Chapter 3 - Riding a Metal Tempest

A Peaceful Day

Riding a Metal Tempest

After what seemed like an age, the shaking and the roaring began to lower in volume and intensity, leaving Sonic’s bones feeling like jelly and a high-pitched ringing in his ears, but unharmed. The downwards force became bearable, and he relaxed his tensed muscles to the considerable gratitude of the rest of his body. He did not know if Nickel was injured or simply too frightened to move, he did not shift when Sonic lifted his head, though he stared off into space as if hypnotised, his mouth frozen in a petrified ‘o’.

“Alrighty then,” said Sonic, springing to his feet. As carefully as he could, he dragged Nickel into a corner – if Robotnik was watching he was certainly in sight, but it seemed like the right thing to do.

“Now, I’ll be right back. Don’t go anywhere now.”

Sonic made sure Nickel was sitting comfortably, he was still staring blankly into the distance as if he hardly dared to tremble, before disappearing in a streak of blue, running recklessly back up the tunnel. He nearly flew right into oblivion, such was his speed, but a tickle of instinct told him to slam on the brakes just before he tumbled right off the prow of what he realised was an enormous aircraft. Sonic judged from the continuous heavy rumbling that they were somewhere near the engines, but judge he could not the entire size of the ship. He went to his knees to keep his balance as he peered out over the edge, a familiar and natural smile of excitement lighting his lips. Smooth purple metal bulged downwards below – like all aircraft of this size, the engines would be on the base. He could see nothing of the ground below, just grey cloud cover all around them. The moisture uncomfortably dampened the exposed sections of Sonic’s fur, and though he knew it was pointless he put a glove to his face as if to dry it. Looking side to side as well and taking in the blocky frame instead of a pointed prow, Sonic presumed they were at the back somewhere.

So why was there a circular mole-tunnel of earth leading in? He had spent more time on Robotnik cruisers than he cared to remember and had seen nothing like this. Sonic curiously brushed the edge of the tunnel where the dirt met metal, and was intrigued to see the soil was just a covering, and that more metal prevailed below.

It all came to him in one electrifying jerk of realisation.

“Cripes – Nickel! We gotta go!”

Even as he turned, the rumbling all around him intensified, and a dark orange glow bloomed to life at the back of the tunnel. Sonic skidded into the chamber where he had left Nickel, now standing and gaping vacantly at the flames.

“Sonic, what’s” –

“One rule running with me, man, when I say run you definitely run!”

Sonic grabbed him by the wrist once more and hauled him, babbling his protest in fright and confusion, back up to the outside. Nickel must have realised, just as Sonic had, what was outside the entrance, because he tried futilely to pull back, even throwing up the strange and alien shimmering cyan coat that was his ‘psychokinesis’, but nothing short of a steel wall would stop the speeding hedgehog.

A boom behind him sounded like a resonant drum. Holding Nickel firm behind him, Sonic spun them around the outer edge of the tunnel entrance and the handhold he very much hoped existed just outside it. Luckily, one did in the way of a ledge large enough to stand both of them shoulder to shoulder… but at first there seemed very little need of it.

Panting heavily as the seconds ticked by and nothing happened, leaving them tensed and hugging the wet, purple metal anticlimactically as the wind howled around them threateningly. Anger overriding fright and confusion, Nickel suddenly snarled at Sonic and snapped, “What!?” –

WHOOOMPH!

An incredibly hot and loud tongue of flame flew from the mouth of the tunnel, causing the parts of the aircraft behind them to shudder dangerously. It was over in seconds, leaving Nickel still screaming and Sonic still laughing. Parts of his quills has been singed.

“Whoaa – that was cool, d’you see that – wow! Wow… I am so glad we weren’t in there for that.”

Shaking, Nickel heaved and stuttered out something nearly incomprehensible.

“Why – did – he –have – a – camera…”
“Inside there? Cos he’s a sicko; it’s Robotnik. He probably did that on purpose. Let’s head back in.”

“No!” cried Nickel, grabbing his arm.

“Well how else are we going to get inside this thing?”

“Why would you want to get inside it!?”

Sonic looked at Nickel as if he were half-witted.

Nickel goggled back, eventually making Sonic grin. “This is an Egg-Carrier, not many of these types still around, most are all beta-class, but I know one when I see one. Robotnik’s on this just lookin’ for an escort to a UF federal prison.”

“Whoa whoa – what?” asked Nickel desperately, “Egg-Carrier? Why would you need something this big to carry eggs!?”

Sonic paused for a good moment, then burst out with raucous laughter. When he didn’t stop, Nickel guessed he was being made fun of, and adopted a cross expression, almost offended enough to forget to be scared.

“What!?”

Sonic forced himself to regain control, “Oh, man,” he snorted with laughter and almost lapsed double again before forcing himself to be halfway serious, – “you’ll catch up. C’mon, let’s ferret around, see what looks important and break it – I say we start with that exhaust-flamethrower-thing.”

“No – wait,” said Nickel, grabbing his arm again. This time Sonic turned back looking annoyed and impatient, and Nickel said hurriedly, “I can fly us up, just don’t go back in there.”

Not waiting for Sonic’s consent, Nickel did just that. Throwing a layer of psychokinesis over himself that caused his quills to raise themselves, he pointed a palm at Sonic and immediately the psychokinesis extended. It was not like a bubble, instead it clung to his fur weightlessly, though it felt cold as steel as it coated him, and potentially just as strong. Then, to Sonic’s considerably shock and delight, Nickel drew them both into the air.

“You’re kidding!?” cried Sonic, looking like Christmas had come early.

“Haven’t you ever seen this before?” asked Nickel, looking mildly astounded, “Well, I guess not many people can do it these days, but everybody’s seen the Merrimen Principle Tapes.”

“I’m not everybody,” called back Sonic, a little nervous but mostly just intrigued. He noticed that Nickel’s psychokinesis extended from him to the Carrier, and his hold to it remained relative as they ascended. It was not a bubble in the air. As they rose, they passed what appeared to be a more conventional entrance – for Sonic, anyway; a continuous pane of glass that entrapped a storeys-worth of the Egg-Carrier’s rear.

“Just here, Nickel,” said Sonic, “No point making ourselves sitting ducks on the top-deck. Let me go a second.”

Nickel looked down at Sonic worriedly, but Sonic just gave him a confident smile, green eyes bright and earnest. Absolutely unsure, Nickel released his hold.

The cyan glow vanished, and for a split second Sonic fell uncontrollably. Then, he curled himself into a tight, spiked ball and hurled himself straight at the glass. How he did so was beyond Nickel – he seemed to kick off thin air itself. The glass shattered weakly under his impact, tearing a good-sized hole more than large enough to allow Nickel passage, too. Sonic scanned the room quickly, and deciding everything was safe-ish waited until he heard Nickel’s boots squeak on the steel floor before engaging in a more thorough check. It was definitely Robotnik. Egg-Carriers were the top class of warships he had produced, they were the largest and designed so that the mad Doctor or any of his lieutenants could raze the world beneath them with almost unlimited power in unparalleled leisure. They were, by far, larger than anything GUN could produce.

“Is this a… dining room?” asked Nickel. His assumption, as absurd as it sounded, was correct. Sharp-cut tables and egg-like chairs were dotted on an elevated platform, a step above them. Where they stood was assumedly an area for entertainment – dancing or comedy or any other pleasing act that would never take part here, at least not by willing participants. Sonic remembered places like this with chilling clarity.

“I don’t get this at all,” said Nickel, and Sonic had to give him credit for his confusion.

“Like I said, you’ll catch up. Just stick close to me, I’ll get us out here.”

“You just got us in here…”

“Exactly! See, you’re already catching on.”

Knowing he left Nickel bewildered and exasperated, but slightly less frightened, Sonic moved forwards into the Egg-Carrier.

But he had barely taken two steps when the lights went out. With two large BANGS, sounding even louder in the dark, two metal shutters slammed down over the punctured glass window, severing the remaining light that had flooding the room.

“Sonic…” said Nickel, moving closer to him.

“Easy on, Eggman’s just sending us a welcome party,” said Sonic, without a trickle less confidence.

They waited, alone, and in the dark for what felt an age. In reality Sonic estimated only five minutes passed, but they had heightened the rest of their senses so much their perception of time had bloated. He could almost feel the anxiety radiating off Nickel, and wished there was a way to ease him a little bit. However, he was almost certain something was lurking in the impenetrable darkness.

He was right.

“Sonic the Hedgehog.”

“Present,” said Sonic, whipping around to where he thought the robotic-crackling voice had sounded, “To whom am I speaking to?”

“Asserting final directive. Primary directive modified. Engaging.”

“That’s a mouthful,” Sonic muttered, but the very ghost of a thought poked the back of his mind. “Well, I assert that Robotnik’s going straight to Mortalamo, so we’ll be”-

The voice sounded again, but though it was still unmistakably robotic this time it carried emotion – of a sneering and self-assured kind.

“Where are you going Sonic? Don’t leave just yet we, haven’t even re-acquainted ourselves.”

“No-no, that’s fine, you go ahead with directive-primary modification and whatnot,” continued Sonic, already ushering Nickel towards where he remembered the steel shutters to be, then he paused. “Re-acquainted?”

 “Re-acquaintance not yet validated. Enquiry requires response.”

Sonic heard a low thrumming behind him, like the booting up of a machine, and whipped around.

Sonic felt shock riddle through him, but did not let it show on his face as an old enemy suddenly came into sight, lit up from the light of its own glowing energy.

Blue, metallic, with sharp angular features, striped with black and with eyes that glowed like a furnace, Metal Sonic revealed itself via the light of the crimson lines running the length of its arms, spines, legs back and chest. Black sections of metal complemented the blue, and the robot did not bother hiding much of the weaponry and equipment it was fitted with. Even with a casual glance, Sonic spied a mounted turret flattened to its right forearm, doors in its shoulders for the rushed exit of something rocket-propelled, and cherry-red metallic balls on the insides of its calves. Perhaps the most outstanding of all was a property that had remained with Metal Sonic since its very first model – the presence of the flat, red eyes. Except this time they were completely circular, absorbing the pupil to further reduce Metal’s resemblance to anything remotely human.

In a deep and droning voice Metal Sonic spoke, but this time all the emotion, however sick, that had been in his voice had vanished.

“What is that?” squeaked Nickel.

“Another one?” Sonic goggled.

“Respond.”

“What, me respond?” asked Sonic, stalling for time to process all of this, “You’re the one that just said” –

 “You did promise a rematch, did you not?” said Metal, parts of its body visibly clicking a turning away – the constant movement was unnerving.

Sonic examined the machine in front of him – this wasn’t right. This simply couldn’t be the Metal Sonic...

“You’re not him.” Sonic said quietly.

The emotion was still void from Metal’s voice as it said, “Error 6. Validation or explanation necessary.”

“Mauro – he loves making you schizo these days. The Metal is currently taped up to dozens of machines in the bowels of GUN HQ, probably being taken apart like a metallic lab rat. A friend of mine, in fact one of the Docs old robots gone AWOL confirmed it to me itself, you’re just a copy!”

Sonic was exaggerating about the ‘friend’ part, but it was close enough.

“Assertion negated. Searching archive. Search found. Target’s words: ‘If you ever want a rematch, let me know, I will be waiting’. My master has re-dispatched me to engage that challenge.”

“Then Eggman’s given you all of Metal’s memories… or whatever recording robots have. You think you’ve battled me before but”-

- “Scanning.”

Sonic sighed in heavy exasperation. Reasoning with a robot was about as efficient as reasoning with a shoelace.

Integral programming indicates proof of previous clashes. Final directive dictates necessary action. Final directive dictates the destruction of the biological Sonic the Hedgehog.

Out of impatience, Sonic cried, “Well bring it on already I haven’t got all day!”

And the glowing lines of red over Metals body were extinguished.

Now Sonic couldn’t see anything.
“Nickel, can you put that psycho-thing up as a shield?” Sonic asked quickly.

“Wha” -

For the second time that day, Sonic was caught off guard, but this time the consequences were substantially more painful. Metal had a huge advantage; while Sonic could barely see his hands in front of him, Metal did not require light to see.

“Sonic!” screamed Nickel as Sonic yelled in pain, flying back and into the dark as something invisible charged into him with the strength of a bull. The charge itself would not have fazed Sonic, but the electrical current that spasmed into his body turned the world a scalding white.

Shake it off,’ Sonic told himself, forcing himself out of semi-unconsciousness. Ring-energy would not be drowned that easily. He jumped to his feet, ready for more. And more he received. Another whack, this time squarely to the face, and another round of painful electricity.

“Die!” The other voice.

“I’m not the copycat here!” retorted Sonic, rolling blindly to the side. He was rewarded with the sound of something heavy and powerful smashing into the floor, splintering the wood and metal hybrid deck. Sonic took the miss to his advantage, and ran again for where he was though the shutters had been.

“Nickel, lift the shutters!” cried Sonic, hoping dearly the young hedgehog was not frozen like a rabbit. His hopes were well spent, and within the second the shutters took on a cyan glow. Nickel lit up as if by cyan-burning gasoline.

But the shutters did not lift.

“Sonic – I can’t get them up, I don’t know the mechanism” –

That was all Sonic heard. For the third time, Metal collided with him, clamping both arms around them as they flew backwards – and into the shutters themselves. They punched a hole clean through the flimsy metal and the glass behind, the impact enough to loose Sonic from its grip. No floor caught them – they just tumbled into nothing but freezing air and rain. Sonic struggled, then finally kicked free.

Sonic fell through the stormy sky, the void grey and thick with visibility-obscuring clouds. Instantly he was soaked to the bone. He spread his arms and legs like a star for balance, and looked frantically for Nickel. The kid at least had a way off the Egg-Carrier and via his psychokinesis safe passage back to the ground (or so he hoped), but Sonic had no such attributes and his shock-absorbing Sonic Spin would never be enough at this height. He could not see anything, just the walls of grey as he fell through the clouds, soaked through to the bone in seconds and the wind howling in his ears. Above it, however, came a roar similar to that of a jet engine.

Sonic altered his body so he was falling in the position of a diver, using his reduced surface area to cut through the air faster. The roaring steadily grew louder, until the air around him seemed to vibrate with it, and it equalled the howl of the wind surging past his ears. The clouds thinned until he could see green country and wide roads beneath.

Sonic looked out of his peripherals and sure enough, Metal was rocketing towards him– two engines on his back and stabilisers on his hands and feet allowing him to fly.

Sonic curled into a ball and began to spin furiously – if Metal wanted him he was going to get a mouthful of blue spine beforehand.

No good.

His spines were useless against Metal’s diamond-hard surface. With one hit his foe stopped his spin, and with another kick pulled him out of it, leaving him vulnerable.

 Metal suddenly gripped Sonic in a crushing bear hug, and began to descend to the ground at full speed.

Sonic struggled, trying to break Metals grip, only to have his body course with electricity once more. He went limp, the world gone dark.

But he could not move.

He was not getting out.

He thought he heard his name called when Metal finally released him to fall with a savage speed to the rapidly growing hills of Green Hill Zone.

A thud and a childish yell and two arms, warm and thin, encircled around his body, a terribly strong pull in the other direction, then a bone-shattering impact, the taste and smell of soil and grass, the feel of mud smeared over his fur… and of another body beside his.

The rain continued to fall, lightly but steadily.

*

Sonic opened his eyes blearily; body aching but mind switching on instantly. He glanced up; Metal was nowhere in sight, but he was not naïve enough to think that it had left.

What had happened? All he clearly remembered was being shocked by Metal...

Sonic felt his stomach back-flip as he looked to his right.

Nickel. The young boy was laying unconscious, spines up, his Rainbow emerald held loosely in his hand. Even as Sonic watched it, its vibrancy slowly pulsated into lacklustre.

Having a pretty good idea of how this had happened, Sonic felt a wave of guilt sweep over him almost as strong as the warm strength come to replenish what he had lost – courtesy of the massive pool of Ring energy he had spent years accumulating. The rise in strength and endurance did not make him invulnerable however, and as Sonic pushed himself to his feet he winced to ignore the ache of flesh bruised to the bone. He took a moment to shake the mud and soil off himself.

And he could not ignore the landing of Metal Sonic ten feet away. The red lines running the length of its body dimmed as the energy required for flight receded, though the red in its eyes did nothing of the sort.

“Nice, nice, beating up children – about all you were ever good at anyway…”

Metal’s voice switched again. He laughed sickly, and jeered, “The blame rests on your pathetic name and you know it. A name I will now take – I am the true Sonic the Hedgehog!”

“If it’s so pathetic then why d’you want it?” said Sonic, but that was the best he could muster. The robot’s left arm pointed at Sonic, and suddenly reconfigured into a fierce looking cannon.

Sonics tensed – ready to dodge, he knew his movements would be slowed from fatigue, and he knew that there was no way Metal could miss for too long at this range, but he was going to try anyway.

Metal fired three times.

And the shells, each the length of a finger, stopped millimetres in front of Sonic’s eyes, held by a wispy blue light.

Sonics’ face lit up as he spun around to see Nickel standing there, staggering and struggling to remain awake – even the rain appeared to be battering him. But he was there! And it appeared Nickel’s impossible power – psychokinesis – had saved them both yet again.

“Boy am I glad you’re on my side!” said Sonic, giving Nickel a thumbs up. “Now why don’t you show Metal what its like to have a dose of your own medicine?”

Slowly, the bullets began to turn; now they pointed directly at their master.

“Error 15. Illogical.” droned Metal. Even Sonic and Nickel could hear the alarms that were alerting Metal to the obvious danger. He must have heeded them, because in seconds Metal had turned and fled, no doubt not wanting to chance ‘primary directive’. Without wasting a moment Nickel fired the bullets after him, all to miss but Sonic thought it a nice touch all the same.

“Knew there was a reason I let you tag along,” grinned Sonic to Nickel, but his smile vanished as Nickel sank to the ground, throwing his hands out to stop his fall.

“Hey!” Sonic quickly rushed over, “You okay?”

Nickel didn’t answer, his breathing came in short shallow gasps and he was soaked from the rain; frozen to the bone. One hand rested on the Rainbow emerald.

“C’mon, I’ll get you outa here.” Sonic lifted Nickel up, carrying him with one hand under his legs and the other under his back.

Quickly accelerating, Sonic tore off to the south east.

*

He had never felt so glad to see Tails’ workshop.

 ‘Almost there’, he kept telling himself. The last half hour had been intense, even for him. Anybody else would have been shaking with shock and adrenaline, but not only had he extensive experience but his ring energy to absorb it all, leaving him under control. Robotnik was on UF soil, Metal Sonic was back and more insane than ever, and Robotnik had been either awaiting or summoning this kid with the power to move things without touching them.

He didn’t quite nail the skid-to-a-halt entrance he was aiming for, and when he reached Tails’ door he accidentally slammed right into it.

The first thing he noticed was Tails, jaw wide open in shock as he stood in the middle of his workshop, gaping at the sight of Sonic and his new acquaintance so beaten and tired.

The second was that blearing sirens were audible from the blackened north sky.

Robotnik had resumed the offensive.

 

The End

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