave the dress another look, and much to her surprise it found itself in her little cotton basket.

"Okay. I'll take your word for it." She had to admit she'd had enough of his griping. Three dresses would do. She secured the basket over her arm and turned towards the cash register. "Let's just go. I'm getting hungry anyway."

She swiftly paid for the dress then led the jackal out of the shop. He made no offers to carry her bag, not that she minded. She usually enjoyed shopping, and she was going to make the most of it even if it didn't feel like freedom. At least she wasn't cooped up in a pokey hotel room filled with bugs.

The next stop was the mini market. She spent a good while around the pastries, picking out her favourites while Infinite dropped strange flavours into the basket. Without a bag. So while she bagged them up, the odd jackal made a beeline for the tins. Was he seriously looking to get tinned products? The hotel didn't exactly have self catering.

No. It wasn't the tins he was after. She joined him by the sandwich spreads and promptly found seven large jars of peanut butter plonked into her basket. Her arm jerked under the weight and she staggered backwards as she desperately clutched it in both hands.

Infinite took it from her and carried it effortlessly back towards the cash register.

"But I'm not done yet," she said.

"Well I am," he replied with a hint of innocence in his voice.

Amy was about to protest but her eye went to a display of sweets. She grabbed a large bar of chocolate. Then another when she realised she might be forced to share. But the jackal didn't appear remotely interested. As they laid the goods out for the cashier, Infinite claimed one of the jars of peanut butter and tugged the lid off before she'd even finished paying.

She made sure he had a canvas bag looped over his arm before they left the shop, but it didn't hinder his ravenous assault on the peanut butter in the slightest. His right glove hung down inside the bag, safely out of harm's way.

He licked the spread off his fingers, drawing looks of disgust and shock from passers by.

"You could have waited until we got back to the hotel," said Amy.

"I'm hungry now," he replied.

"And you would still be hungry when we get back to the hotel. So what difference does it make?"

"Exactly." He fixed his lone eye on her as he licked his fur. "I really don't see what the problem is."

She shook her head and pushed herself on, trying to tune out the peculiar jackal. A brief, shrill siren filled the air and she nudged him closer to the walls as a towering Strider Drone marched past. Its alarm call nothing more than an alert to its presence for oblivious passers by. Infinite looked up at it with a mixture of surprise and curiosity, while the other pedestrians merely made sure they were out of the way of its long spindly legs. It cared as much about them as they did it, turning its long neck left and right as it kept its lone eye open for any sign of trouble.

Infinite followed Amy as she rounded the corner towards the outskirts, and a strange buzzing reached them. He swatted at his ear with his sticky hand and growled, muttering something about 'bothersome robots' while frantically searching for the source of the buzz. It appeared before them as a metal chao drifted down at eye level.

"Excuse me," it said. "My name is Omachao. I am the assistant android for Team Datastream, and I am afraid I need your help."

Infinite paused mid-lick and pointed. "I know you."

"Precisely," said Omachao. "I have been looking for you, Mister Infinite. Would you and Miss Rose care to assist me? I am afraid my masters have found themselves in quite the pickle."

"Datastream." Amy stared at the shadow below the robot chao. "They were in that battle. In Twinkle Park."

"That is where they went missing, yes. The Raptor was apprehended, but I got it this far to find you. I am afraid my combat skills are not fantastic."

Infinite closed his eyes and marched past Omachao. "Forget it."

Amy glanced back at the chao as she was dragged past him. He turned in the air, his expression remaining emotionless.

"I am afraid I cannot do that," he said. "Erasing such information would hinder my duties to Team Datastream."

Infinite faltered and turned his lone eye onto the robot. It drifted over to them and hovered at face height.

"Team Datastream are more than just my masters," he went on. "They care for me, and I return the favour to the best of my abilities. They are in GUN's hands now. What does one do in this situation?"

Infinite stared at the chao for a long moment, who waited patiently for his answer. Amy looked between the two as the jackal's face became once again unreadable.

"Loyalties, eh?" he finally said. "All right. I'll help you get them back. I owe GUN a world of pain anyway."

"Thank you most kindly," said Omachao.

"And cut with the formality, android," said Infinite. "I'm not your master. Where's this ship?"

"I believe you will find it cloaked over Station Square," explained Omachao. "That was the best place for me to leave it while I narrowed down your location."

"Fantastic." Infinite turned to head back the way they'd come, stuffing his hand into his peanut butter. Then faltered.

Amy shook her head and moved ahead of him, retracing her steps back towards Central City. Omachao buzzed on ahead. Backwards.

"How, may I ask, shall I attempt to go about dropping formalities, Mister Infinite?" he asked.

"You can stop calling me Mister, for one thing." The jackal stuffed his peanut-butter coated hand into his mouth.

"Then what would you like me to call you?"

Amy looked up at the jackal as he struggled to swallow his mouthful. A spark ignited in her mind as she saw an opportunity to turn the tables against his favour.

She turned to the chao and beamed. "You could call him Niffy instead?"

Infinite choked, spluttering peanut butter, and he fixed Amy with a dumbfounded expression.

"Very well," said Omachao. "I shall henceforth refer to you as Niffy."

...​

No sooner had Tsunami reached the next occupied cell, soldiers had rained down on both her and Rough. Espio and Charmy had taken a different route, leaving Tsunami with her trusty tazer baton. It had made short work of the panel locking their cell, but did very little to keep soldiers at bay. Oh how she missed her laser.

Rough rushed ahead of her to draw some of them away, but the pair soon found themselves surrounded. She caught a glimpse of the cell behind the SWAT soldiers, catching Vector's eye. She deeply hoped he was trapped with Crash or Decode, or both.

Several red dots flickered over her scales and contrasted with Rough's dark fur.

"Get back to you cell," said the lead soldier. "I won't tell you twice."

Rough clenched his fists and bared his canines, but he didn't move to to attack. Why? Tsunami glanced down at him, almost willing him to unleash his stink bomb. He'd not hesitated back at their cell, or when clearing the path for the space pirates. What was the difference now?

The soldier lifted his rifle with a click, and the dot trailed up her torso towards her throat. She tutted and brought her tail up like a shield. The soldiers unleashed a rain of projectiles which clinked off her scales and knocked her back against the wall. Rough shouted and ducked towards her, and he flinched behind her tail with a grunt. Red blood seeped out from his left shoulder to pool down his arm, and he clutched it tightly.

Real bullets. Not tranquilizers. These soldiers weren't messing around.

"We ain't gettin' outta here, are we?" he moaned.

"We might stand a chance if you gas them," she suggested.

"I can't. I'm all out."

So it was limited? Tsunami grimaced as the direness of their situation fell heavily upon her.

The bullet assault lessened but she didn't lower her tail. If she moved they might fire again.

"Last chance," said the soldier.

Tsunami lowered her tail a fraction, just so she could see the lead soldier. He narrowed his eyes at her but the red dot didn't leave its mark. A small movement caught her eye and she thought she glanced Espio creeping along the wall towards them. A hopeful thought, or a potential rescue? Whichever it was, she wasn't about to blow their chances of escaping.

She gave the soldier a nod and he nodded at his soldiers. Those closest to him lowered their weapons and moved towards her, reaching towards their belts for their cuffs.

"No. Leave them."

The soldiers froze and everyone turned towards the voice. It was one Tsunami recognized, and it didn't exactly fill her hope. The red wolf, Gadget, marched down the corridor with his own soldiers beside him. And behind him towered a cream-coloured animal Tsunami couldn't quite place. The soldiers leapt into a panic, some training their weapons on the creature. Red dots peppered its fur as the rifles leapt into action, and a low growl rose from deep within its throat.

"Lower your weapons!" Gadget hissed.

Most of the soldiers complied instantly, while a few hesitated until forced to do so under the wolf's piercing glare.

Tsunami couldn't take her eyes off the creature. Its entire head was covered with a box-like helmet, petering out into a point at the muzzle. The only thing serving its eyes was a narrow slit that glowed red. Blue lights flickered on either side of its temples as if the helmet was processing some kind of wireless signal. It swung its head around and growled, pawing a the helmet like something in pain.

"Tumble?" Rough gasped.

The soldiers surrounding them backed away slowly, their wide eyes refusing to leave the cream skunk. A couple of them trembled from ear to tail, their weapons rattling in their hands. Tumble grunted and took a step towards them, but Gadget lifted a hand to place it on his chest.

"Easy, there." The wolf turned back to the soldiers. "You might want to stay still. He's attracted to movement."

"What have you done to my brother?!" Rough leapt from behind Tsunami. "That ain't him! You've done somethin'!"

Tumble lurched forwards and raised a pair of heavily gauntleted hands. Long claws stuck out from the cuffs and he brought them down towards his brother. Rough leapt back, whisking his tail out of harm's way.

"Rough!" Tsunami gasped, dropping her tail before her feet.

That was enough for the soldiers. They broke apart from each other, and a good number of them took off down the corridor. Rough, however, took a few mere steps back, refusing to take his eyes off his brother. Tumble hissed as he watched the fleeing soliders.

"Brother?" Rough raised a hand towards him.

Tumble locked back onto Rough and froze as the blue lights flickered erratically, then he straightened to return to his position behind Gadget. The wolf tutted and shook his head.

"I warned you he's attracted to movement," he said.

"What've you done?" Rough whimpered.

"He works for me now," said Gadget. "Much like you lot will when I'm done with you. He is the first prototype for Project Wreckingball. A fall-back, given you stole my original model."

"Stole your original model," Tsunami spat, turning to face the wolf. "Infinite is a living being. Whether or not he's alien to this world gives you no right to-"

Gadget dragged a pistol from inside his lab coat and aimed it at Tsunami. "You might want to watch your words, young lady. It would be a pity to lose someone with your strength."

Her muzzle creased in a sneer. "Go on then. Shoot. I'd rather die than be turned into that." She nodded towards the cream skunk.

"So would I." Rough choked back tears and shook his head. "I'm sorry, brother. I let you down…" He sank to his bottom.

Tumble jerked and leapt over Gadget's head. Tsunami let out a gasp and screwed her eyes shut, not wanting to watch the smaller skunk's fate. A yelp came from beside her and she found herself twisting towards it. Espio's purple body flew down the corridor from Tumble's gauntlets, leaving a trail of blood droplets in his wake. One of his kunai bounced off the floor and embedded itself between two tiles. The skunk landed on him and froze once more as the blue lights' pattern altered. Tumble slowly reared back up with Espio dangling by his tail from the skunk's clenched fist.

"Well done," said Gadget. "I didn't see that one. I guess that advanced thermal tracking technology paid off." He moved towards Tumble and nudged the unconscious chameleon with the nozzle of his gun. Then he turned back to his soldiers. "Where's the bee?"

"Locked back in his cell, doc," said the lead soldier.

"Good. I'm not sure how he'll benefit our project, but we'll find him a role."

"So you're turning people into mindless weapons?" Tsunami asked.

"I'd hardly call them 'mindless'," said Gadget. "They're perfectly controlled by their handler's own thoughts. Although there are some kinks to iron out before we fully launch Project Wreckingball. Like this fellow's attraction to movement."

The wolf flicked his tail from side to side in an almost lazy fashion and fixed the pangolin with a smirk.

"Funny," she said. "He doesn't seem inclined to attack you."

"That's because I keep his focus on anyone else but me," said the scientist. "I'm not an idiot." He turned back to his soldiers and frowned. "Now… See to it these three are locked away. Securely! J50021 will assist you."

Tumble turned to follow the soldiers back down the corridor, with Espio swinging back and forth like a pendulum. Gadget followed behind his stub of a tail, keeping his full attention on the mind-controlled skunk.

Tsunami was lost for words. She barely noticed a polecat drag her from the wall and secure cuffs about her fists, before forcing her to follow the soldiers with the harsh nozzle of his rifle. Rough was in no better state. And he had nothing to say when he released her again and the cell's forcefield flashed to life behind them.

Tumble marched away from them to follow Gadget to Espio's cell. The polecat watched them go then caught Tsunami's eye. She met it with a sneer but sat silently, watching him as he shifted uneasily.

"I don't like this any more than you do," he said quietly.

"Then why are you doing it?" she hissed.

The polecat's expression blanked and he backed away from their cell to vanish back down the corridor.

"It's over, ain't it, Nami?"

Rough sat in the middle of the floor beside a growing pool of blood that continually dripped from his arm. She tugged her scarf free and shuffled over to him to fasten it around his shoulder.

He placed his face in his free hand and sobbed. "What've they done to him?"

"Nothing that can't be fixed."

Of course, she didn't know that for certain. But throwing a little hope into the heavy air felt needed. She secured her scarf around his arm and fell back onto her knees.

"We'll get that helmet off him and things will return to normal," she said.

He looked up from his hand and let it fall into his lap. "You think it's just the helmet?"

She watched him for a moment as she mulled it over, then let out a small sigh. "I honestly don't know. But he seemed to recognize you."

"He didn't kill me 'cos that mad wolf wouldn't let him," Rough scoffed.

"How do you know that?"

"How do you know he recognized me?" He tried to catch her eye but she dodged it. "You don't. We saw the same thing, Nami. You saw him hesitate, and I saw them lights flashin'. He's completely under Gadget's control and there ain't nothin' we can do about it."

"We can. We can remove his helmet and free him."

"Yeah, if we can even get outta this joint. And that's if they ain't done somethin' else to him, n'all." Rough grimaced as he pulled his wounded arm up onto his lap. "They could'a done anythin'. You seen what EggTech is out there. Who's to say he ain't got some kinda mind control implant and that helmet is all show? He might be lost for good, and we're gonna meet the same fate if they don't kill us first."

Well that shot down her little hope beacon. Tsunami rose to her feet and paced back to the forcefield. No sign of any of the soldiers, and any noise from them was faint. She hugged her arms around herself, keeping her sights on the empty corridor.

"I'm not letting go of hope just yet," she said.

"What, you seriously lookin' for another way outta here?" Rough snorted his surprise. "We've tried, Nami. And we failed. What hope is left?"

"I dunno." She shuffled her feet and followed a faint shadow as it drifted away on her right. "But I'm beginning to think there are more people on our side here than we realize."

...

A/N - Tumble's behaviour with the helmet on is inspired by Type:Null in Ambyssin's fanfiction Pokemon Mystery Dungeon: Guiding Light. I like the idea that such a horrible helmet would cause pain and discomfort to the wearer, and I kept picturing Tumble reacting in the same way.

The Strider Drones are inspired by the two-legged robots in Horizon Zero Dawn. The robot designs in that game are amazing.
 
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DeliriousAbsol

*Crazy Absol Noises*
Staff
Location
Behind a laptop, most likely with tea
Pronouns
She/Her
Chapter Fifteen
Amy didn’t feel at home in the air. The Raptor’s smooth movements did little to settle her stomach, and she was growing tired of her ears popping. She slumped down the corridor from the bathroom towards the bridge, hoping for some news that they were finally nearing their destination.

Infinite sat back in the captain’s seat with his feet on the dash and his arms tucked behind his head. Amy couldn’t help but wonder if the captain of Datastream would scold him for such blatant disrespect. Or was it just sheer obliviousness to rules? She was willing to bank it on the former as the chain tugged at her wrist, and his lone eye sparkled with amusement. He’d only dropped it in the first place because he knew there was no chance of her throwing herself out of the hatch in a desperate bid to escape. Add to that, her phone had run its battery dry. So it’s not as if she could have contacted anyone for help if she’d wanted to.

Oh well. Phone or no phone, that brief night of freedom had been good while it lasted.

She smoothed down the front of her dress. Red with a white lace trim. She’d considered the one he’d picked out, then decided against it. For some reason she didn’t understand, she couldn’t bring herself to try it on. She kept trying to tell herself it wasn’t because she was worried it would get damaged during whatever he was hoping to accomplish back at GUN’s cells.

Butterflies erupted through her stomach and her hands turned clammy. What on earth had she got herself into? A raid on GUN? Couldn’t he just let her go rather than dragging her along? She slumped down into the chair by the navigation deck, where Omachao was busying himself with the computer. He looked up at her and closed his mechanical eyes in a smile.

“Good morning, Miss Rose!” he said.

She groaned and rubbed the bridge of her nose. “Is it?”

“If you have a headache, there are medical supplies in the kitchen?”

“I think I’m okay. It’s just this atmosphere.”

“I’ve heard this lifestyle takes some getting used to for you flesh and blood creatures,” said Omachao. “There is also coffee in the kitchen, if that is more to your liking?”

She didn’t need telling twice. She rose before he could even explain he was a little too busy to offer it personally. The chain tugged as she left the door, and she glanced back to see Infinite rising to follow her. She muttered under her breath as the dream for ‘a little more peace and quiet’ grew further and further away.

She found the caffetiere and poured herself a mug, sighing as the smell of coffee filled the small kitchen. She then located the pastries she’d left on the counter, still wrapped in the carrier bag. She selected an apricot swirl and turned to join Infinite at the table, freezing mid-step under the jackal’s piercing gaze.

“What?” she asked.

“Are you any good at fighting?”

She almost choked on her pastry, and coffee sloshed over the side of her mug. She steadied herself and placed the latter on the table. He kept watching her as she carefully perched on the stool and wiped crumbs from her muzzle.

“What are you getting at?” she croaked.

“Let’s face it, Freak, it’s very likely to get nasty when we arrive at GUN,” he said slowly. “If you’re gonna be a dead weight-”

“I can handle myself just fine when I have my hammer,” she said. “But someone made me leave that behind!”

“So once someone disarms you, you are about as much use as a chocolate teapot?”

“I-”

“A paper umbrella?”

“No, I-”

“The ‘g’ in lasagne?”

The poor pastry found itself smooshed in Amy’s hand, bringing her to the stark realization she was still wearing her gloves. She sighed and strove to wipe the apricot jam away with a paper napkin.

She then fixed her livid eyes on Infinite’s and said in a low growl, “I am not useless.”

“Good,” he purred. “Then you can help me destroy them.”

Suddenly the pastry didn’t seem appealing anymore. Neither did the coffee.

“You expect me to kill people?!” she squeaked.

Infinite narrowed his eye. “They’re evil, Amy.”

“I don’t care! I’m not going to help you kill anyone!”

He stared across the table at her, keeping her gaze on his. It was impossible to look away. She clasped her hands together if only to stop them from shaking. It wasn’t successful.

“Funny,” he said. “I wonder if they’ll hold the same sentiment towards you?”

“It wouldn’t be a problem if you hadn’t dragged me into all this,” she said. “You’re the one who decided to drag me along, completely against my will! I was living a peaceful, happy life until you came crashing through my window!”

He inclined his head on one side and she thought he raised an eyebrow. “’Happy’?”

“Yes,” she added with some bitterness.

He let out a grunt and tapped his claws on the table. “That’s not the impression I got.”

“What? Are you going to tell me you were on some noble mission to rescue a girl from boredom, now?” she scoffed. “Well I was happy! I had friends, a career, a home. What makes you think I wasn’t?”

“Simple. You didn’t want to be there.”

Her jaw hung open as she stared at him, waiting for him to elaborate.

“Besides, it wasn’t a bid to save you from anything,” he went on. “I was keeping you around out of convenience. That way, I’d know where you were and what you were doing. You know… not ratting me out to GUN, or getting your soldier lover-boy involved.”

She leant across the table, flashing her canines, but he didn’t so much as flinch. “I wanted to be there! It was my home!”

“Did you?”

She huffed a couple of times, digging her fingers into the metal-topped table. “What do you know?”

“Simple.” He leant back on his stool, surprisingly not toppling off it. “All I had to do was touch you.”

“You said doing that lets you know if someone is evil or not,” she scoffed. “What does that have to do with whether or not I wanted to live in my own home?”

“It gives me an insight into what someone desires most in life,” he said flatly. “And that, Pink Freak, reveals to me whether or not someone is evil. If they desire evil, then that’s exactly what they are.”

She stuttered, eyes widening as she sank back onto her stool.

“And I know full well you don’t want to be in that pokey apartment,” he went on. “You want to be with that blue spiky freak, living in some dainty little cottage out in the suburbs where, in the back garden, you keep chickens…” He wagged a finger. “Just for the eggs. Blue boy gives up his government job to help you in your little bakery, which you own because the glitz and glam of the life of a fashion designer isn’t want you thought it would be.”

Amy’s stuttering worsened as she stared back at him with the expression of someone who had just received an unexpected slap.

Infinite shrugged and gave her a half-smirk. “Found that little nugget out the first day we met, sugar.” Then he added, “It was quite refreshing, actually.”

“How on earth do you know all that from one touch?” she gasped.

“Easy,” he said. “The Phantom Ruby reveals someone’s heart’s desire.”

Her eye went to the red jewel. “And that’s what that is?”

“What, this?” He placed a hand on it and shook his head. “This is a fake. A copy. It pales in comparison.”

“Oh good.” She sipped at her coffee, but it did little to settle her nerves. “I’d dread to think what the real one could do.”

Infinite snorted, drawing her attention back to him. “You think my powers come from the fake alone? Don’t be so naive.”

“Then what? Do you have the original one hidden on you or something?”

He examined his claws then licked his lips a few times. “You could say that.”

She looked back up at his face slowly. “Then where is it?”

“You’re talking to it.”

Her quills stood on end down her back. What on earth did that mean? He wasn’t a jackal? He stooped to reach beneath the table then popped back up with a half-demolished jar of peanut butter. He tugged the lid off and discarded his left glove to scoop some out. He couldn’t honestly just leave it at that? Like it was the most normal thing to announce to someone. He’d just announced he was some mysterious jewel! Unless it was just the name of the experiment he was a part of? Like ‘Project Wreckingball’.

But the ruby she could see was a copy. So that only meant…

She placed a hand on her head and leant onto the table. “I don’t think I understand.”

“Of course you don’t,” he said simply. “It was alien to my world, as well.”

“Then what is it?”

He shrugged as he licked peanut butter off his fingers. “I’ve not fully figured it out yet.”

“But you said that’s what you are, so how can you not know?!”

“I told you I was an experiment,” he said. “Okay… let me put in some way you’ll understand. When Eggman first showed up in this world, what had happened exactly?”

She sighed and dragged both hands through her quills. “There was an explosion. It tore open some strange… otherworldly anomaly.”

“Null Space.”

“That’s what they’ve been calling it, yes.”

“Did they ever find out what exploded?” he asked with his mouth full.

“Some lab,” she said. “They don’t know why.”

He chuckled and fell into silence as he licked his fur with all the focus of a domestic cat. Amy stared down at her hands, the right glove stained yellow against the white thanks to the apricot.

“Have you done the maths yet?” he finally asked.

She looked back up at him with a blank expression, and he rolled his eye and sighed.

“Fine, I’ll do it for you,” he said. “One lab explodes in your world. Another explodes in mine.” He jabbed a thumb into his ruff. “I was the experiment that exploded in Mobius! That’s why I arrived in your world half-dead. Eggman was trying to fuse me with a fake Phantom Ruby Prototype. The only one that had any power that even rivaled the original, but it took its power from the real Phantom Ruby, like a leech. It could do most of the things the original could, but one of the things it could not do was reveal someone’s heart’s desire. But it was enough. It could alter reality with powerful illusions, which is what Eggman wanted.

“In order to fuse it to me, he needed to use the original to power the machine. I don’t know why, I’m not a scientist. I was just a tool he wanted to use to exploit the Phantom Ruby’s power. But during that explosion, the entire lab was destroyed. Eggman and I were both thrown into Mainframe, me half-dead. The Phantom Ruby itself, completely obliterated. Or so one might think.”

He paused to lick more peanut butter from his hands to give Amy enough time to digest that information. She nodded slowly and folded her hands together.

“So what happened to it?” she asked. “If you say you are it, then…”

“It fused with me,” he said. “Somehow. I’d say it fused with the fake, but that doesn’t make sense. You see, the Phantom Ruby has some level of sentience. It’s a nomad. It has some kind of ability to allow it to travel through time and space. We don’t know what happened to prompt it to appear in Mobius, but it did, and Eggman found it. It also seems very aware of its own existence, and does what it can to protect itself. When he tried to break part of it away, it would confuse him. Some kind of self-defense. Throw illusions in the air. Disorienting pink mist.

“So when the lab exploded, taking the Phantom Ruby with it, it must have done something to secure its existence. Something desperate, if it decided to fuse itself with a mortal body. It didn’t take me long to realise something was amiss. When I came to, the first thing to greet me were curious scientists and surgeons. And every single person who touched me had their heart’s desire revealed to them as it unfolded around us like a children’s pop-up book. It threw me, and everyone who witnessed them, into a full-blown panic. When I started demolishing the lab, that’s when they had to bring me under control. Then they had to bring out the detainment collar, programmed to halt the Phantom Ruby’s abilities, leaving me with little to no way of working it out. But I question it. Why choose me? Why choose a feeble, weak body that can tire out and become exhausted, when there was other solid matter lying around? Why choose something that needs to eat, drink and sleep in order to function over, say, a rock that can just go on existing regardless? But of course, it can’t answer me.”

Amy’s breath trembled and she brushed back her quills. “That’s a lot to take in.”

Infinite screwed the lid back onto the peanut butter and set the jar back under the table. “You’re not the one who has to live with it.”

She tapped her fingers on the table as she tried to take it all in, her eyes once more going to the fake one in his chest.

“So if the fake one can use its power,” she said, “then does that mean…”

He clenched his teeth together and tutted. “Not so dumb, are you, Pink Freak?”

She shook her head, deciding to ignore his insult. “Why are you telling me all this? I mean, it’s information that could be easily used against you! If GUN found out about this, then they could-”

“You think I don’t know that?” he asked. “I’ve kept all this under my hat for years, Amy, and with good reason. I was in their clutches for five stinking decades! I’ve watched their plans change and alter until they came up with this idea for their dumb living weapons! I made a strong point of never so much as breathing it. I know what they could do with it, and every worse-case scenario has played through my mind the more I’ve dwelt on it.”

“Then why tell me?”

“Because it doesn’t mean anything to you.”

Her mouth flapped open and closed as she sought the right words. Infinite leant across the table towards her and she leant back as far as she could without falling off the stool. His nose almost brushed hers and his breath came in awkward rasps as the edge of the table pressed into his ribs.

“Do you want to use me?” he asked. “Abuse this power to alter reality for your own personal gain?”

“No,” she squeaked. “Why would I?”

“You could get that cottage you’ve always wanted,” he said. “Make your dream a reality and you wouldn’t even need to work hard to get there.”

That image crossed her mind. The lush garden and its flower beds. The clucks of chickens on the light, summer breeze. She shook her head and screwed her eyes shut.

“But it would feel so empty,” she said. “So pointless.”

He grinned and let out a purr of a growl as he sank back into his seat. “Exactly. A sentimental heart like yours wouldn’t want it because it would feel so meaningless.”

Amy clutched her coffee mug like a life-line as everything rapidly sank in. The extremeness of it all. The danger level suddenly cranking itself up to eleven.

“If GUN got their hands on you again knowing all this…” She trailed off, staring into the dwindling steam as it rose from her mug. The consequences didn’t even bare thinking about.

Infinite fell into an unnerving silence, his eye boring into her like a drill. She jumped as he slammed his hand on the table, lighting the metal surface up with a crimson light as the Phantom Ruby’s energy flared around him. Then it fizzled out, and Amy let out a small gasp as she spotted the over-sized mallet clutched in his fist. Not entirely dissimilar to her own.

“Take it,” he said.

She stared down at it, her fingers twitching as she tried to work out whether or not it was actually a trap. It wasn’t her mallet. The ornamentation along the handle was all wrong. Red jewels that looked awfully similar to the one Infinite bore, forming a neat trail along the white handle, tipped by a red diamond-shaped gem.

He took her hand in his and placed it on the mallet’s handle. “Take it.”

So she did. She secured her fingers around it and pulled it towards her. Heavy, just like her old one.

“If you’re so worried, you can help me rescue Datastream from GUN by watching my back.” His lip curled back as a low growl rumbled deep in his throat. “But leave Gadget to me. He’s mine.”

...​

An electric forcefield shot between the entrance to the cell, cutting Gadget off from his new weapon. The skunk stood staring back at him, his shoulders rising and falling as he struggled under the weight of the control harness.

“Well, that was an interesting trial run,” said the wolf. “There might be… one or two flaws. But it looks like that helmet does the job, don’t you think?”

Tumble said nothing, the red slit in his helmet locked on Gadget as if awaiting his next command.

“You rest up,” said Gadget. “You’ll need it if I’m going to use you to track down Infinite. Who knows… I might even let you hurt him a little bit. Make you his superior in my new army.” He turned to examine his claws and wiped them on his lab coat. “You’ll be re-united with your brother soon enough, too. That might make for an interesting combination.”

Tumble growled and shook his head left and right. The blue lights flickered madly as the harness tried to regain control of the skunk’s mind. Tumble swung his head towards the wall, crashing the helmet hard against the tiles. It bounced back off it, sending shards raining onto the floor that shimmered in the fluorescent light.

Gadget spun back towards him and barked. “Oi! Cut that out before you break something!”

The skunk lunged towards him and the forcefield flashed, sending Tumble rolling away from it in a flurry of sparks. He came to a stop on his back, fighting to catch his breath. The blue LEDs calmed to a steady pulse as the helmet finally brought the skunk back under restraint.

“Well it’s a good thing that harness is shock resistant,” said Gadget. “I guess there’s more kinks to iron out than I first thought. Now rest! I’m going to need you again shortly.”

Tumble’s head lolled to the side as he settled himself down to sleep. Gadget sighed and rubbed the bridge of his muzzle.

“On the bed!”

Tumble pushed himself up, the helmet’s lights flickering momentarily as he clambered onto the flat and narrow bed, his huge form making it look much smaller once he was on it.

Gadget’s lab coat billowed behind him as he turned from the cell and marched back to his office. Having Tumble under his control was proof the control harness worked. But it was only a prototype. His scientists were working overtime narrowing down the kinks. He fired off a quick email to their lab relaying the basics that needed fixing. Tumble was strong minded, but was he moreso than Infinite? He didn’t want to lose control of the jackal the second he finally had him under his thumb.

Speaking of which, would Tumble even be able to stand up against him? The skunk was resilient, but not as much as Infinite. Infinite had withstood extensive torture, even so far as being showered with bullets from a machine gun. His regenerative properties allowed him to recover at an alarming rate, even while under fire. The only damage he’d never fully recovered from was being crushed. Although that could be down to the detainment collar repressing those abilities. But Gadget had no choice. He’d needed to put the jackal in his place. Show him who was boss.

Tumble did not possess regenerative abilities. Infinite would probably kill him in a heartbeat. Hopefully the skunk would provide enough of a distraction so Gadget could reel the jackal in.

He moved back from his desk to his weapon cabinet, just to check his gravity gun was still in place. With both that and his Project Wreckingball Prototype, he might actually succeed in retrieving Infinite this time. That was, provided he didn’t slip away like he had back at Twinkle Park. No… that was too risky. He needed to not lose track of him this time.

Gadget tapped his lip as he scanned his office. Something, anything, that he could tag the jackal with? A tracking dart would be too obvious. If he stuck anything in his fur, he’d notice. And he didn’t exactly wear clothes. So what?

Gadget sank into his chair and began polishing his gravity gun as he mulled it over. There had to be something, or someone, he could tag? He cocked an eyebrow as an idea began to form, but it was washed away as an email flashed across his screen. Bearing a little red flag.

A ship had been spotted on the lab’s radar. The Raptor? It couldn’t be… It had actually returned?

Gadget pushed himself from his seat as he bared his canines at the holo-screen. Infinite! It had to be!

...​

Amy stood staring out of the hatch at the clouds billowing below, soft wisps rising from them as The Raptor’s wings brushed over them. Where the clouds parted, she could see the GUN building. Dark and imposing, despite how tiny it looked from their vantage point. The sun leaked down onto the prison yards, the dainty flower beds and the high wire fences, giving her the illusion that the feeling of any threat was purely psychological.

She yelped as Infinite placed a hand on her shoulder, her entire body tensing. Then she looked up at him, but his attention was on the building drawing rapidly closer.

“I hope you’re ready,” he said.

He didn’t give her any time to reply. She squeaked as he pulled her into him and spun, dropping backwards from the ship. Amy screwed her eyes shut as the wind whipped up around her ears, almost drowning out her screams.

“Did you grab a parachute?!” she bellowed.

“A what?”

She opened her eyes to look at him, but the wind stung them so much she had to screw them shut again. But it was enough to see the playful, taunting look in his eye.

“You have to be kidding me!” she screamed.

She buried her face into his neck, fastening her arms tight around his body. What was he thinking? They were going to be flattened! GUN would be scraping their remains off the floor, knowing they’d won.

Then it all stopped. The roaring air. The horrid plummeting sensation. She could hear her heart hammering in her ears over the deep hum of The Raptor’s engines miles above them.

“Are you forgetting I can fly?” Infinite spoke softly, and his lips brushed her ear.

Her eyes snapped open as her breath froze, and she pushed back from him. There was almost a friendly warmth behind his eye, but it vanished as a playful smirk took over. He nodded to her left and she followed his gaze to the GUN building. Still a good few feet away. They hovered higher than it, but she could see the windows. The silhouettes behind them. The soldiers flooding out into the yard.

“Now which cell do you think Datastream are locked in?” he purred to her. “This one?”

Keeping one arm fastened around her waist, he snapped his fingers and a section of the wall exploded. Brick and mortar rained down onto the yard, scattering the soldiers that were unfortunate enough to be stood too close to it.

“I guess not.” Infinite shook his head and sighed. “How about this one?”

Another snap. Another section of the wall blasted to smithereens. Sirens blared from the prison as more soldiers flowed out into the yard. Pinpricks of red light danced over Infinite and Amy’s bodies, followed by a rain of bullets. Amy screamed and buried her face back into Infinite’s chest, but not a single one touched them. When she looked up again, the bullets were being reflected back off the surface of a translucent red bubble. The entire thing surrounded them, and moved with them as Infinite lowered them to the ground.

“Looks like we’re going to have to fight,” he said.

His eyes were trained on the building. Gadget strolled across the yard, surrounded by a small army of SWAT soldiers. And behind him towered a cream-furred animal who’s species she couldn’t place. Namely due to the heavy helmet covering their entire head. The red slit over their eyes seemed to glow, and was fixed on both her and Infinite.

The jackal’s spine bristled and he didn’t look away from Gadget. “I hope you remembered your mallet.”

Amy reached behind her back and pulled out the hammer he’d given her. An illusion, yet as solid as the invisible chain that bound her to him. She looked up as soldiers rushed towards them, and clenched the hammer in both her hands.

“I’m not killing anyone,” she said.

“You might have to.”

He dropped the shield and leapt forward to greet the soldiers. A grin split his face and the ground erupted beneath their feet, sending them into the air like ragdolls.

Amy’s heart sank, but she swiftly shook it off, tearing her eyes from the flying, crippled soldiers to face the small mob rushing her, led by a fierce looking prairie dog. She brought her mallet up in an arc, striking his rifle clean out of his hands. It fired, bouncing off the hull of The Raptor. The stray bullet ricocheted off it to find its home in the forearm of the mouse soldier close behind. He dropped his weapon with a yelp and fell to the floor, clutching his wounded arm. The tenrec behind him couldn’t slow down fast enough. He went tumbling over his team mate, dropping his rifle and sending a stray bullet that skimmed the ankle of the prairie dog.

At least they were disarmed. Amy grimaced and turned to assist Infinite, rushing to catch up with him across the newly created gorge.

...​

Sirens blared throughout the prison, causing the shimmering forcefield to flash red as the lights pulsed throughout the corridors. Soldiers rushed past them, ignoring Tsunami and Rough as the pair tried to work out what was going on. First the explosions, and then the siren… was someone attacking the prison?

“Master? Master?”

Tsunami looked to her left, but her view of the speaker was blocked by Rough’s mohawk.

“Is that your Chao-droid?” he asked.

Tsunami spotted the small robot, hovering before the control panel with a small computer in his hands. He gave her a beaming smile as the forcefield blinked out like a light.

“Omachao?” Tsunami resisted the urge to hug the android. “How did you- What are you-?”

“I can answer everything shortly,” he said. “First I need to find everyone else. You, as captain, were priority.”

“How did you even get in here?” Tsunami asked.

“That is simple,” he said. “I entered through a hole blasted in the wall by Mister Niffy.”

“Who?”

“The jackal you rescued,” said Omachao flatly.

She exchanged glances with Rough, who shrugged.

Tsunami sighed and brushed a hand over her scales. “Well I’m afraid I’m not going to be of much use to you, Omachao, because I don’t know where anyone is.”

“That is fine. There are cells all along this corridor.” Omachao looked over both her and Rough. “It appears the two of you are currently unarmed. If you retrace my footsteps a few feet around the bend, you will find two soldiers I rendered unconscious. I strongly advise you take their weapons.”

Rough’s jaw fell. “You took out two GUN goons? Good grief! What sorta machine are ya?”

“Omachao Version 3.0, Jack of All Trades model. But I prefer the Butler personality.”

“So you’re a combat butler?”

“I am merely a butler. Now please retrieve those weapons.”

Tsunami didn’t need telling twice. She found the two soldiers lying face down with tranquilizer darts embedded in the backs of their necks. She chose the small hand laser from a ridiculously fluffy cat, while Rough took a small dagger. At her raised eyebrow he shrugged and sheathed it in the belt he’d pilfered.

“We’d better rejoin Omachao,” she said.

“Nah, Nami. I gotta find Tumble, all right?”

She froze to look back at him. “Alone?”

“I’ve gotta.” He walked backwards away from her and spread his arms. “He’s my bro, Nami, I ain’t leavin’ him here.”

She stuttered as she warred with the desire to rescue her crew and not let the skunk walk right to his death.

She clenched her teeth and caught his eye. “We won’t leave him, okay? I promise.”

Omachao drifted around the corner and looked between the two. “It is fine. I can rescue everyone else. Go and assist Mister Rough in his rescue mission.”

Tsunami sighed and turned to Omachao. “Are you sure you’ve got this?”

“I got you two out, did I not?”

“Okay,” she said. “Just… don’t forget the Chaotix.”

“They were already on my list of rescues, Miss Nami.”

A smile tugged at her lips and she turned to race after Rough. “You’re a good butler, Omachao. I’ll see you back at The Raptor.”

“Roger!”

The small chao turned and zipped away from her. Rough was waiting at the bend, his hand hovering by his dagger.

“It’s oddly quiet,” he said.

“All the soldiers will be rushing outside to stop Infinite,” said Tsunami.

“Great. That gives us a bigger chance of findin’ my bro without anyone gettin’ in my way.”

He made to move away from her, but halted as she placed a hand on his shoulder.

“I hate to bring this up,” she said. “But if Infinite really is here, there’s a chance Gadget is using your brother to fight him.”

Rough narrowed his eyes as his lips curled back from his canines. “Then I guess we’re goin’ outside!”

“Don’t you think we should have a bit more back-up before we go rushing outside?”

“If we take too long, that maniac might kill him first!”

Tsunami sighed and rubbed her face with her hands. “You’re right. Time is of the essence. Let’s risk it.”

Rough nodded then turned and rushed away from her. “Man, I’m gonna stink bomb that wolf until he begs for mercy!”

...​

The soldiers just wouldn’t stop coming. Barring Infinite from Gadget as the humongous monster with him forced its way through the mob, staggering as Infinite blasted the floor apart to scatter the soldiers. Once they were out of the way, he advanced, only to find bullets raining down on him from atop the prison. A swift earthquake solved that problem, shaking the entire prison and causing the whole right half of it to cave in. Screams of anguish and agony filled the air, washing over Infinite like water. He kept his livid gaze on the wolf as he threw himself through another growing wall of soldiers, striking them with crimson lightning as he spun threw them. Sure, he could easily swallow Gadget and his oversized goon up in a hole where they stood. But where would be the fun in that? He wanted to get as close as he could to the wolf. To show Gadget just as much pain and mercy he’d shown him.

Amy stuck close to his tail, and the thuds from her mallet told him any soldiers still left standing were swiftly put out of commission.

Infinite landed before Gadget. But the hulking helmeted monster stepped between them, fists raised and eye-piece leering down at the jackal.

“Infinite!” The joy in Gadget’s voice pushed his fur on end. Gadget clasped his hands together and beamed. “How lovely you two actually get a chance to meet! Let me introduce you to your superior, J50021. Or, if that’s too much of a mouthful, Project Wreckingball.”

‘Project Wreckingball’? Infinite’s blood blazed as he stared up at the monster. That was his codename! Why did this thing have it? Was he that easily disposable?! If they could replace him so easily, then was everything he was put through for nothing?!

Gadget’s fake, jovial smile turned into a sadistic leer and he folded his hands behind his back. “Get him.”

Infinite’s breath turned frantic and he let out an immense roar, shaking the air and blowing the creature backwards from him. It shook its head violently then, once the shockwave subsided, leapt towards him. Three metal claws shot from each of its gauntlets and it brought them down towards his head. Infinite took a step back and swung his fist up in an arc. A long, crimson scimitar manifested, cleaving the air only to be caught in the beast’s gauntleted fists. It swung its arms to the side, lifting Infinite clean off the floor and launching him like a toy.

Amy screamed as she was dragged along after him like a ball and chain. He landed on all-fours, keeping his eyes trained on ‘Project Wreckingball’. His lips quivered as a snarl rose in his throat and he dropped the chain, rounding on Amy.

“Get out of here!” he roared.

She clutched the mallet to her chest and scurried backwards on her bottom. Then, once she’d struggled to her feet, she turned and ran.

Infinite shook his head and turned back to the beast. He leapt from the floor, bringing his scimitar down towards its head. It swatted it aside with its gauntlets, giving him enough of an opening to land a swift kick in its chest. It barely even moved. Once he was close enough it nutted him with its helmeted head, sending Infinite back to the ground like a stunned fly. The impact knocked the wind from his lungs, and the Phantom Ruby’s crimson energy flickered out. Infinite groaned, pushing himself back up as the creature advanced towards him. He leered up at it, forcing his eye to bring it back into focus. The crimson haze around his body flared back to life, glitching and sparking until it stabilized itself again.

‘Project Wreckingball’ swung its fists down towards him, and Infinite rolled out of the way. It grunted as it tugged its claws free of the rocky earth then brought them down to meet him again. Infinite leapt backwards, watching its hands as it struck the earth repeatedly, sending rock and soil flying left and right with each swing. Not enough space to leap in and attack it. He’d have to try and strike it from behind.

Infinite flew over its head, tucking his tail in as it swiped at him. But no sooner was he behind it, a horrible stink filled the air, stinging his eyes and choking his lungs. He catapulted himself away from it, but a huge fist slammed into his stomach and crashed him into the ground. The blurry, helmeted head leered down at him. Pain radiated across his side and he became painfully aware of one of the blades pinning him to the ground.

“Tumble!”

The creature jerked its head around, then swung it left and right as blue LEDs flashed on either side of the helmet like out of control fireworks. It jerked back from him and Infinite grimaced as it pulled its blade free in favour of striking its own helmet. He took a few deep breaths to clear his lungs, hissing as he forced himself back up. But the pain was only brief. The wound healed up like a zipper.

“Tumble! It’s me!”

Infinite turned his head towards the voice. A blue and white skunk raced across the battlefield, trailed by soldiers and a green pangolin. Tsunami. Infinite recognized her. No. He was having no meddlers! This was his fight. He raised his hand up, and the ground shifted, raising up into several narrow, towering pillars. Close enough together to form an impenetrable wall. But that alone physically drained him. He’d used too much of his energy reserves already. If he was going to get out of this in one piece, he’d have to think small. No more elaborate, showy attacks. He turned back to the monster and leapt to his feet, forming another scimitar.

‘Project Wreckingball’ settled its frantic head-swinging to focus back on Infinite, and bashed its fists together creating sparks from its gauntlets. All brute strength. Something Infinite had always lacked. That kick had done nothing. If he was going to do any damage to this thing, he had to time his attacks just right and rely on boosting himself with the Phantom Ruby alone.

He’d already learned the thing’s pattern. All it wanted to do was use its fists. As if to prove his theory right, it swung at him. Blades leaping from its gauntlets like deadly claws.

Infinite kept his eyes on the creature’s torso and leapt forward, willing himself there. A weird computer code surrounded his body and he vanished briefly, flying through the tunnel it created. He reappeared right before the skunk as he rammed his fist into its gut. A shock-wave of Phantom Ruby energy blew the creature back from him to crash into the wall of pillars. Cracks exploded over the surface of it, and the beast slid down it to the floor.

Well that was new. Infinite chuckled as he levitated in the air, and nudged his mask back up his muzzle. Was that the Chaos Network? He’d have to remember that.

But ‘Project Wreckingball’ wasn’t down. The blue lights flickered on its helmet and it leapt back to its feet. It rushed him, slicing at him with its gauntlets. Infinite performed the same trick again, his fist striking its jaw. It flew up into the air and he appeared above it, sending a crescent kick into its shoulders. The beast struck the floor in a cloud of dust.

Infinite landed behind it, bracing himself as it pushed itself back up. How much punishment could this thing take? He frowned as the beast turned to face him again, brandishing its gauntlets. Favouring them over anything else in its arsenal. A fatal mistake. It brought them down towards his head with a roar. He dropped into a crouch to duck them then brought his scimitar up in an arc, focusing on its right hand. The crimson blade cleaved through the gauntlet in a spray of blood. The beast flew back from him with a blood-curdling howl, clutching what was left of its arm against its chest.

Infinite flicked blood from his muzzle then rushed towards the creature, raising his scimitar to spear it. To finish it off. To show it who the weakest one of them truly was.

“Infinite!”

It wasn’t a cry to get his attention. It was a cry filled with panic. He froze with his sword mere millimeters from the creature’s gut and turned his head towards the voice. Gadget stood leering at him with Amy clasped in his left arm. The right had a gun pressed to her head.

Gadget’s muzzle creased in a sneer. “I’m not going to let you damage my new toy any more than you already have done, you vile jackal. Now it would be in your best interest to back down and come with me, before I fill your little girlfriend full of lead.”

Amy screwed her eyes shut as tears leaked down over her cheeks. All Infinite could do was stare. No… why was this bothering him? She was just a hedgehog! She meant nothing!

How had this happened anyway? Where was her hammer? Infinite’s eyes closed briefly and he let out a sigh. Of course. When he’d lost his focus it would have faded. He looked back up at Gadget and dropped his sword, keeping his eye on the wolf’s. No. On the gun.

It melted away in Gadget’s hand, falling away into tiny maggots. Each one eating away at Infinite’s strength. Transformation into something else was the single-most draining tactic in his arsenal. Gadget yelled, releasing Amy to beat the maggots from his lab coat. She bolted from him as Infinite lunged across the battlefield towards him. Fist raised as he charged up another shock-wave.

Gadget whipped his hand through his coat and Infinite froze, trapped in mid-air. His eyes widened as he found himself staring at the rounded nose of Gadget’s gravity weapon. The wolf’s mouth turned up in a smirk.

“Got you,” he crooned. “Not so powerful now, are you?”

Infinite growled as he tried to move his arms. Then he focused on the gun again, willing it to transform into anything else. Maggots, glue, tar… His heart froze as he realised he truly was helpless. Weak. At the wolf’s mercy once again. His blood turned cold and he fought for breath as his mind turned foggy.

“Oh wow, really?” Gadget threw his head back and laughed. “It works better than I thought! But I have you know, jackal, this can do a lot more than just suspend you in mid-air.” The wolf paced back and forth, keeping his eyes on Infinite. “It doesn’t just remove or replace gravity. No, it manipulates it! Much like your reality manipulation it has very deadly consequences!”

Gadget’s eyes widened briefly as a ball of cream and white struck him head on, rolling him away along the ground. Claws slashing and cleaving as screeches filled the air. Infinite struck the ground with a grunt, sending pain through his muzzle. He found himself dragged to his feet by Amy and she dragged him away, back towards The Raptor.

“No.” He grabbed her wrist and pulled her into him, leering at the ship as Team Datastream mounted its neon ladder. “We’re not going back with them.”

Before Amy could protest, they vanished in a cloud of pink mist.

...​

“Tumble!” Rough bellowed, fighting against Crash’s fists.

“We can’t do anything!” the pangolin told him. “If we go over there, we’re mincemeat!”

Tsunami stood aside as she let Vector join in restraining the skunk. Tumble had been brought back under control, although from what she could see, Gadget wasn’t in a good way. His lab coat was in tatters and blood pooled on the floor. Although most of that was probably from Tumble’s missing hand.

“Please! I can’t leave him!” Rough roared, flailing in Vector’s grip.

Tsunami mounted the ladder after him and watched the ground vanish beneath them. Only once the hatch had closed did Vector finally release the sobbing skunk. Rough slumped against the wall, clasping a hand over his face.

“Look, I’m sorry,” said Vector. “But there’s nothin’ we can do. We go back there, we risk gettin’ turned into that. And I ain’t willin’ to-”

Espio placed a hand on Vector’s arm. “I think you need to learn when to stop talking.”

Vector shrugged and marched onto the bridge, leaving Rough stood with Crash and Tsunami. She looked down at the skunk and placed a hand on his shoulder.

“We’ll get him back,” she said softly. “Now we know where he is, and what’s happened-”

“Why did we leave him?” Rough looked up at her. “You said we could save him!”

“I said there’s hope to free him,” she reminded him.

“No, you promised!”

Tsunami blinked as her words came back to her. Then she closed her eyes and sighed. “I wanted to rescue him as much as you did, but Crash is right. We would have been slaughtered back there! And if he came to his senses after, how do you think he’d feel knowing he was the one who killed you?!” She paused as Rough’s eyes filled with fresh tears. She let out a sigh and added softly, “So we can’t do anything reckless, okay?”

Rough’s eyes widened and he looked away from her as he wiped his nose on his hand. “I guess you’re right…”

She nodded and turned to join the others on the bridge. Omachao busied himself by tending to everyone’s extensive wounds. It had been a struggle to escape the prison, even with most of the soldiers either brutally wounded, rounding up the fleeing criminals, or trying to fend off Infinite. But they’d managed to get through much easier than their last attempt. Most of that was down to Omachao himself, and Decode and Charmy when he’d located them. The bee had wasted no time in getting them both back to the ship to help the rest of their team on board.

Decode sat at his navigation desk as if nothing had happened, his only wound a small scrape on his shoulder where a bullet had narrowly missed both him and Charmy. The bush baby tapped away at the computer as he keyed in their co-ordinates. Back to Pulse City for a much needed re-fuel and rest. After what had happened, no-one wanted to continue hunting down Infinite just yet. And it was fairly obvious GUN had very little chance of reeling the jackal in.

She let her eyes linger on Decode for a moment, then moved over to him and looped her hands over his shoulders, pulling him into a backwards hug.

“Erm…” His pink eyes widened and he tried to look back at her without much success. “Hi?”

“It’s good to have you back.” Her voice was muffled by his fur.

He reached up to give her hand a squeeze before returning to his work.

She released him and gave a quick, awkward glance around the cockpit at the various baffled faces. “All of you. And I don’t know about you, but I personally want to put all this behind me and forget it ever happened.”

“I’m not sure that’s possible,” said Espio. “Infinite’s still out there, and he’s still a threat.”

“And I’m not so sure Rough can just forget all this either, Nami,” said Crash.

Tsunami caught her brother’s eye and her heart sank. Of course. Unlike her, Rough wasn’t so fortunate. She grimaced and leant back against Decode’s chair.

“I don’t know,” she groaned. “I just… I want to get away from all this. We’ve been in pretty dangerous scrapes before, but this takes the biscuit.”

“You’re tellin’ me.” Vector winced as Omachao dabbed at his shoulder. “We’ve fought GUN before, but this was ridiculous.”

“A pretty clear indication we’re onto something big,” said Espio. “I’m not sure how easily I can just drop this, personally.”

“Then you guys take the case,” said Tsunami. “Because I want out of it.”

Decode’s pink eye fixed on her over his shoulder. “No matter how much we want out of it, it doesn’t take the prices off our heads. We’ll be living like fugitives now whatever the case.”

“That’s a bit extreme,” said Crash. “Space pirates aren’t very well going to turn us in, are they?”

Decode shrugged and returned to his computer.

“Over-exaggeration aside, Decode’s right,” said Tsunami. “We’ll have to lay low for a while. So let’s just be glad none of us got killed and return to some level of ‘normal’?”

Vector raised a finger and cleared his throat. “By ‘normal’ do you mean…?”

“Pirates and mercenaries,” she said. “Back to normal. Once you’re off my ship, you’re free game once again.”

Espio rolled his eyes while Vector let out a grunt.

“I highly doubt you’ll be the ones hunting us,” said Espio. “You’ll be walking to your deaths.”

“But we won’t be working together,” said Tsunami. “We’ll be back to being foes.”

Espio shrugged his shoulders. “Fine by me.”

“It’ll be like it never happened,” said Vector. “Capiche?”

Tsunami nodded and moved back out of the bridge, pausing by the door. “I’m going to go and try and have a nap. I didn’t sleep a wink in that cell.” She looked back at her brother, catching his eyes. “You’re in charge.”

Rough still stood in the corridor, snuffling as he stared at the closed hatch. Tsunami felt something twang in her chest and she gave another quick glance back at the bridge. She’d almost lost everything she cared about. She knew what it felt like. That hopelessness. Loneliness.

Tsunami screwed her eyes shut and gave the skunk’s shoulder a squeeze as she moved past him. “We’ll get him back, okay?”

He looked up with a start, eyes wide, mouth slightly open. Speechless.

“I don’t know how, or when,” she went on. “But if you want our help, you’ve got it.”

She left him there as she made her way to her room, shutting herself in silence.
 

DeliriousAbsol

*Crazy Absol Noises*
Staff
Location
Behind a laptop, most likely with tea
Pronouns
She/Her
Chapter Sixteen​

Gadget tossed his tattered lab coat into the trash then smoothed out his new one. A little on the large side, but it would do. His gravity gun had found pride of place in its ample inside pocket, and it tapped against his ribs as he marched back to his office.

A few scratches peppered his body, catching on the coat’s rough cotton. The only major one he’d received was to his right thigh, but any bother it caused was little to none after a shot of pain medication.

‘Bed rest’ they’d told him. He ignored it.

Tumble was safely locked back up in his cell waiting to be kitted out with a new hand, given the old one was in no state to be reattached. So Gadget had decided to get the skunk a new tail to go with it. Something that could be used if his gauntlets were ever fully taken out of action.

As Gadget opened his office door he did a double-take. Sonic and Tails were sat at his desk and it took a moment for Gadget to remember he’d asked for them.

Sonic gave him a nervous grin. “Sorry we weren’t around to help?”

“Forget it.” Gadget fell into his chair and winced. He shifted slightly to take the weight off his leg. “That’s not why I called you here.”

“Then what for?” asked Tails. “We were doing exactly what you asked us to.”

“I know. But now I have a more efficient means for you to do it.” Gadget fixed the fox with a leer and nudged a palm computer over to him.

Tails retrieved it and made a thoughtful noise.

“What is it?” Sonic leant over his friend’s shoulder.

“It looks like a tracking device.” Tails lowered it to look up at Gadget. “The last tracking device was not successful.”

“No,” said Gadget. “But this one should be, provided they don’t find it first.”

“What makes you think they won’t?” Sonic asked.

“Simple.” Gadget leant back in his seat and steepled his fingers together. “They won’t be expecting it.”

“Okay. So this is where they are?” Sonic jabbed a finger at the map. “In some hotel on the Central City outskirts?”

“Oh, is that where it says they are?” Gadget waved a hand at it. “I’m not interested in that.”

Sonic cocked an eyebrow, prompting him to elaborate. Gadget returned it with a smile and gave a small chuckle.

“I have a plan, Sonic,” he said. “And you two are going to help me with it.”

...​

Amy tossed the plastic carrier bag onto the dressing table. She hadn’t wanted to stop by the shops after all that chaos, but Infinite had insisted. The jackal was hungry. And given everything she’d previously bought was still on Datastream’s ship, she wasn’t left with much choice.

“There,” she said. “Are you happy now?”

“Ecstatic.” Infinite tucked the bag he’d been made to carry beneath the bed. “Now if you don’t mind, I’m going to have a shower. People were giving me some funny looks.”

“Maybe it’s because of the blood splattering your fur,” she muttered.

“Oh really? I’d never thought of that.” The sarcasm in his voice was not appreciated.

He moved past her into the bathroom and closed the door. Then promptly started humming to himself. The chain tugged at her wrist briefly then slackened, meaning he’d allowed her to move away from the bathroom. When the shower started hissing away, she settled herself on the sofa, trying to block out that night’s horrific events. It had all been a little too much. She was still trembling. Whenever she closed her eyes, all she could see was carnage. People being blasted into the sky. That skunk with its strange helmet. The wolf’s grin when he’d grabbed her. The look on Infinite’s face when he heard her scream. Anger and fear, warring with each other. She’d only shouted for him out of impulse. She hadn’t expected him to actually save her, but no one else was there.

He’d actually tried to save her. He’d even dropped his weapon when Gadget threatened her life. Why?

She could still feel the cold nozzle of the gun pressed against her head. Gadget’s breath in her quills. She shuddered and rubbed at her right ear, trying to make it go away. She needed to do something to take her mind off it. She reached into her pocket and pulled out her phone. Then groaned when it didn’t respond. Of course. Her battery had run dry.

She hugged her arms around herself as she desperately tried to stifle those memories, made all the more unsettling by Infinite’s oddly tuneful humming. But they refused to comply. The moment she’d lost her mallet, the tables turned. It simply vanished as she swung it to disarm a soldier. If he hadn’t been as equally surprised as she was, she wouldn’t have moved out of the way of his rifle in time.

The water stopped to be replaced by the hum of the fur driers. One of the fans clattered away, giving her something to focus on. Either Infinite was quick, or she’d been quaking for longer than she’d thought. They weren’t roaring away for long though. They cut off, along with his unfamiliar song. Then the door opened and the damp jackal stepped out with a somewhat sheepish look on his face, once again hidden behind his mask. He held up a hand trailing several red ribbons dripping water onto the floor.

Amy sighed and pushed herself from the sofa. “You weren’t meant to shower with them in!”

“How was I to know?” he scoffed. “You didn’t exactly give me any instructions.”

She shook her head and motioned to the chair by the dresser. “Tie them over one of the fur driers to air out then sit down. I’ll deal with it.”

He complied, bringing back that hum and clatter of the drying fans. Then he slumped into the seat and fumbled with the carrier bag while Amy struggled to remove the belts and tubes from his wet mane.

“You’d be better off drying yourself more thoroughly,” she said.

“Fat chance. I’ll end up looking like a plush toy.”

Well that was an image. He’d be a somewhat deranged and violent plush toy…

The brush snagged as she tried to drag it through his mane, which wasn’t made any easier by him moving about. A jar of peanut butter appeared on the desk, followed by a box of cookies. He promptly tore open the box and pulled out a… bone shaped biscuit? Amy raised an eyebrow as she took in the box’s artwork for the first time. In her fear-induced oblivion she’d failed to notice the black and white shaggy dog on the box, complete with ‘Gravy Bones’ hovering over its head in bright red letters. Beneath that, as if it wasn’t obvious enough from the artwork alone, were the words ‘For the Working Dog’.

He stuffed the bone into the peanut butter then paused mid-bite when he realised her staring. “What?”

Her muzzle creased with revulsion. “What are you…” Then she shook her head and returned to brushing his mane. “Whatever.”

He shrugged and returned to his biscuit, which vanished in two bites. Then he reached for a second one.

The brush snagged over a large knot and she set it aside to tease it free with her fingers. But he didn’t appear to remotely care.

“I don’t think I’ve thanked you yet,” she said.

“What for?”

“For saving my life.”

He shrugged again and munched away on another biscuit.

Amy’s hand hesitated as she smoothed out his mane. “Why did you?”

He snorted then popped another biscuit in his mouth. “I’m as confused by that as you are.”

“I’m not confused, I’m grateful. He could have killed me.” Her breath shuddered and she leant herself on the back of his chair on her hands. She could barely believe what she was about to say. “You can take the chain off. I’m not going anywhere.”

“I don’t trust you.”

“Well you can because I don’t have anywhere else to go! As much as it shocks me to say it, I’m actually safer with you!” Tears pricked her eyes and she screwed them shut. “Wherever I go now, GUN will find me. If I’m on my own then I can’t exactly defend myself against them, can I? You… you could just wipe them out if you wanted to! But me? All I’ve got is a hammer and the hope I can run fast enough!”

She sobbed a couple of times as she tried to steady herself, wiping her eyes on the back of her glove. Then she pushed herself from his chair, catching his look of surprise in the mirror. Had she really admitted that? That she felt safer with someone who would no sooner kill another person than look at them? She shook her head then quickly retrieved his ribbons from the fur driers, silencing them in the process. Now completely dry. She set them down on the table with the rest of his accessories and started sectioning out his mane. She sniffled and paused to wipe her eyes dry. Her breath still trembled slightly.

He shifted, catching her eye, and held the box of biscuits up to her.

“No thanks,” she said.

He placed it back down and idly stirred one in his peanut butter.

A long silence passed between them while she wound the red ribbons through his soft mane. She’d had to abandon her gloves to make the task easier, and everything about it seemed to take her mind off those events for a little while. His soft fur contrasting with the silk ribbons, thinking about where each ribbon should go to stop it falling away… it was a strange kind of therapy in itself.

“I can’t drop the chain.” Infinite’s voice snapped her out of her daze and she met his eye in the mirror. “It’s the only way I can know where you are.”

She closed her eyes and sighed. “I told you I’m not going anywhere. I’m too scared to go anywhere.”

“That doesn’t matter. Losing the chain would make it too easy to get separated.” He paused to lick peanut butter off his fingers. “But if you want, we can find a way to revive your phone.”

Her eyes widened but he dodged her gaze, instead securing the jar’s lid back in place.

“You’re going to let me have my phone?” she asked slowly. “To actually be able to contact my friends?”

“I highly doubt after what you’ve seen today you’ll be willing to turn me in,” he said.

“No.” She took a deep breath and retrieved one of his green belts to fasten into his dreads. “So is that what they want to do to you? Turn you into… whatever they did to that skunk?”

He froze for a second then traced his claws over the grain in the woodwork. “I don’t know the finer details of Gadget’s plan. Just that he wanted living weapons. So I guess ‘yes’ is the answer to that question.”

“That poor guy,” she whispered.

Infinite snorted and diverted his gaze to the window.

Amy secured the final tube in place then stood back to admire her work. “I think we’re done.”

He gave his reflection a quick glance then stared down at the table top again.

“I’m going to try and get some sleep,” she said. “Do you mind if I have the bed?”

He waved a hand. “Go ahead.”

She muttered a thank you and made her way towards it. But Infinite froze and jerked his head up towards the window. Then she heard it. Helicopters. Two of them, circling overhead. A beam of light struck the window, filtering in through the worn curtain.

Infinite snarled and leapt for her, pulling her into him. Her spine stiffened and he clasped his hand over her mouth, stifling her surprised yell.

“They’ve found us,” he hissed.

Before she could reply, they were consumed in a pink mist.

...​

The Raptor secured itself at Pulse City’s docks. The sun was just rising, its weak rays warring with the glow of the city’s neon lights. Tsunami scanned the streets from the bridge, eyeing the space pirates as they passed by. A few curious looks were fired in their direction, but nothing that set her alarm bells ringing. Nevertheless, all of them would have to tread with some caution. Space pirates might be less inclined to turn them into GUN given it would put their own lives at risk, but that wasn’t to say no one would at least try. And as for mercenaries… well… if they wanted the job, they’d take it.

She checked her pilfered laser was in place and turned from the bridge. One of her first stops would be to buy a new laser and upgrade her visor with a thermal scanner. Speaking of which… her eye fell on Espio standing by the hatch, toying with the hem of his scarf. He released it when he spotted her in favor of folding his arms, and shifted so he was barring the door.

“Is there a problem?” she asked.

“Not exactly,” he said. “But I do feel we’ve got some things to discuss before we part ways.”

Tsunami narrowed her eyes at him and her fingers twitched by her laser. His attention snapped to it and he dropped his arms to his sides, tensing slightly.

“And what, may I ask, would that be?” she growled.

Crash appeared behind her, followed closely by Vector. Tsunami couldn’t help but feel the reptiles had planned this, blocking their escape from the ship. She quickly glanced down the corridor, but there was no sign of Rough. He was likely still holed up in the room she’d leant him, oblivious there was anything going on.

“We can’t exactly just forget about all this,” said Espio. “I know I can’t. If we drop this, that wolf wins. We’ve seen what he’s doing, and so long as his plan stays in action, we’re prime targets for his soldiers and any hands he decides to hire to track us down.”

Tsunami clenched her teeth together, meeting the chameleon’s eye. He met her glare evenly, not even so much as twitching.

“Admit it,” said Vector. “You know he’s right.”

“So what do you want us to do?” Tsunami asked.

“Back us,” said Espio. “We’ve got a lot of information about GUN’s plans. And we’re also first hand witnesses to what they’re doing. I’m sure Rough would back our case. It’s his brother they’ve turned into a weapon, after all. If you can also provide a witness, we can leak what GUN are up to. The authorities will come crashing down on them like-”

“They are the authorities!” Tsunami snapped.

“Not exactly.” Espio’s voice was irritatingly calm. “GUN have been split. Eggman leads GUN, and you know that. Gadget’s group want to overthrow him. Do you really think he’s going to let that little piece of information slide under his radar?”

Tsunami sighed and pinched her nose. Behind her, Crash shifted and cleared his throat.

“Gadget seems pretty powerful,” he said. “He’s got a lot of followers. If this information gets out, he knows full well who’s done it. He’ll have his soldiers after us en-mass.”

“Aye,” said Vector. “En-mass. I’m not sure I fully agree with what you’re sayin’ here, Espio. And you’re usually the one with the good ideas.”

A door closed further down the corridor and Rough paused, looking over each of them. At some point, Decode and Charmy had decided to join them, hanging quietly at the back.

“What’s goin’ on?” Rough asked. “Some kinda farewell party?”

He chuckled to himself as he swaggered over to them, and Tsunami let out a groan.

“I wouldn’t call it a party,” said Decode. “It’s more of a debate.”

“We’re deciding whether or not to leak GUN’s plans,” Vector explained. “And how best to go about it.”

Rough bared a canine and slumped against the wall beside Tsunami. “Well I’m game to reveal that scumbag to the world.”

“Huh.” Espio scratched the base of his horn and glanced around at the others. “Not a bad idea, actually.”

Tsunami blinked as she tried to read the chameleon. “I’m sorry? I don’t think I’ve followed. Weren’t we already arguing about whether or not to reveal this?”

“Yes,” said Decode. “But I think what Espio is getting at is we don’t leak out that this is GUN doing all this. At the end of the day, that could be damaging as a whole. It’s isn’t GUN doing this. It’s a small group masquerading as GUN to work under their radar. So… why not just uncover the main guy behind it? Don’t say it’s GUN, but some nut-job scientist wolf named Gadget. The authorities will come crashing down on him alone.”

Tsunami folded her arms and turned to face the bush baby. “And his supporters?”

“Best case scenario - disbanded.” Decode popped his computer back into his belt pouch. “Worst case scenario - they come after us like a pack of hungry wolves.”

Crash hissed through his teeth. “I don’t like those odds.”

“It’s the best option we’ve got.” Decode shrugged. “I’m with the Chaotix here. We need to say something, otherwise other people are going to get turned into weapons. And it could end up being us.”

Charmy let out a long whine and pulled his helmet down over his eyes. “That sounds terrifying.”

“We’ve already dodged that scrape,” said Crash. “I didn’t like their interest in me, personally.”

“Ditto,” said Vector.

Tsunami grit her teeth and looked away from them, which wasn’t easy being surrounded. Even her own team were arguing against her. But everyone had a point. It was up to them to avoid a major catastrophe. One that could potentially end up in a war made up of brainwashed powerhouses controlled by some mad man with a warped ideology. As much as she didn’t support Eggman, he was actually their friend in this scenario. He wouldn’t like the idea of someone trying to overthrow him, and it was highly likely any of Gadget’s core supporters would end up arrested also. Although that might mean some innocents who weren’t all for his ideals might also end up in custody… but was that a price worth paying?

“Fine,” she said. “I guess it is the best idea. But I don’t like it.”

Vector gave a hearty laugh and struck Crash on the back, almost knocking the pangolin over.

“Fantastic!” Vector marched past them towards the hatch, scooting Espio aside. “Now I don’t know about you, but I need a drink after all that.”

“So we’ve won?” Charmy asked as he buzzed after the crocodile.

“Not yet, but I think we might be on the winning side.” Vector grinned at the bee then hopped out onto the docks.

Tsunami muttered under her breath as she closed up the rear, making sure the ship was securely locked behind her. A breeze kicked up and she made to secure her scarf around her neck. But of course, it wasn’t there. Shortly after arriving back on The Raptor, it had been placed in the wash when Omachao gave Rough a clean bandage.

“Erm… just give me a moment,” she said.

Crash paused, arms tucked behind his head, and watched as she clambered back onto the ship. The door hissed shut behind her and she turned into the hallway, and let out a yell as she almost walked smack into a yellow and black jumpsuit. Whoever it was let out their own yell of surprise and placed a hand on her shoulder to steady her.

She locked eyes with a rather startled platypus who lifted a finger to his beak to shush her. Tsunami’s lip curled in a sneer and she beat his ungloved hand away.

“I will not shush!” she hissed, tugging her laser free to point it at his chest. “Who are you and what are you doing on my ship?!”

“Oh, I can explain, ma’am, believe me!”

He lifted his hands and gave a nervous laugh, and for a moment she thought he was going to brush her weapon aside. She noticed for the first time GUN’s logo on the left breast of his jumpsuit. But that was no GUN uniform.

She met his eyes again and growled, “A stowaway?”

“Yes, but I have my reasons-” He stuttered to a stop as she lifted her laser to his beak.

“Any criminal would believe they had their reasons,” she said. “So let me guess. You broke out when the prison fell under attack and took the opportunity to clamber aboard my ship? Well, your luck just ran out, criminal. This is Team Datastream’s ship.”

“Oh yes, I’ve heard a lot about you,” he said. “Word still managed to get around the cells, ma’am. And I believe you and your team-mates found themselves locked up for stealing highly sensitive data, hmm?”

He raised an eyebrow and a smirk tugged at his beak. Tsunami felt her heart sink. He had her there. She sighed and lowered her laser slightly, still keeping it aimed at the brazen platypus.

“So you thought you’d take a chance?” she said. “I have to admire that, but I don’t want you on my ship. If circumstances were different, I’d march you right back to GUN myself. But I guess I’m just going to have to leave that up to some other mercenary team.”

“I think I can handle myself,” he said.

“In Pulse City?” She returned his smirk as it melted right off his beak. “Oh, I’d love to see that.”

“P-Pulse City?” He laughed and brushed back his white hair. “Well, I came out of hiding at a fantastic time, didn’t I?”

“Oh yes.”

An idea was beginning to form in Tsunami’s mind, not entirely dissimilar to the ones she’d been having as of late. The kind that had landed her on a ‘date’ with Rough, or working with the Chaotix. It was making her begin to doubt her own sanity. She stifled a sigh and let her gun fall to her side.

“But I might be inclined to make you an offer,” she said.

“Oh?” His face lit up at that and he clasped his hands together. “And what might that be?”

“You said information moved around the cells,” she said. “Any chance you heard what Gadget was up to?”

Something reflected in his face briefly that might have been disgust, but it didn’t hang around long enough for her to tell.

“Doctor Gadget?” He scratched his head and looked away in thought. “I might have heard something.”

“It’ll need to be a pretty big ‘something’,” she warned.

He flashed her a grin and straightened out his jump suit at the neck as though he was straightening a tie.

“Oh, I think you will find what I have to say of great value, ma’am,” he said. “You see, I was the scientist in charge of that particular branch of GUN before Gadget took over.”

Tsunami almost dropped her laser. “You-you are the one who started Project Wreckingball?”

He made an obscene noise and waved her off. “It wasn’t called that when I was in control of it. No, it was called the Infinite Project.”

Her eyes flitted left and right as she mentally recapped all the information she’d read days ago. It hadn’t mentioned that at all. How much of it had been amended?

“It said the previous scientist had stepped down from ‘Project Wreckingball’,” she said.

“What, the information you obtained?” He laughed again and shook his head. “Oh, I didn’t so much ‘step down’ as was ‘forced into retirement’. Although I’d hardly call being locked in a cell a good retirement plan.” He met her gaze and smiled, then held out a white hand. “Call me Doctor Starline. I think we will be of great use to each other.”

She stared at his hand, hesitating before finally taking it and giving it a firm shake. A mask to cover the war breaking out in her mind. But they needed facts if they were really going to expose Gadget, and if he truly was the man behind Project Wreckingball, or whatever it had been called before Gadget took over, then he probably had them.

“Okay,” she said. “Then you can call me Nami. And I’d like to invite you for a drink with the rest of my team so we can discuss this.”

“It will be my pleasure!”

He ducked in a flamboyant bow, causing Tsunami to raise an eyebrow. Was this platypus quite sane? If not, then it would raise many questions about GUN’s suitability to run Mainframe.

She shook it off and lead him from the ship onto the docks. Crash and Decode were still waiting, but there was no sign of any of the space pirates. Crash pushed himself back from a bollard and balled his right hand into a fist.

“It’s okay.” Tsunami lifted her hands to placate him. “He actually has information we might be able to use.”

Decode’s nose crinkled. “Is that a GUN prison uniform?”

Crash looked over her shoulder at Starline and scoffed. “It looks like it. Where did he come from?”

“Your storage bay,” Starline answered.

Crash seethed but backed down and fell into pace beside his sister. “Care to explain?”

“Later,” she said. “Where are the Chaotix and Rough?”

“They went to some quiet bar by the barrier,” he answered. “I wasn’t sure you’d want to join them?”

“Well now might be a good time,” she said.

As they moved through the streets, the curious eyes of space pirates and mercenaries fixed on them, watching as they made their way to the little bar by the floating city’s barrier. Every face of Datastream and the Chaotix had probably graced the wanted posters, made all the more real as a look of envy crossed the face of a coyote as he enjoyed his early morning coffee. Starline’s prison uniform wouldn’t exactly go unrecognized either.

The bar was a welcome breath of fresh air from Pulse City’s main street. Quiet, save for two occupied tables. The Chaotix sat with Rough beside the far wall, while the other occupant dozed in the corner by the door. His black and blue feathers sticking up like the spikes on a sea urchin.

The first to notice them was Rough, and despite looking exhausted and ragged, he gave her a warm smile.

Vector looked up from his beer and gave Tsunami a jovial wave. “Decided to join us, eh?” Then he noticed Starline and lowered his glass. “Who’s the platypus?”

Tsunami cast a glance towards the feline bartender, who was more occupied with cleaning glasses. A set of heavy headphones covered his ears, and she could just detect the tinny pulse of a deep bass beat. She flopped down at the table while Crash grabbed himself and Decode their own seats.

“This is Starline,” she said.

“Doctor Starline,” the platypus corrected.

He grabbed himself a seat from the table beside them and squeezed himself between Tsunami and Rough, much to the skunk’s grumblings.

“He claims to have information about Gadget and Project Wreckingball,” Tsunami explained.

“He looks like he just broke out of prison,” said Espio somewhat warily.

“Yes, just like you,” said Starline. “Mind if I order a drink?”

Crash sighed and pushed himself from his seat. “I’ll get it. What’s your poison?”

Starline grimaced and shook his head. “I’m afraid I’m not partial to poison.”

Crash stared back at him, his expression stoic. Then Starline laughed and waved him off.

“A cold cider will be fine,” he said.

Crash turned and marched towards the bar, his heavy tail scraping across the woodwork. If it was meant to unsettle Starline, it succeeded as the platypus sank into himself and gave Tsunami a sheepish look.

“Not much of a sense of humor?” he asked.

“Oh he has one,” said Tsunami. “You just need to make it into his good books first.”

“And given the circumstances how might one accomplish that?” Starline asked.

“Don’t stow away on our ship,” said Decode.

Once everyone had their drinks, and Crash was settled back at their small table, Tsunami prompted Starline to cough up his information.

“You see,” he began, “my interests in Infinite were a far cry from Gadget’s. I took on the project about twenty or so years ago, when GUN finally stopped trying to drag information about Eggman from him.”

Decode huffed and lowered his glass. “I don’t know why they were still doing that until recently, given it didn’t take Eggman long to win GUN over.”

“He hadn’t,” said Starline. “Not entirely, anyway. A lot of people were still very much skeptical. Many still are.” The platypus paused to sip his drink. “But anyway, like I said. My goals were different from Gadget’s. I’d noticed Infinite had promise to be the ultimate tool to get rid of Eggman, so I used that to my advantage. I think it’s pretty clear to you by now that GUN are split? But I don’t know if you’re aware that the damage is much bigger than you’d anticipated?”

“What do you mean?” Espio asked.

“I mean, when you drop a glass, it doesn’t just break in half,” said Starline. “You get lots of little pieces, some of which vanish under units to be lost until you one day uncover them. GUN is split into at least three factions. Even we aren’t aware of how far that damage goes.” He spread his hands and smiled. “So like I said, I used that to my advantage. I think you’d agree when I say I personally think Eggman is unfit to rule Mainframe. He isn’t even from this world. So I wanted to use Infinite to get to him. To remove him from power and take his seat myself.”

Tsunami almost choked on her drink. She placed the glass back on the table and took the napkin Crash offered her.

Rough leered up at the platypus. “You ain’t serious?”

“Yeah, how does that differ from what Gadget wants?” Vector scoffed.

“Oh, it differs quite drastically,” said Starline. “I just want to remove Eggman from his position of power. Gadget wants to start a war, and he’ll go to any extremes to do it.”

“Like brain-washin’ my brother?” Rough snorted.

“It’s mind control,” said Vector.

Rough rounded on him and pointed a claw. “It’s the same thing!”

“It’s totally different!” Vector protested.

“Gentlemen!” Starline drew their attention back to him then relaxed back in his seat. “I think we can drop the technicalities for now? You have bigger problems to deal with, and I might be able to help you with that. We can stop Gadget, and rescue your rather large sibling.”

Rough bared a canine but silenced himself with a swig of his beer.

“So he is creating a mind-controlled army to start a war?” Crash asked. “The Eggman thing was just a cover-up?”

“Recycling my original ideas,” said Starline. “That’s all that second-rate scientist does. I won’t be surprised if he’s modified my old gravity manipulator, either.”

“Well we can’t let that happen,” said Espio. “I don’t think any army could stand against a barrier of over-powered monsters.”

“My brother ain’t a monster,” Rough growled.

“Do you want me to continue my story or not?” asked Starline.

The table fell silent, ushering the scientist on.

“Very well,” he said. “In order to use Infinite, I began work on a special harness that would bend his will to mine. I can see you aren’t impressed by that? But I assure you it was quite necessary. Infinite is volatile, and wouldn’t listen to reason. He made it very clear he wanted to get rid of Eggman himself, and even when I offered to work with him he wouldn’t have any of it. He told me he wanted to do it solo, and he wasn’t going to stop at Eggman.” Starline chuckled and waved a hand. “I mean, if he destroyed the world, there’d be nothing left to rule, now, would there? All life would be gone in the blink of an eye. So to stop him from doing that, I’d have to control him. So a harness, or helmet, or whatever you wish to call it, was to become my legacy. Until that little wolf stole my designs and forced me into ‘early retirement’.”

“Hang on.” Rough lifted his hands. “You designed that helmet? Does that mean you know how to deactivate it?”

Starline frowned at the skunk. “Yes. Now do you mind if I continue?”

Rough muttered under his breath and sipped silently at his drink.

“Thank you.” Starline turned back to the table. “So yes, it would allow me to use Infinite’s powers without being on the receiving end of them myself. It would also mean locking him up again afterward, but that was all I wanted. His power. Eggman wouldn’t be expecting it. I don’t know if he’s even aware Infinite is alive. He’s the reason Infinite even has these powers, that much we know. Eggman is a genius. Even back in his own world, he had the ability to alter DNA, create robots out of living tissue… striking, really. His genius is to be admired. If I hadn’t listed him as a foe, I’d be probing him for questions and showing him my own ideas. But, genius as he is, he’s not omniscient. He only knows what he can feasibly find out, and we’re working outside his radar. He has no idea what these little sections of GUN are even doing, especially not ours. We have means in place to stop prying eyes. Even Eggman’s robots can’t get through our frostwalls.”

Vector made a thoughtful noise and met the platypus’ gaze head on. “Didn’t stop us gettin’ your information though, did it? Or that rumor gettin’ out in the first place.”

“Who said either of those were accidents?” Starline linked his fingers together and smirked.

“Oh come on!” Espio’s outburst caught everyone off guard except Starline. “There’s no way you could have manufactured that from inside a cell. You wouldn’t have had the means-”

Starline leant his head on one hand, not dropping his smirk as he stared back at the chameleon.

Espio bristled and dug his fingers into the table. “You’re pulling my leg…”

“I think I’ll let you puzzle over that one,” said Starline.

Charmy sipped loudly on his soda straw as he looked between the two, a fascinated look on his tiny face. “I don’t get it…”

Tsunami shook her head and turned back to the platypus. “However you did it, it doesn’t matter. It’s past, and we got the information. What I really want to know is how many supporters Gadget actually has? I got the impression not everyone agrees with him.”

Starline fixed her out of the corner of his eye. “Oh, they don’t. But they also don’t really have any other option. He has them all under his thumb.”

“Then would there be much retaliation if we exposed him?”

Starline sat up straight again and turned to her. “You want to expose him?”

Tsunami nodded, as did the rest of the table.

Starline ‘hmm’d and leant back in his seat, steepling his fingers together. “Then you might also want to reveal how he’s controlling his little army of soldiers.”

A chill shot down Tsunami’s spine as the platypus’ beak turned up in a cold smirk.

“Because I can tell you one thing,” he went on. “It’s a whole lot more potent than a little mind-control harness.”

...

A/N - Yes, I had to add Doctor Starline. I don't know if anyone could have guessed who the 'other scientist' might have been prior to this? Given I pants my stories, he was a bit of a random idea that cropped up when I was re-writing the ending to this chapter as I wasn't happy with my original attempt XD I hope everyone is as happy with the twist as I was! IDW fans might be happy. And maybe have some ideas as to what questions may have been raised during that conversation?
 

DeliriousAbsol

*Crazy Absol Noises*
Staff
Location
Behind a laptop, most likely with tea
Pronouns
She/Her
Chapter Seventeen​

Pink mist swirled up around Infinite and Amy as they appeared in the middle of a playing field. The park spread out on either side of them, bordered by ornamental cherry trees.

Infinite released Amy, panting as he kept his ears trained on their surroundings as best as his mask would allow. There it was. The deep thrumming of chopper blades in the distance, growing gradually louder. He threw his arms in the air and roared.

“How do they keep finding me?!” He paced back and forth, glancing up at the skyscrapers for any sign of the helicopter. “I removed that tracking device! I took it out days ago! How-”

He turned his head slowly towards the pink hedgehog, and his lips parted to flash his teeth. She backed away from him slightly and lifted her hands to her chest, fixing him with an expression akin to a cornered rabbit.

“It’s you, isn’t it?” he growled.

“What?” she squeaked, voice trembling. “I didn’t… I can’t…!”

“They’re tracking you!”

He lunged for her, grabbing her arms in his hands, but he wasn’t looking at her face. His eyes trailed over her body, and he patted her arm where he expected her microchip to be.

“What are you doing?” she snapped, beating at his hands. “Get off me, you psycho!”

But it didn’t deter him. That helicopter was growing closer. He could see it just above the skyscrapers, and its floodlight trailed down into the park. Searching like some giant eye from above.

Infinite’s heart was racing. He stood back from Amy, scrutinizing her as his mind warred over the puzzle presented to him. GUN hadn’t managed to track him after he’d removed his own microchip. Not even after he’d found Amy. So why were they able to now? What had changed? The only thing that had physically changed was Amy’s outfit, back on Datastream’s ship. But surely they wouldn’t have guessed she’d buy that dress, and plant something on it?

A light sparked in his mind as the mental image of Gadget materialized, clutching a panicked pink hedgehog with his gun pressed to her head.

Was it then?

His fingers twitched at his sides as he took in her outfit. Lace trim, loose fitting… pockets! He lunged at her again, snatching at her before she could leap away. Her squeals filled the playing field as he groped in her left pocket, ignoring her hands beating at his head. His claws snagged at the fabric until something came away, dragging with it a few loose threads. He backed away from her, turning the device in his fingers. A small, pill-shaped thing attached to an adhesive patch. Something that wouldn’t have come away easily, and was small enough to be overlooked.

He snarled at it, pinching it tight between his claws. “The sneaky little wolf.”

“What is it?” Amy ventured closer to him, still clasping her hands near her chest.

He turned back to her slowly and flicked his glove repeatedly until the wretched tracker fell to the floor. Then he stamped on it, crushing it under his boot.

He grabbed Amy’s wrist and pulled her into him. “We need to leave. They won’t find us so easily this time.”

“Oh, I wouldn’t be so sure about that.”

The voice rooted Infinite to the spot, and a light fixed on both him and Amy. Gadget strolled from the shadows with a soldier on either side. A twin-tailed fox and the hedgehog Amy had called ‘Sonic’. Before them bounded that small robot dog, yipping away like a terrier trying to intimidate a mastiff.

The roar from the helicopter’s blades faded away as it drifted over the park to vanish beyond the surrounding skyscrapers. Infinite watched it go, then turned back to the scientist, releasing Amy to free up his hands.

“So it’s just you?” he growled. “What about the rest of your men?”

“They’re currently rounding up the criminals who escaped during your rampage,” said Gadget. “You made quite the mess.”

Infinite tutted. “So you think you three can take me down yourselves? You’re quite mistaken.”

“Am I?” Gadget pulled his gravity gun from his inside pocket and leveled it towards Infinite’s head.

Not this time.

Infinite leapt aside as the gun went off, narrowly dodging its blue bubble. He landed on all-fours, turning to face the wolf. His soldiers and their dog moved out from either side of him, fencing both Infinite and Amy in.

The pink hedgehog turned left and right as she looked for an escape route. But when the mallet materialized in her hands, she settled and held it defensively. Bracing herself to fend off the solders.

She was fine. If she knew that blue hedgehog as well as she claimed to, there was no way he’d hurt her. Was there? Infinite shook his head. No. Gadget was his, and so long as he kept that wolf at bay, Amy could handle the soldiers and their barking tin-can.

He leapt towards Gadget, whipping out his crimson sword. The wolf readied his gun again, but this time Infinite was prepared. With a wave of his free hand, long javelins erupted from the floor, spearing the wolf’s gun-wielding hand. He yelped, dropping the gravity gun to the floor. Then Infinite was on him, knocking him onto his back.

The jackal sneered down at him with his blade pressed into his throat. Gadget’s eyes widened behind his glasses as his right hand groped for his weapon. Infinite kicked it away, causing the wolf to grimace and meet his glare.

“See?” Infinite purred. “You underestimated me.”

A few squeals came from behind him, followed by the thud of the mallet striking solid ground. But he tuned them out. He wasn’t going to let Amy distract him this time. That last distraction had almost cost him dearly.

Infinite let out a dry chuckle and sat back on his haunches, pinning Gadget’s arms at his sides with his knees. The wolf struggled beneath him, and his muzzle turned ghastly pale as he stared back up into Infinite’s lone eye.

“Now, how do I go about killing you?” said Infinite. “Too quick would surely be mercy? I mean, you showed me no mercy, so why should you get such treatment?” He smirked as Gadget flashed his canines at him. Trying to intimidate him. Infinite trailed his sword up from his chin to his left ear, tracing over the scar with its blade. “Maybe I’ll carve your other ear off first so you have a matching set.”

“Infinite, please!” Amy squealed. “Stop this! He isn’t worth it!”

The jackal bristled, but kept his focus on Gadget. He traced his sword along his muzzle and the wolf flinched back as it came too close to his eyes.

“I suppose I can show you some mercy,” said Infinite. “You won’t have to even see what I’m doing. I mean… I can get pretty imaginative with my reality manipulation. There’s some things you might not want to witness.”

Gadget winced and let out a whimper as the smell of burning fur filled the air. A stream of smoke rose up from his left hand, curling into the dawn air.

A smirk tugged at Infinite’s lips. “See?”

Metal scraped across the concrete and Gadget jerked his arm free, knocking Infinite off balance. He keeled back as the butt of Gadget’s gravity gun smacked him square in the chin. He grunted as pain shot through his tail, and he dragged himself up off it, leering at the wolf. It took him a moment to realize his sword had vanished with the shock. That tin dog stood beside Gadget, panting with mockery. The gravity gun’s blue lights lit up and the wolf fired.

The dazed Infinite couldn’t move fast enough. Blue energy engulfed him and dragged him off his feet. His vision tunneled as he tried to break himself free, but he could barely move, let alone use the Phantom Ruby.

Gadget wiped a glove across his muzzle to remove a thin trail of blood, then fixed Infinite with a sly grin.

“The tables have turned, jackal,” he crooned. “You and your little girlfriend are coming with me. But first…”

Infinite’s heart lurched as the gravity field changed. It gradually pressed in on him from either side, and he let out a howl as it slowly began to crush him.

Gadget’s grin widened and he let out a burst of maniacal laughter. “Oh it works! But don’t worry. I don’t plan on killing you. I just need to make you realize who’s in charge here.”

Infinite flailed as the gravity field changed again, pulling out to the sides. The little dog beside Gadget backed away from him, keeping its torch-like eyes fixed on the jackal. No longer panting. No longer mocking.

Something snapped and Infinite let out a roar as pain exploded across his right shoulder.

“Stop it!” Amy cried. “Stop it, please! You’re hurting him!”

Gadget’s grin dropped and he looked past Infinite to the hedgehog. “Of course I am, you flea-ridden runt! How else am I meant to control him?”

“Control him?!” Sounds of a struggle broke out, followed by a few yells from the hedgehog. “Oh, he’s right! You really are a monster! Just let him go!”

“Let him go?” Gadget gasped. Then he bared his canines and waved his free hand at the suspended jackal. “He’s an alien! You’ve seen what he can do! That thing can’t run free in Mainframe!”

A grunt came from behind Infinite, followed by a sick thud. Footsteps exploded across the playing field and Gadget let out a yelp of surprise as a pink blur flew towards him, knocking him onto his back. The gun bounded away across the grass, and Infinite struck the floor on his back. He groaned, pushing himself back up, then he threw his left hand towards Gadget. The wolf rose from the floor in a crimson bubble, limbs flailing as he fought against it.

A twisted grin spread across Infinite’s muzzle and he pushed himself to his feet. Two could play that game. The pain in his right shoulder became a dull throb as everything began to knit itself back together, but his arm still hung limp at his side.

He twirled his hand, altering the gravity field in the bubble. A chuckle rose in his throat as Gadget twisted around like an out-of-control puppet. The wolf’s howls filled the playing field, rising into the air as Infinite wrought on him the same treatment he’d just received.

Amy rushed to his side and placed her hands on his shoulder. “Leave it! He’s not worth it! Just let him go!”

“Back off, Freak!” Infinite hissed. “You know nothing!”

“I know what you’ve told me, and I say it’s not worth it!”

“Everything this maniac has put me through isn’t worth it?!” Infinite snapped.

“I agree it was awful, but you don’t need to lower yourself to his scummy level! Just let him go!”

Infinite stared at her for a good, long moment, taking in her pleading, glistening eyes. Was she serious?

“Everyone deserves a second chance,” she said. “How can he change if you deny him that?”

A second chance… Like what he now had, being free from the wretched wolf’s clutches? He flinched as the thought stabbed at his chest. Not everyone was so fortunate as to get a second chance.

Drat.

With a sigh he let the wolf drop to the floor. Gadget lay there, gasping, as he groped at his right arm. It hung limply, twisted at an unnatural angle.

Amy gave a small sigh of relief and pushed herself up. Then she offered a hand to Infinite. He stared at it, then raised his own to take it. But a sharp jab struck his shoulder and he snapped his neck around towards it. A tiny feathered dart. His eyes locked on the twin-tailed fox as he marched towards him, his face as expressionless as a robot’s. The blue hedgehog stood behind him with his hand outstretched, his emerald eyes wide with surprise and horror.

Infinite fixed Amy in a glare then rounded back on Gadget. The foolish wolf had retrieved his gun, holding it at the ready.

Not. Again.

Infinite threw his head back in a roar and his entire body warped and twisted. He rose up as the park shrank down around him. Gadget and his soldiers were nothing but ants. Infinite dropped to all-fours and lashed out at the wolf, his dagger-like claws cleaving up earth. Gadget’s limp body soared across the playing field to vanish inside a gorse bush. Then Infinite rounded on the soldiers, rearing up with a distorted roar that froze them in their tracks. He brought his huge paws down onto the soldiers, scattering them. Glitched pixels fluttered around Infinite’s body as the illusion began to drain his strength. But he wasn’t going to go down just yet. He refused. He narrowed his eyes at the soldiers as the blue one raised his weapon, but it was the fox who fired. Another dart into his shoulder. Then another struck his flank as he twisted, cracking the fox across the head with his oversized paw.

The world turned blurry and Infinite staggered, landing back down on all-fours awkwardly. Everything began to spin and he struck the grass on his side, crushing one of the darts beneath him.

...​

Amy rushed to the jackal’s side and placed a hand on his shoulder. His form had returned to normal the moment he’d passed out. What on earth was that? It had been like something from a monster B-Movie. Some kind of mutated canine, its body glitching and flickering. Crimson eyes that streaked through the air, leaving comet trails.

And yet here she was, crouching next to him. Without a chain. It had vanished the moment he’d been clubbed by Gadget, and yet she hadn’t run. She’d stayed and fought. Fighting GUN agents. She had the chance to run, to lose the lunatic jackal. So why wasn’t she running?

She looked up as Sonic crouched down beside her, his weapon now sheathed over his back. Tails lay unconscious a few feet away with T-Pup whimpering at his side, but she couldn’t see Gadget.

“Tails is fine,” said Sonic. “But I don’t know how long he’ll be out for.”

“You should get him to a hospital.” Amy hunched over Infinite and sighed. “What am I meant to do now?”

“You can start by getting him somewhere safe,” said Sonic.

She looked up at him with a raised eyebrow. “Are you serious? Aren’t you trying to apprehend him?!”

“Yeah, about that.” Sonic cleared his throat and stood up, casting a nervous glance towards Tails. “We can talk on the way. I’ll help you get him back to your hotel.”

Amy watched as Sonic hoisted Infinite to his feet, looping one of his arms over his shoulders. He motioned Amy to help, which she did without question. Infinite wasn’t especially heavy. There was surprisingly little to him. But there was no chance she could have carried him all the way back on her own.

“You know where we’re staying?” she asked Sonic.

“Yes, and I advise you find somewhere else as soon as possible,” he explained. “Gadget’s soldiers will be looking for you when he comes back around.”

Amy glanced back over her shoulder at the silent gorse bush.

“Don’t worry.” Sonic flashed her a boyish grin. “I struck him with a dart when Infinite sent him flying.”

Amy felt her cheeks flush and she gave herself a mental shake to focus on where she was going.

“It’s Tails I’m more worried about,” said Sonic. “So we should get a move on before he finds our trail.” He looked back at T-Pup. “You stay here, okay, bud?”

T-Pup gave a single yip and huddled down beside its handler.

As they moved across the park towards the trees, they found themselves washed over in silence. So many questions were clouding Amy’s mind, and she didn’t really know where to start. So she decided to start with the obvious.

“Why are you doing this?” she asked.

“I’ve been asking myself the same thing,” said Sonic. “But I don’t agree with what Gadget is doing.”

Amy cast him a sideways glance. “Did you… did you always know what he was up to?”

“Yeah.” Sonic shrugged effortlessly under Infinite’s weight. “But it’s not until recently I’ve realized just how wrong it really is. I mean… using people to turn them into weapons? I get it that Infinite’s an alien to our world, but even he doesn’t deserve that treatment.”

“You’re talking as if he’s below you,” said Amy. “That’s not the Sonic I knew back in college.”

Sonic let out a lone laugh. “We’ve all changed, Amy.”

Amy looked back over her shoulder at the park gate. He wasn’t wrong. She couldn’t get over how Tails had looked when he’d been fighting against her. And fighting Infinite. It was as if their lives meant nothing to him.

“But I’ve never agreed with Gadget’s plan,” Sonic went on. “Infinite is a living being, just like us. When I found out how he was being treated, I couldn’t believe it.”

“Then why didn’t you say something?”

Sonic fell silent and looked away from her. She wondered if it was because of the morning commuters passing by them, casting skeptical glances in their direction. Many rolled eyes at the unconscious jackal, or crossed the road to get out of their way.

“Many of us wanted to say something,” said Sonic. “But like everyone else, I was too scared.”

“In case Gadget hurt you?” Amy asked.

“No.” Sonic met her eyes briefly. “In case he hurt my family.”

Amy almost dropped Infinite to the floor. She steadied him over her shoulder again and helped Sonic turn a corner with him onto a side street. Out of sight of prying eyes, and too narrow for a helicopter to get a good look into.

“He’d do that?” Amy hissed. “What kind of monster-”

“It’s how these little GUN offshoots silence you,” said Sonic. “I’ve been told they’re all like that, but since Gadget took over after Starline, it got a lot worse. Put one foot wrong, and you can guarantee you’ll come home to find your family missing. Or dead.”

Amy’s heart froze in her chest as Sonic went on.

“I never wanted to work for GUN in the first place,” he said. “I didn’t want to work for Eggman. I disagree with him. But when I found this advert to ‘make Mainframe a better place’, Tails and I signed up. It was just apprehending criminals, really. Clearing the streets of the thugs that threaten everyday life. Things seemed to be going well until that idiot took over. Everything was leaked within our walls. Every little thing they were doing to ‘make Mainframe a better place’ was just sick. Not just this poor guy, but every criminal they apprehended was turned into a test subject. Since then, I’ve been worried about my wife and daughter. I never wanted to put a foot out of place. If I just left, he’d want a means to silence me. He’d either leave my daughter without a dad, or I’d be worried every day he’d be picking everyone off one by one. Not just Aya and my kid, but my mum and dad, my in-laws, my aunt, Tails…”

Amy found herself watching her feet as she took all this in. She’d had no idea such things were going on inside GUN, the very agency that was meant to be looking after Mainframe and its inhabitants.

“Is that what’s happened to Tails?” she asked. “Is that why he seems so cold?”

Sonic cocked an eyebrow at her.

“I mean, he was so sweet back in college,” she went on. “So bright and cheerful. But now…”

Sonic let out a sigh and adjusted Infinite over his shoulder. “Yes.”

Tears pricked Amy’s eyes and she released the jackal’s hand to wipe them dry.

“You see…” Sonic hesitated for a moment then shook his head. “Tails used to be engaged. But he found out one day she was actually a wanted criminal. A Phantom Thief who targeted GUN information. She was a threat, and given he was the only one who could get close to her, he was asked to turn her in. But he refused. Later that day, he came home to find his sister had been killed. It broke him.”

Amy swallowed a trembling breath and turned her attention to the quiet street. The little lights on behind the windows. People oblivious to everything that was going on right under their noses.

“He had no idea refusing would be such a risk,” Sonic went on. “And when I found him, he was a mess. I had to rush him to hospital, and once he’d come back to his senses, he just broke down all over again. I wouldn’t let him out of my sight for days after he got back home, and as for his fiancee, she’d gone AWOL. Off on one of her heists, I guess. She had no idea what had happened. No one thought to contact her. Tails seemed to be perking up, so I went out to look for her. When I came back, I came home to the Tails you saw back there.” He paused and scratched his nose. “You remember he’s a genius? ‘A-Stars’ in every science project but one?”

“Oh, I remember that one he failed,” said Amy. “He’d wanted to prove robots could one day replace us, taking over all our jobs. He believed they only failed him because he’d secretly tried to prove Eggman was a threat.”

“Oh yeah. He never let that one go. But he put it to good use. All of it. He reasoned that what cost him his sister was his inability to separate heart from work. Every single emotion that would hold him back was carefully removed and put on a disk. He’d used the wiring of that neuro-link in his brain that allowed him to remotely access the Chaos Network and transfer it all to a computer. Don’t ask me how, I’m no scientist. But when I got back, he told me he was going to destroy it. That it was all useless and such emotions only caused pain. So I begged him to save it in some way. That way, if he ever wanted it back then he had that chance.”

Sonic fell silent again, allowing Amy to take it all in. She took a few breaths to steady herself, but she couldn’t look at the hedgehog.

“Did he destroy it?” She deeply feared the answer.

“No,” said Sonic. “He transferred it all into T-Pup.”

Amy wiped her eyes again. That little robot dog…

“How much did he remove?” Amy asked.

“I honestly don’t know,” said Sonic. “But I often wonder if all that’s left of the Tails we used to know is loyalty. Not just to me, but to GUN as well. And that honestly terrifies me.”

He came to a stop and it took a moment for Amy to realize they’d arrived back at the hotel.

“I’ll help you carry him to your room,” said Sonic.

Amy muttered a ‘thanks’ but her mind was elsewhere. She barely even noticed the beaver receptionist’s greeting or expression of concern. It wasn’t until Infinite was lying on his back on the bed that she even realized they’d reached their room.

“Like I said,” Sonic told her. “Make sure you move somewhere else when he wakes up. GUN know where you’re staying now.”

“Sonic?”

He froze by the door and turned his head back to her. For the first time she noticed his disheveled quills and the dark rings under his eyes. She diverted her gaze to the wall and shifted uneasily.

“Why have you helped us if you know it could harm your family?” she asked.

He shrugged again and shuffled a toe on the floor. “Sometimes you have to do something that isn’t selfish to help the greater good.”

“And how is this ‘greater good’ to you?”

“I know how much of a threat Infinite is.” Sonic turned to face her fully. “And I saw how he reacted when you tried to talk sense into him.”

She looked between the jackal and hedgehog and let her arms relax at her sides. “He kidnapped me.”

“Well, you seem to be able to reel him back in,” said Sonic. “And you’re not exactly trying to escape.”

She closed her eyes and sighed. That was true. Why?

“I’d say Mainframe is actually safer if he remains with you,” said Sonic. “He clearly has no intention of hurting you. And Gadget will have noticed his reaction, too. So he’ll be after the both of you, if not you first.”

Amy hugged her arms around herself and perched on the edge of the bed. Great. Another looming threat just waiting to happen. What on earth had happened to her life? She screwed her eyes shut to hold back tears.

“You shouldn’t have helped me,” she sobbed.

“If I didn’t, you’d both be locked up by now. And don’t worry about my family. I know what I’m doing. Just think about what I’ve said? If GUN get their hands on him again, then Project Wreckingball will be well under way, and believe me when I say that only spells disaster for Mainframe.”

Amy looked up at him, letting tears run down her cheeks. “You always had to play the hero.”

Sonic flashed her another one of his grins. “Someone has to.”

Before she could respond, he zipped out of the door, kicking up a wind behind him. The door struggled on its hinge against it before finally clicking shut.

She turned to look at the jackal, still out cold. His chest rising and falling steadily, and his eye twitching behind his mask. She could just leave him here. He wouldn’t be able to stop her. She could run. Leave Central City and find a place in the suburbs. Contact her friends and ask them to help her. But everything Sonic had said hung over her like a damp fog. The danger looming over Mainframe. The fact that Gadget could probably track her down wherever she went. She’d have mercenaries on her tail. She’d be trembling whenever she heard a helicopter. Ducking out of the way of GUN’s Strider Drones.

Was it really her best option to stay with him? Did she really have some kind of invisible hold over him?

Her eye wandered to a red dart sticking out of his shoulder and she reached over to pull it free. Tears pricked her eyes again as she turned it around in her hands. It soon found itself in the trash can, then she turned back to Infinite and choked back a sob.

“Why did you have to break into my life?” she whispered.

Of course, he didn’t say anything. He just lay there, mouth slightly ajar, grunting softly. That wasn’t normal. She found herself wondering if the mask was pressing into his nose, making it harder to breathe. She reached behind his head to unfasten it and slipped it free, carefully lifting it over his ears. Then she set it on the nightstand, turning it towards the wall so it wasn’t staring at her.

He looked a lot more peaceful without it. She found herself watching him as her mind wandered over everything she’d been told like some stuck record. His ear and nose twitched in his sleep, becoming more of a frequent occurrence until he lifted a hand to rub at his scarred eye. He opened his good one, fixing it on Amy. Then he leapt up onto his haunches, causing her to jump back with a squeal.

“Don’t look at me!” He turned and buried his face in his hands, his spine and tail bristling like an angry feline. “Where is it?!”

Amy handed him his mask and he snatched it from her, firing her a leer before fastening it back in place.

“I took it off to help you breathe better,” she explained somewhat harshly.

“You had no right to remove it,” he growled.

“What difference does it make? I’ve seen your face before.”

“Not by choice. I don’t want anyone to see my face.”

“Why ever not?”

A low, rumbling growl rose in his throat and he cast a glance over his shoulder at her. “Because I hate it.”

Amy blinked. “You hate your own face?”

“It reminds me of how weak and pathetic I was,” he said. “And I don’t want to remember him. It’s the face of a dead man.”

She huddled herself and glanced away from him. “Well, I think I’d prefer him to the man sat on this bed.”

“Perhaps you would. You seem to like weak, pathetic people. Much like yourself.”

“Oh, shut up.” She bit back a sob and gazed towards the window so he couldn’t see her eyes fill up with tears again. “Just be glad I didn’t run away.”

He visibly relaxed, eye flicking left and right as his mouth turned down in a confused frown. Then he tried to meet her gaze.

“Why didn’t you?” he asked.

She shrugged and hugged her arms around herself. “Sonic thinks… I have some kind of placating affect on you.”

He scoffed at that and settled onto the bed with his back against a pillow. “Don’t be so sure of yourself.”

“Are you saying I don’t? Because I find it hard to believe as well.”

He snorted and reached under the bed for a jar of peanut butter.

“I mean,” she went on, “you did spare Gadget. And…”

“And it cost me,” he said. “Don’t you worry. I’ll kill him yet.”

“No.”

He froze with his hand by his mouth. A large glob of peanut butter fell from his fingers onto his lap.

Amy trembled and fell back against the wardrobe. “Just leave him. Leave all of it! Just start over again. I’m tired of it, Infinite. I just… I want to stop running. To go back to my normal life. And… and you deserve a normal life as well. I know he hurt you, but… you can’t keep hurting him because of it. Or all this will never blow over.”

“He wants to start a war.”

Amy screwed her eyes shut. “I know.”

“Someone has to stop him.”

“But do you have to kill him?”

Infinite sighed and rolled his head back against the wall. “Why does it bother you so much?!”

“Because he’s alive, and has as much a right to live a peaceful life as you do!”

“My life is far from peaceful,” said Infinite. “What, with GUN hounding me, Gadget on my back, and annoying pink hedgehogs!”

Amy doubled over as tears broke free, her entire body shaking with uncontrolled sobs. Infinite shifted to face her, lowering the jar of peanut butter. But Amy didn’t see him. She slid down the wardrobe to the floor, sobbing into her hands.

“Oh, come on!” Infinite whined.

“No, you’re right,” she choked. “Life is far from peaceful. Everything… I’ve strove for… I’ve lost!” She swiped her hand across her face. “I don’t like living in the city. But I stayed here for him. We lost touch after we left college. We went to different universities. We made new friends, mixed in different circles, but I always thought that… he’d come back for me. So I followed my dream of getting into fashion. Living in a nice, big apartment with two children and a husband who loves me. But everything changed. I changed. He’s changed. He’s married now, he has a family. And where am I? Stuck in a city I can’t stand, running for my life from GUN who I’ve just found out are ruthless killers!”

Infinite grabbed her by the arm and dragged her to her feet. She feebly swiped at him, too overcome with tears to put up a fight. He pulled her into him and fastened his arms around her, silencing her briefly. She stared at her hand fastened over his shoulder, then gave in and buried her face in his fur. It was better than nothing.

He trailed his fingers through her quills and she tensed as he nuzzled between her ears.

“What are you doing?” she murmured.

“You were frantic.” His voice was oddly soft. “I didn’t know what else to do.”

She took in a deep, trembling breath and huddled into his chest. “Don’t you want a peaceful life? Or is it just me?”

“It’s not just you.” He paused and removed his hand from her quills to rest on her back. “I want that as much as anyone else.”

She trailed the fingers of her left hand over the edge of the ruby. “Well you don’t act like it.”

“That’s because I’m working towards it. My peace won’t come until I’ve finished what I set out to do.”

She stifled a growl and pushed back from him. He released her without complaint and she took a step back to dry her eyes.

“I’m never going to get you to change your mind, am I? You’re just going to destroy Mainframe regardless.”

He stood watching her as she removed her tear-soaked gloves and discarded them on the dressing table.

“I didn’t say I was going to destroy Mainframe, just now, did I?” he said.

She jerked her head towards him and her jaw went slack. He lifted his hands in a small shrug then flopped back onto the bed.

“So you have changed your mind?” She failed to mask the surprise in her voice.

He shrugged again and retrieved his peanut butter.

Amy shook her head and turned to the bathroom. “I’m going to shower. I have to get this awful day off me. After that, we have to move. GUN know where we are now.”

“Take your time,” he said. “I can confuse them for a while.”

She didn’t take her time. She couldn’t. A quick shower and a change of dress was what she needed. Thankfully she hadn’t managed to leave those behind on Datastream’s ship. Her little shopping bag was still tucked away in the wardrobe. After she’d got herself freshened up, she strolled out of the bathroom… onto lush grass?

Infinite stood where the bed was meant to be, surrounded by a green meadow and two large oak trees. Clouds soared overhead, and colourful chao zipped about, chirruping amongst themselves.

She gazed about at it all as she strolled from the bathroom, and when the door closed behind her it seamlessly vanished into the vibrant surroundings.

“What is this?” she gasped.

“You said you wanted some peace,” he said. “I’m giving it you.”

She fixed wide eyes on his, speechless.

“It’s just for a little while,” he said. “I can’t keep it going indefinitely.”

She looked back around at the meadow and its curious chao. Amid the tree branches, flickies were singing. Hopping from branch to branch and fluttering their tiny wings.

“I can’t believe you’d do something like this,” she said. “You… seem to just destroy things.”

He took a cautious step towards her and reached into his right glove. He pulled out a folded slip of card and handed it to her. As she unfolded it, her heart froze in her chest. A photo… of her screaming while Infinite laughed beside her, all while being chased by some giant reptile.

It was the photo from the theme park ride he’d ‘modified’. She looked back up at him, stuttering to find the right words.

He took the photo back from her and popped it back into his glove. “Peace isn’t about where you are, but about the company you keep.”

“I can’t believe you kept that.” She looked up at his face. “When did you even get it?”

“Why does that matter?”

“I don’t understand. After everything that’s happened today…” She closed her eyes and sighed, then waved at the room. “Is this real? Are you telling me you want to stop this… rampage you’ve been going on?”

“We’re not talking about that right now. You said you wanted some peace, and I’m offering it. I want you to just enjoy this. And maybe even add to it?”

He offered a hand to her and she looked between it and him, her muzzle twisting with confusion. She vaguely recalled what he’d told her about the Phantom Ruby’s powers. He couldn’t honestly be offering that, could he?

When she didn’t take his hand, he took hers and pulled her closer to him, placing her hand on the ruby in chest and holding it in place. With his other hand, he tipped her chin up so she was looking him in the eye.

Her heart began to race as it sank in what he was offering her. “You’re really…?”

“Anything,” he whispered.

She turned back to the meadow, her heart still racing. A little chao drifted down before her, examining her face before zipping off again to rejoin its friends. A smile played at her muzzle and she turned her attention to a bare bit of grass. A little stream would liven it up nicely.

As if in answer to her thoughts, water rushed over the grass, carving out a path for itself and splashing up over her feet as it curved away into the horizon.

A tinkling laugh left her throat and she stood back from the jackal. He gave her a half smile and nodded at the stream.

“Not bad,” he said. “Do you think it needs anything else?”

Amy tapped her lip with a claw. “Maybe some flower beds?”

He offered his hand and she took it. Immediately, flowers sprang up across the grass, filling the meadow with their sweet scent. She moved through them, leading the jackal along behind her. When she reached the furthest oak tree, she sat down beneath its shade and leant back against it to watch the clouds tumble by. Infinite settled down beside her, keeping her hand loosely in his.

Amy huddled against the trunk of the tree, listening to the flickies singing away. The chao zipped past her back and forth, and she found herself longing for them to have something to eat. A small apple tree leapt up across the stream, which the chao flocked too happily, indulging themselves in its fresh fruit.

Another thing she found the meadow missing was the hum of insects. One by one, fuzzy bees and vibrant butterflies appeared to kiss the flowers, busying themselves with their peaceful lives.

She leant her head back against the tree, letting herself soak it all in. Then Infinte’s hand left hers, landing limply on the grass.

“Amy…”

She turned towards him as he sank away from her, the garden flickering out around him. He landed in a heap on his side, his head narrowly missing the hard frame of the bed. Amy leapt to her feet and rushed to join him.

“Infinite?”

Her heart was racing as she shook his shoulder, but he didn’t move. She lowered her head to his chest and let out a relieved sigh when she heard the soft beat of his heart. But she couldn’t just leave him there.

She shifted to his other side and hoisted him up onto the bed, grunting with the effort. She leant against it and sank to her knees, feeling her eyes fill with tears again. Why had he let her do that if he was already so exhausted?

She took his right hand and her thumb brushed the hem of his glove, catching the thin card tucked neatly away inside. The photo… the garden… she was winning, wasn’t she? She’d given him something to care about. That’s what Sonic had seen. Why she could ‘reel him in’.

But she wasn’t sure she wanted to be that ‘something’. He frightened her. Yet despite all that, he’d still wanted to offer her some peace and quiet amid all the chaos. A power she’d believed was nothing but destruction had been used to create all that… for her.

She clutched his wrist and huddled forward on her free arm. “Thank you.”
 

DeliriousAbsol

*Crazy Absol Noises*
Staff
Location
Behind a laptop, most likely with tea
Pronouns
She/Her
Chapter Eighteen​

Tsunami sat gobsmacked long after Starline had finished talking. He hummed to himself, swilling the dregs of his cider around his glass, seemingly oblivious to the rest of the table’s reactions.

Was what he said true? Gadget actually had a hold over his soldiers by threatening their very families? It was sick.

She sank slightly in her seat and idly picked up her own glass. Still quite full as she’d barely touched it while he’d been speaking.

“I don’t think I believe what I’m hearin’,” said Vector. “What kind of monster…?”

As he trailed off, Rough glanced up from his empty glass. “I believe it.”

“So do I,” said Decode. “Now how do we expose this guy for who he is?”

“Oh that’s simple,” said Starline. “Put something out there on the Chaos Network for all to see, and the people will do the rest.”

“He has a point,” said Crash. “News flies like wildfire.”

“Unless GUN silence it like they did that rumor,” said Decode. “That fell flat until the Chaotix got hold of the information. And still no one knows what’s going on.”

“Well they’re about to find out.” Rough flexed his claws at the bush baby. “Hand me that computer. I’ll do it.”

“We’ll all think of something together,” said Tsunami. “We don’t want to botch this up. It needs to be believable.”

Rough’s muzzle creased in a frown. “You sayin’ I ain’t believable?” His expression softened and he raised an eyebrow, gazing up at the ceiling. “Actually, I kinda like that…”

Espio waved him off and turned to Tsunami. “Might I suggest we put this somewhere Eggman can see it? If anyone is going to do anything about this deranged wolf, it would be him. I mean, Gadget is threatening Eggman’s position over Mainframe.” He lowered his voice and cast a wary glance at the barkeep, who was still bopping along to his headphones. “I know none of us care much about Eggman, but at the end of the day, he’s the one who has the power to do something here.”

“We could send him an email?” suggested Charmy.

“Not a bad idea, but a bit too formal,” said Crash. “We need to get people riled up. That will get his attention. If Mainframe get wind that someone wants to start a war with mind-controlled soldiers then that would definitely put a bee in Eggman’s bonnet.” He flashed a grin at Charmy. “If you’ll pardon the expression.”

Charmy shook his head and ducked down in his seat. “I’m not going in anyone’s bonnet!”

Starline leant forward and linked his fingers together. “I’m with the big pangolin on this one. Stir up some riots and snag Eggman’s attention. I like it. That will definitely light a fire under Gadget’s tail.”

“But the question is, ‘how’?” said Tsunami. “If we put a little message out there on the Chaos Network, it will just be dismissed as a rumor.”

“Are you always this much of a pessimist?” asked Starline.

“Yes, she is,” answered Decode.

Tsunami nudged him with her elbow, causing him to drop his computer onto his lap.

“You saw what happened the last time a rumor was leaked,” said Starline.

“Yeah,” Vector scoffed. “And it took what… two? Three years to actually become something?”

“Look at it this way.” Starline sat back in his seat again and gave them what was meant to be a reassuring smile, but fell well short of the mark. “You have the first ‘rumor’. Then you have the scores on your heads from raiding GUN’s information. That, in it’s own way, started its own share of rumors amongst you space pirates and bounty hunters.”

“How do you know that?” Vector gasped. “Even I didn’t know that, and I am one of them space pirates!”

Starline’s smile broadened. “Then you have those photos of Twinkle Park where Infinite went a little wild. Then there’s Gadget’s malcontents. If they thought they could get one up on Gadget, they’d jump on that bandwagon, bells and all. Believe me, gentlemen… ma’am… this will work.”

“All right.” Espio met the platypus’s eyes. “And where do we post it?”

Starline waved a hand across the table. “Everywhere.”

Tsunami stared at the doctor blankly, while everyone else shuffled about reaching for their pocket computers. She sighed and pulled out her own, lying it flat on the table.

“And don’t worry about making sure all your stories match,” said Starline. “Write your own experiences. Inconsistencies only add more validity, after all.”

“Seriously?” Vector looked up with a frown.

“Of course,” said Starline. “If every one of your posts matched word for word, detail for detail, it would look more like an elaborate lie than the truth. And what you are writing is the truth, so… write away.”

“And what about you?” Espio asked. “Aren’t you wanting to get out your own side of this little story?”

“I already have,” said Starline. “Where do you think the rumor came from in the first place?”

Espio fired a leer over the top of his computer. “I still think you’re pulling our legs.”

Starline chuckled and pushed himself back from the table. “I’ll leave you all to it. Now if you don’t mind me, I’m going to use the restroom.”

Espio watched him go, then glanced up at Vector. The crocodile nodded and stood up, marching after Starline. The platypus smiled back at him and stood aside as he held the door open for the space pirate, before letting it close behind them.

“You’re okay with that?” Crash asked Espio.

Espio shrugged and returned to his typing. “Vector can handle himself just fine. Besides, I don’t think that guy’s too much of a threat.”

“He seems really weird,” said Charmy.

“As weird as he might seem,” said Decode, “he’s opened a can of worms for us to deal with. And if it will put an end to Gadget and remove the price off our heads, I’m game for giving it a try.”

Espio nodded at the bush baby, then the table fell into a brief silence.

Tsunami puzzled over her little article. The best place she’d thought to put it was the message board on Beatdrop City News. Being Mainframe’s capital, their news site was often the go-to for the world’s inhabitants. But would a post on a message board really gain much traction? All she could do was try.

A little run-down of what her and her crew had been through. The honesty in working alongside space pirates to get to the bottom of it. Bursting Infinite free from GUN’s cells. Their encounter with Tumble, mind controlled and threatening. Finishing it all off with Starline’s appearance on their ship and his suggestion to get the news out there.

There. It was done.

She set her computer down, finding she was one of the last ones to do so. Decode was still working away, and she ventured a glance over his shoulder. His message wasn’t much longer than hers, but he’d opted for a massive social media site, posting under an alias.

Starline plonked himself back down before them with a fresh glass of cider, followed by Vector. The crocodile was finishing up with his own message, before tucking his computer away into his belt pouch.

“All done an’ dusted,” he said. “Now what, doc? Do we just wait or somethin’?”

Starline sipped his drink and leant back in his seat. “That’s exactly what we do. Don’t worry. News will fly before you know it.”

...​

Sonic hesitated by Tails’ workshop door. It looked a lot more intimidating in the dim light of dawn. Why was he so nervous all of a sudden? He shook it off and gave two hearty taps before pushing it open. The fox was by his work bench as usual, meddling with one of his designs. Another weapon. One Sonic didn’t recognize. The fox looked up over his shoulder and gave the hedgehog a nod before returning to his work. T-Pup, however, danced around Sonic’s legs, yipping like an excited puppy.

Sonic stooped to pat his head. “Hey there, bud. Good to see you, too.” Then he joined Tails’ side. “Good morning.” Silence. So Sonic cleared his throat and ventured, “What are you working on?”

“I thought I’d try making my own version of Gadget’s gravity gun.” Tails looked up at him blankly. “Did you even sleep last night? You look awful.”

“Thanks, bro.” Sonic rubbed beneath his eyes and leant one arm on the work bench. “I had a hard night. I… had to move Aya and Trace out of East Cipher to the Beatdrop Capital.”

Tails didn’t pause in his tweaking of the strange gun. “That’s understandable.”

“I don’t know if we’ll even be able to safely stay in contact.” Sonic took in a deep breath to steady himself. “But I do believe I did the right thing, and… I’m sorry I had to take you out like that.”

“If you’d explained what you were doing, I would have complied,” said Tails. “I’ve never agreed with Gadget, Sonic, and you know that.”

Sonic stared at the fox, but he still didn’t look up from his work. T-Pup whimpered by Sonic’s feet and nuzzled his leg. A lump rose in the hedgehog’s throat and he cleared it, diverting his gaze to the closed front door.

“Your family should be fine,” said Tails. “So long as they stay off Gadget’s radar, and keep a low profile. Sending them to a massive city was the best thing to do. A suburban area might have been easier to trace them to.”

Sonic turned back to his friend. “You really agree with me? Because I wasn’t sure what… I wasn’t sure how you’d react.”

“To being shot?” Tails shrugged. “It’s part of the job. I have no loyalty to GUN. It’s a job. It paid.”

“You’re talking as if it’s all past-tense.”

Tails reached over for his holo-computer and the screen flashed up above it. Sonic’s eyes widened as he took in the message board for Beatdrop City News. It opened up with an article posted about Gadget’s plan ‘Project Wreckingball’, and the comments that followed it were a mixture of disbelief and accusations. But the publics’ feelings were clear. If that really was going on in GUN, right under Eggman’s nose, was he really fit to run Mainframe?

Tails turned back to his work, his expression as blank as ever. “I think its safe to say if rumors of Eggman’s suitability are going around like wildfire, Gadget’s no longer our number one threat.”

“You’re not kidding,” said Sonic.

His heart was racing. Was it really all over? No… it was way too early to say. There was every possibility this could blow over. Eggman could call it out as one massive lie. Gadget could get away with it, just like he’d been getting away with it for the past several years.

But deep down, Sonic felt something he’d not felt in a long time, and it put a small smile on his face.

“I’m gonna have a lie down, okay?” he told Tails. “Wake me up if anything changes.”

Tails gave a curt nod, and Sonic vanished into his bedroom for a much needed sleep.

...​

Gadget rushed around his office, stuffing various paperwork into his bag. The dim light from his computer screen was all he had to go by. Keeping the laboratory in darkness would keep prying eyes off his back.

One by one, he wrenched open the drawers of his filing cabinet. Each one rattled on its rails, but at this point he didn’t care. He had to get away, before Eggman’s goons came crashing down on the lab like a hurricane.

Finally, he spun back to his desk and grabbed his holo-computer, shutting off its screen and the accusatory comments running rampant over the social media page. It was everywhere. His research, his plans, his vision… everywhere.

He tucked the computer into his bag and rushed from his office, racing blindly down the dark hallways towards the main doors. But then he paused beside one of the cells. Its electrical forcefield flickered at one side, where the wall had been beaten repeatedly and peppered with deep claw marks. The dozing form of Tumble sat in the far corner, well away from his bed. A spark went off in Gadget’s mind, and a smirk tugged at his lips. He didn’t have to be completely unprotected.

He placed his hand over the control panel and the forcefield vanished. The skunk snorted a couple of times and looked up from his slumber. The blue lights flickered softly at either side of his helmet.

“Come on,” said Gadget. “Let’s take a walk.”

Tumble rose to his feet and marched out of the cell, keeping his eye-piece locked on the wolf. Intimidating, yes, but completely under his control.

Gadget adjusted his bag over his shoulder and turned to march down the corridor. A much less frantic pace, until they reached the doors. Then he bolted with Tumble in tow, across the courtyards and through the gates, out into the light of the rising sun.

...​

Amy had spent hours as tense as a tightly coiled spring, perched beside the bed with her ears trained on the window. But there hadn’t been so much as a hint of a helicopter flying overhead. Her only shock had come when the light of a Strider Drone had stalked past the window, but it hadn’t been looking for either her or Infinite. It was just marching along on its routine path, keeping its watchful eye open for trouble.

A few soft grunts came from the jackal, drawing Amy’s attention onto him. He stirred and cracked his eye open, fixing it on Amy. She hadn’t noticed her clammy hand was still clasped over his wrist. She withdrew it, resisting the urge to wipe it on the front of her red dress.

His lip curled in an unimpressed frown, and he pushed himself up, casting a wary glance to the window.

She sighed and clutched the bed sheet. Back to his normal, cold self. Had everything about that garden been an illusion? Even himself? Or did he actually blame her for him fainting? She shook it off and turned back to him.

“What you did,” she said softly. “It was really sweet, and-”

He raised a hand to silence her. “Stop it. I just did what was necessary.”

“Necessary?”

“You were hysterical,” he said. “Now forget about it.”

“Okay, fine.” Not like she could. It was still rooted in her mind, playing out like a dream trying to cover up the bigger problems in her life. “We need to move. We can’t stay here. They’ll be looking for us.”

He snapped his attention back onto her and huffed. “I’m surprised you’re even still here, if I’m honest. Any other hostage would have ran like the wind.”

“I told you! I don’t have anywhere else to go. They’re looking for me, too, you know. We’re safer together.”

Infinite’s nose crinkled and he bared a canine at her. “You’re still pining over what that blue spiky freak said, aren’t you?”

Amy screwed her eyes shut. “It’s been a lot to take in.”

“Well you’re not crying on me again.”

He kicked his legs over the edge of the bed, and she stepped back from him. What, no chain? She took in a wavering breath and balled her hands into fists.

“Infinite?”

He looked up at her and, at her stoic expression, raised an eyebrow.

“I don’t know if you’ve realised it yourself or not,” she began, “but… I want you to know you don’t need that chain anymore. I’ve not run away when I’ve had the chance. I’ve stuck by you by choice. I don’t know why, but if there’s any way I can actually get through to you-”

“Forget it,” said Infinite. “You don’t have any hold over me, Freak.”

She closed her eyes and sighed. No. She wasn’t going to let him put her off.

“You said you don’t want to destroy Mainframe anymore,” she said.

“I never said that.”

“But you hinted at it.” She met his gaze head on and let her hands relax. “I know there’s good in you somewhere, and if I can help you to realize that, and see the good in others too, then I want to see that deal I made with you through to the end.”

“So you’re telling me I don’t need to chain you?” He inclined his head on one side and his expression softened to an almost friendly state. “Do you see a chain, Pink Freak?”

Even though she knew it wasn’t there, she still found herself looking down at her hands. She met his gaze again and forced herself to remain stoic. He still frightened her, but she didn’t want him to see that.

“You’ve proved to me I don’t need it,” he said. “So I won’t use it. Unless I have to.”

“I’m not a hostage, Infinite, I’m with you by choice.” She took in another breath, fighting the urge to look away from him. “But I do need you to know one thing. I won’t stand for you hurting others. You don’t need to hurt, or kill, Gadget or anyone else.”

“What if they hurt me?” he asked.

“I didn’t say anything against self defense,” she said. “But you can’t just kill him. You can’t threaten to kill people, it worries me and it’s the kind of behavior that can get you locked up again.”

He snorted at that and glanced away from her.

“I don’t want to give up on you,” she said. “But that behavior really scares me, and I can’t help but worry you might one day lash out at me.”

He jerked his head around to her, and a confused frown appeared on his lips.

“If you promise to work on that,” she said, “then I promise to stay strong and have patience with you. But if you do ever hurt me… I’m leaving, and you’ll be on your own.”

He trailed his eye up and down her, almost as if he expected her to elaborate or tell him it was nothing but a joke. When she didn’t, he let out a sigh and folded his hands on his lap.

“Fine,” he said.

“Seriously?” she asked. “I don’t want you to lie to me.”

He fixed her out of the corner of his eye. “Why would I lie?”

She nodded and strolled across the room, pausing to grab her bag from the wardrobe.

“I’m thinking the Beatdrop Capital,” she said. “We’re going to have to move fast if we want to avoid GUN.”

His shadow fell over her and she felt her quills bristle. She turned to face him, clutching her bag in both hands.

“Wherever,” he said. “But how do we get there?”

“Train.”

She pulled the door open and froze. Beside it sat her mallet. Not the one Infinite had made, but her very own mallet. Had Sonic brought it back for her? She picked it up cautiously, fearing it might turn into a pile of cockroaches again. Infinite’s heavy breath tickled her ear and she glanced at him over her shoulder. His lip pulled back in a sneer as his lone eye watched her cautiously. Calculating.

She tucked the mallet away behind her back and smoothed out her dress. “I don’t know how it got here. But it’s more reliable than your illusory one, right?”

“I guess.” He placed a hand on her back to steer her from the room, letting the door close behind them. “But I’m watching you.”

...​

Tsunami left the bar ahead of her crew, making her way back to her ship. Starline plodded along beside her, oblivious to the stares from the space pirates and mercenaries dotted about. Her mind was still reeling over everything. The message boards had blown up after the information had been posted. Opinions were wildly mixed. But they’d had an effect already. The street was humming with talk about ‘GUN’s secret project’ and ‘threat of war’.

As she rounded onto the main road heading for the docks, a massive advertisement billboard showcasing the next big trend in EggTech butler ‘bots flared to life, its advert vanishing to be replaced by Eggman’s mustachioed face. The words ‘Emergency Bulletin’ scrolled across the bottom in large, red text. Tsunami jerked to a halt, almost tripping Starline in the process. All eyes went to the billboard as Eggman’s voice boomed out across the main street of Pulse City.

‘People of Mainframe,’ he announced, ‘I wish to address the rumor that has gone rampant around the Chaos Network this morning. I dread to say that such a rumor worries me. For a while now, I have worried that GUN is riddled with people who disagree with my laws and control over Mainframe. Seeing it flare up like this in a matter of hours only adds to my worries, and I can assure you this will not go without inspection.

‘As such, I have taken liberties to apprehend this scientist named Gadget and anyone who works for him. The laboratory that has been masquerading as a prison cell just off the coast has already been raided, and many of his followers have been taken into custody for questioning. Gadget, however, has not been found, and I implore anyone who has seen him, or knows of his whereabouts, to contact my agents immediately. This I will address now, especially to this wolf’s friends or family, that anyone who fails to report any sightings will be charged with treason. I repeat - failure to report any sightings of this wolf will be treated as treason!

‘As a personal ‘thank you’ to the ones responsible for uncovering this Gadget and his threat of war disguised as ‘Project Wreckingball’, their bounties have been nullified. Team Datastream, the Chaotix, and Rough the Skunk. As for this ‘Project Wreckingball’ that has broken free from Gadget’s clutches, I shall have my own men look into this incident. I advise all citizens to stay well clear of this jackal until we know what threat he really poses.

‘I apologize for this impromptu interruption to your day. Good day, Mainframe, and keep working hard to make this world a better place.’

Tsunami stared aghast at the billboard as Eggman vanished to be replaced by the EggTech advert.

“Absolute genius,” said Starline. “He truly is. ‘Treated as treason’? Well that’s one way to scoop up Gadget, hmm? It’s a shame old Eggman isn’t really fit to run Mainframe.”

Rough’s shoulders slumped as he gazed longingly at the billboard. “He didn’t say nothin’ ‘bout my brother, though, did he? What happened to him after that raid on the lab?”

“I’ve no idea,” said Tsunami. “But I can’t help but feel a little concerned.”

“I still can’t get my head around that man,” said Espio. “But if he’s cleared our bounties, then part of me is grateful at least.”

“Aye.” Vector placed a heavy hand on the chameleon’s shoulder and flashed Starline a toothy grin. “Turns out your idea was a good one, doc.”

Starline adjusted his spectacles and returned the crocodile’s grin. “Of course it was. Now if you don’t mind, I have to find a change of outfit and a lift back to Mainframe’s surface.”

“You could always hitch a ride with us?” Crash suggested. “It’s the least we can do after you helped us clear our names.”

“Oh, I wasn’t helping to clear your names,” said Starline. “I was merely trying to get rid of Gadget and bring a stop to his shenanigans. You were merely tools in my plan, who’s actions brought their own unexpected rewards.”

Crash huffed and leant back against the wall.

“So, other than get back to Mainframe’s surface, what’s your plan now?” Tsunami asked Starline.

Starline shrugged. “I don’t know. It’s not as if I have a lab to get back to, or loyal soldiers to back me. I guess I’ll be living a quite life somewhere.”

“So you no longer want Eggman’s seat?” Espio’s voice was laced with warning.

Starline chuckled and smoothed out the front of his jumpsuit. “Oh, who knows what the future might hold. My day might come yet. But for now, this scientist has other things to think about. Like what to have for lunch.” He beamed at them then turned his back. “Good day.”

Tsunami watched the platypus strut away into the crowd and shook her head.

“What a strange man,” said Charmy.

“You’re telling me,” said Espio.

“I’m not entirely sure we can trust him,” said Tsunami. “But he did help us. My feelings are pretty mixed.”

“I don’t trust him as far as I can throw him,” said Rough. “And I really do wanna throw him.”

“I think he’s worth keeping an eye on, personally,” said Espio. “But for now, I’ll let things slide. I could use a nap.”

“Preachin’ to the choir, bud.” Vector yawned then gave Tsunami a pat on the back. “Guess it’s back to ‘cat’n’mouse’ eh? See ya, Datastream.”

Charmy stretched and yawned in the air then turned to follow his friends. But not without giving Tsunami and her friends a hearty wave.

Crash watched them go with his arms tucked behind his head. “So… our names have been cleared. What do you wanna do first, sis?”

“Sleep,” she said. “Then we’ll see if any jobs have come up over the past few days.”

“Really?” Decode rolled his eyes. “I could really use a vacation, if I’m honest.”

“Okay, we’ll have a break.”

Tsunami stretched and yawned, and her arm brushed against Rough’s shoulder. She glanced at him, but he didn’t appear to have noticed. Instead looking lost, casting glances at the billboard as though hoping Eggman would reappear to tell them all his brother had been found.

When she looked up again, Crash and Decode were already making their way back towards The Raptor.

She turned back to Rough and caught his eye. “You coming with us? Or do you have somewhere to stay?”

“I… dunno,” he said.

“What do you mean?” she asked. “I told you we’d help you find your brother, and I stand by my promises.”

“That’s just it.” The skunk lifted his hands in a shrug and dodged her gaze. “I’ve been thinkin’, and I don’t think I’m gonna take your offer to help me.”

Her jaw dropped, but she snapped it shut again and grunted. “Fair enough. So what, are you running solo?”

“It might be easier,” he said. “After all that… I dunno. I just don’t wanna risk puttin’ you or your friends in danger again.”

“Noble.” She paused and leant against the wall beside him. “I can’t say we’ve been in worst scrapes. But we know what we’re up against now. And given Gadget’s plan has been uprooted, it might actually be easier to rescue Tumble now.”

“It don’t matter how easy it is. I’m just gonna fly this solo, and if I need any help then I’ll ask someone else.”

“So you don’t think my team are good enough?”

“I never said that.” Rough glanced up at her, but there was no hint of any playful smile. “You’ve all been through a lot. We all have, and I don’t think I would’ve gotten outta there alive without ya. I know you wanna put all this behind you. So I’m givin’ you that chance. Just… thanks for offerin’ to help me. I don’t think many others would.”

She sighed and kicked herself back from the wall. “Well, if you’re turning down my offer I’m retracting it. If you ask again, it will be a firm ‘no’. Understood?”

“I wasn’t gonna press you for help anyway, so it don’t matter. Here.”

He held out a computer to her and it took her a moment to realize it was actually hers. She snatched it back off him, quickly checking over it. The screen was still lit up, sporting a new contact addition to her phone book. His name, followed by his number.

She looked up from it and frowned. “You do know that if we part ways we go back to being enemies?”

He shrugged and one of his boyish smiles finally appeared on his muzzle. “I do like me a good challenge, love.”

He pushed himself from the wall and turned away from her to swagger away down the street. But she couldn’t help thinking he was missing a spring in his step.

“Rough?”

He froze and turned his head to look back at her.

“I hope you manage to save him,” she said.

He nodded and turned away again, raising his hand in a wave.

She sighed and looked back down at her phone, her thumb hovering over the ‘delete’ option. But instead she switched the screen off and tucked the computer back into her belt pouch, silently berating herself as she went to join her friends back on The Raptor.

...​

Starline stepped out of the glowing portal, closing it up behind him. Then he straightened up his new tie before approaching the door to the massive mechanical structure that had replaced the Hall of United Nations decades ago. The only sentry standing duty was a massive chrome robot, and it leveled a gun towards the platypus’s head. He froze before the door and looked up into its glowing blue eyes.

“I am here to see Doctor Eggman?” he said.

Shutters lowered over the robot’s eyes slightly, giving it the effect of an intimidating leer.

“No one shows up without appointment,” it said.

“This is quite urgent, I can assure you,” said Starline. “It’s about Gadget and his scheme, ‘Project Wreckingball’. I have some… sensitive information that I cannot transfer via the Chaos Network.”

The sentry robot lifted its gun up beside its head and stared at Starline for a good, long moment. Then it pushed a button on its wrist.

“Doctor Eggman, there is someone here to see you.” A pause as a worried look crossed the robot’s face. “He claims to have information about this Gadget?”

Right on cue, the mechanical door parted down the middle. Starline gave the robot a friendly bow before turning to enter the doctor’s lair. Cameras rotated to follow him as he strolled down the clinically clean hallway, and small beetle-like robots rolled back and forth, watching him curiously. At the bend in the corridor, a small, spiky robotic hedgehog glared up at him, cutting off his path.

Starline let out a nervous chuckle and toyed with the hem of his glove. “Are you… to take me to Doctor Eggman?”

The hedgehog’s eyes narrowed and it took a step back, then turned and marched away from him. After a few steps, it noticed Starline wasn’t following and snapped its head around to glare at him over its shoulder.

“Oh, I guess that’s a yes? Do pardon me.”

Starline followed the hedgehog through the winding corridors, passing several laboratories that at one time in their history would have been meeting rooms and conference halls. The long walk ended at the door to a dome-shaped room, the door of which was already open. Doctor Eggman sat with his back to the door, facing a series of screens showcasing footage of Mainframe’s various cities and suburbs. Footage caught live from his robot drones.

He swiveled his chair around to face Starline and looked him up and down.

“And who might you be?” Eggman’s voice was much less inviting than in his quarterly speeches.

Starline’s heart pounded and he stooped in a polite bow. “Please, call me Starline. It is such a pleasure to meet you! I’ve admired your work for years.”

Eggman scoffed. “A man of good taste, I see? My sentry said you have information about that wretched Gadget?”

“Oh, wretched he is, sir. I’m the one who got that information out there for you to see!”

“I thought that was Datastream and their allies?”

“They were pawns in my little plan, sir. It would have looked suspicious had I worked solo. You see, I have much information about Gadget, GUN and his scheme that I think you will find very valuable.”

“Then get to it. I’m a busy man.”

Starline took a few steps closer and reached inside his waistcoat pocket. The metal hedgehog didn’t take its eyes off his hands as he pulled out a small computer. He handed it to Eggman, who’s larger hands dwarfed the device. A brief silence passed between them has the human scanned over the information it contained.

“This isn’t new to me, Starline.” He stuffed the computer back into the platypus’s hands. “I kept a watchful eye on GUN since that rumor first came up. I know GUN is full of malcontents who have broken off into their own divisions. None of them showed any sign of a threat until Gadget reared his ugly head.”

“Maybe so,” said Starline. “But I have been working outside of Gadget’s radar. My original goal was to correct such divisions without taking any lives. Smooth things out, if you would. I was in charge of this ‘Project Wreckingball’ long before he took over and named it as such. I designed the device he uses to control his puppets, and the collar used to trap Infinite’s powers. If you had access to this technology, I think you’d find it very useful in bringing Mainframe back under your flawless control.”

“I have no need to turn flesh and blood creatures into mindless puppets, Starline. I have a whole army of robots for that.”

“The soldiers he’s been manufacturing are to be used to counter your robots, sir,” said Starline. “Did you find any of that research in his lab?”

Eggman raised an eyebrow and leant towards Starline, causing him to take a step back. “No?”

“Exactly as I thought. I think I could be of much use to you, sir.”

“And how might a fuzzy little animal like you be of use to me?”

“I’ve been running around Gadget for years, sir. He thought he’d done away with me, but I played the prisoner, coming and going when it suited me until I got to the bottom of everything. You see, I possess a power that allows me to come and go at will. I can travel anywhere I want in the blink of an eye thanks to a little device I created, named the Warp Topaz. I know more about his little scheme than he realizes. And I know more about what’s going on in Mainframe than you do. Word on the street, what happens outside the watchful eyes of your spectacular drones.”

Eggman looked back at his computer screens then narrowed his eyes at Starline. “You seem like a sneaky little so-and-so, if I do say so myself.”

“That’s a huge compliment coming from you, sir!” Starline grinned and stood up straight. “I was the original visionary behind The Infinite Project, and his powers showed promise. I gained an interest in your work through him, when he claimed you were the one who gave him access to his power. If we can retrieve him, then-”

“’We’?”

Starline’s eyes widened slightly. “Oh, please pardon my presumptions, sir. I was hoping I might be able to work for you?”

“And why would you want to work for me?”

“Your technology fascinates me,” Starline explained. “Unlike Gadget and others working against GUN, I believe your technology only offers good to Mainframe. It certainly saved my life a few years ago. If it wasn’t for that experimental procedure, I’d be dead by now.”

“Interesting… And you want to assist me by reeling in Infinite?”

“Exactly!”

Eggman waved a hand. “I have no interest in a failed experiment, Starline.”

Starline stuttered slightly. “Failed experiment? But sir, his powers are extraordinary, and he seemed quite heated towards you. If he proves a threat-”

“I have means in place should that vermin prove a threat, I can assure you. I’m more interested in what you have to offer me, Starline.” Eggman leant back in his seat and his lips turned up in a smirk. “Where exactly is this Warp Topaz?”

“Fastened in a socket in my chest,” said Starline. “It was a convenient means to hide it from Gadget and his soldiers, while they believed they had the real one. Although when the sneaky wolf began to grow suspicious, I kept it hidden in a pocket dimension in my cell.”

“You’re a smart platypus, Starline. Fine, you can work for me.”

Starline practically squealed, clasping his hands together.

Eggman pushed himself from his seat and nudged the hedgehog aside. “Allow me to show you around. You’ll need to know the ropes if you’re going to successfully spy on Mainframe for me. My soldiers have been looking for something for me for quite some time. Something that has been kept out of public sight for decades, and none of them have successfully apprehended it.”

“Oh?” Starline inclined his head on one side. “What object is this?”

“That doesn’t concern you,” said Eggman.

The hedgehog flexed its claws and advanced towards Starline, reaching out towards his throat. Eggman placed a hand on its chest, stopping it in its tracks.

“Easy there, Metal Sonic. You can have at him only if he turns out to be a mole. We don’t want to cost ourselves information now, do we?” He grinned at Starline who gulped audibly. “Do you want a look around my labs, Starline? You can see where the magic happens. This room we are in right now is only the tip of the iceberg of what I can see in Mainframe.”

“Really?” Starline gasped. “How much of this world can you see through your robots?”

Eggman’s grin widened. “Everywhere. But vermin hide. They escape my probing cameras, finding little nooks and crannies their cameras can’t reach. Maybe you might be able to point out any blind spots my drones are missing?”

Starline regained his composure and leant forward slightly in his eagerness. “Oh, there are plenty of those in Pulse City, sir.” He grinned from ear to ear. “Where do you want me to start?”

“The Beatdrop Capital.” Eggman chuckled and toyed with his mustache. “My target’s last known sighting.”
 
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