Search and Rescue
“At least we know he’s useful,” quipped Sonic, nursing his bruises. Silver was coming around, his blood nose subsiding. The smell of salt and the fresh kiss of the sea-wind helped bring him around.
“You’re alive,” was the first thing he said, tone flat. Flat on his back, he had both eyes squinted to slits as if he had a splitting headache. Knuckles helped him to an upright position. Everybody was covered in gritty sand from the fall.
“Well, most of us,” said Sonic as he brushed sand off himself, nodding to the smoking wreck of the Tornado. Its red armour plating was scattered across the beach. Sonic’s face suddenly furrowed as he looked at a figure kneeling, silhouetted against the sweet-smelling fire, “It could have been worse, Tails, it could’ve still been full of fuel!”
“Sonic, shut up,” said Knuckles. He turned his attention to Silver, “Are you hurt? You didn’t seem physically wounded, but you wouldn’t wake.”
Silver didn’t answer – he had his own questions. “You should be dead. I slowed you down but… your weight was too much, you would’ve hit the ground” –
“Is he calling us fat?”
“We’re… stronger, than most people,” explained Knuckles, “We’re battered, but we’re in one piece.”
“Yeah, not like humans and made out of porcelain.”
Knuckles said, “GUN’s going to be on us any second, we need to disappear… Sonic you remember how to find that underground, right?”
Sonic muttered, “Home sweet home.”
Slinging an arm around his neck, Knuckles lifted Silver and made for the sandy slope where the beach met the suburbs, crunching over twisted and broken metal amongst the sand. Despite a pronounced limp he did not complain. Sonic followed. He made a detour to Tails and, as he passed, put a glove on the fox’s shoulder.
“C’mon, bud, it’s only a plane.”
In a city as big as Central, there were plenty of places to disappear, though that they had plummeted to earth during night instead of day was to their substantial benefit. One hideout they had found many years ago was an ancient water treatment plant, one of dozens, well below the city at the nexus of the old sewer system. An upgraded set of lines and a newer treatment plant on the surface left the old ones obsolete. Though slowly being buried, and unknown to Sonic and co eventually scheduled for complete burial for its hazardous nature, it had served as a safe haven once before. Perhaps surprisingly, it was not difficult to find once within the sewers; directions and maps on the walls clearly outlined the ageing labyrinth.
“I don’t think I’ve ever smelt anything so bad,” said Silver, peering into the darkness, but that was the least of his worries. Being engulfed in the darkness with strangers whilst underground was no tonic for his nerves. The slaps of their footfalls on the concrete echoed far into the sewer.
“Then you’ve never stood on one of Angel Island’s stink-bugs,” replied Sonic. “By Mauro, I hate sand!” Though he looked clean, Sonic still brushed at every part of his fur and quills he could reach, determined to rid himself of every last grain.
“How did you even know this was here?” asked Silver as Knuckles lead the way. The faint outline of the plant could be seen ahead, but they did not go inside, instead remaining in the dingy, smelly tunnel, but at least no longer near the main drain. What Silver could see of the water treatment plant was a crumbling mess.
“Long story. Oh c’mon, Tails.”
Silver looked over his shoulder in time to see Tails duck his head. Sonic was shaking his head at the fox, a look of apathy on his face.
“I’m fine!” said Tails, but the rich bitterness in his voice spoke to the contrary.
“Wouldn’t it be warmer inside?” asked Silver, but Tails and Knuckles’ glum faces said it all.
“This isn’t our favouritist-ever place in the world, but it’ll do,” replied Knuckles, evasively.
Silver decided not to push it – inside or outside, they were still in an underground crap-hole.
The last twenty-four hours seemed like a lucid dream. He felt like a limp rag now that he sat down on the rough pavement, his insides left charred from the adrenaline. His head still pounded from the extended use of psychokinesis.
“Who are you people?” he asked, looking at the strange trio one by one.
“I’m Sonic, Sonic the Hedgehog, that’s Knuckles, and that’s my little brother Tails.”
“I… can see the resemblance…”
“Long story,” smiled Sonic, kicking some crumbled pavement together to fashion together some kind of pillow. Tails rested his head on his knees, watch-light off.
“Why did you help me?” asked Silver. “How do you know Nickel?”
“Somebody had to. Your brother appeared out of thin air at Tails’ place in Green Hill Zone. He’s been popular with everyone ever since.”
“Sonic,” said Knuckles, “shouldn’t we be asking him the questions? Like why that kid appeared out of nowhere with an eighth emerald?”
“Well, Knuckles, now that you mention it, and seeing as we have him here I wouldn’t mind knowing myself. Silver? Nickel is your brother, right?”
Silver gave them a look of wary apprehension, and said nothing.
“Kid, we saved your life,” said Knuckles, leaning forwards, arms crossed, “and your brother’s.”
“As I see it, I saved yours.” shot back Silver, “And Nickel – he’s still with… whoever the hell that ship belonged to… where am I!?”
Sonic and Knuckles exchanged looks.
“Just… out of curiosity Silver, can you tell me what the year is?” asked Sonic.
“What? It’s 2213 – what does that have to do with anything?”
They stared back, and eventually it clicked.
All emotion suddenly dropped from his face, and like lightning he shot to his feet. Sonic and Tails followed, backing away to give him space. The lights that swung from their wristwatches made that space appear wild, and turned them to silhouettes.
“That’s… that’s impossible! Get away from me!”
“Silver, you’re in no danger!” said Knuckles loudly.
Silver just stared at them, pupils contracted from the harsh light. Joltingly, he half fell back to the ground. He hardly felt it – trying to process this was like fitting a mountain through the eye of a needle. Feeling another headache coming on he buried his face in his hands and cried out, wanting to purge all the confusion and fear.
“Silver!” said Sonic, and something in his voice made Silver’s attention cut to him. A hand outstretched diplomatically, Sonic relaxed his shoulders and said, simply, “It’s gonna be ok.”
Silver took a moment, then, throat dry, said, “Okay? W-What’s the year?”
He wished they’d burst out laughing at him.
They did not.
“2009.” At Silver’s blunt stare, Sonic said, “if it’s any help, you took that way more realistically than your brother.”
“He’s ten years old,” croaked Silver, “I’m sure apart from that snake trying to kill us this is all just one big adventure.”
Their ears perked.
Silver nodded, “Well, not quite snake. He’s… I have no idea what he is. He’s like anthrohuman but slightly larger, but scales and eyes like a snake. He’s… some kind of hybrid, I’ve never seen anything like it. A bit like us,” Silver indicated Sonic and himself, “he looks a little like us, but with scales, and snake-like eyes.
He can… change, I saw it happen! His quills got larger and sharper as we fought… worst of all he seemed resistant to my PK!”
“Okay, just relax,” said Tails.
Sonic interrupted, “What do you mean he changed?”
“I mean his appearance physically changed. When we first saw him he was… skinnier. And had no scales. Not after too long he was physically stronger, and like I said his quills became longer and sharp enough to cut.” Silver lifted a forearm to show a half-dozen lacerations. “He could change right in front of us.”
“We should probably get you some medicine for that,” said Tails.
Sonic said, as if testing the flavour of a strange new fruit, “A shape-shifting snake-hedgehog?”
“I’m not making it up!” cried Silver, heatedly, missing the curiosity in Sonic’s voice. “You’re the ones who sound mad! This is 2009?”
“Yep.” Said Sonic.
“If you’re lying to me… I’m two-hundred years… in the past?”
Knuckles cocked his head, but said nothing.
“Looks like it.” continued Sonic, “Can you tell us how?”
“That stone of Nickel’s.” cursed Silver immediately, “I don’t know what it is… He found that stupid rock at some point, I don’t know when. I’m having trouble remembering everything…”
“Your brother had some memory loss as well, he recovered most of it within a day.”
“I know it was just any other day if not for that rock. We practiced our PK, we played with our pets and we played in the fields… but that snake came out of somewhere…”
“Well that’s pretty much what Nickel said,” frowned Sonic.
“Once he was there he attacked us! Specifically he attacked Nickel. I got in the way, but he was determined to get to him.” Silver shook he head, lost for words, “Something happened in the middle of it, but I have no idea what.
Next thing I know, I’m surrounded by snow and mountains,” he suddenly looked furious, “and people were shooting at me! Like, actual bullets!”
“Hmm, well that sounds like one of the time warps the emeralds can trigger.” mused Knuckles.
“What?” exclaimed Sonic, and then with a touch of sarcasm, “and you only just remembered that now?”
“I didn’t think of it, why would I!? Imagine how stupid we’re all going to feel when in turns out the emeralds have only flung these two through space, which is more common – it’s what a Warp Ring is, only more reliable. Time travel has been illegal in our culture since forever, my ancestors deemed it too much power for anybody. The scientists who developed it and all involved were executed. Then the people who executed them were executed.”
“Still, there’s a specific technique behind it.”
“If it’s illegal, how do you know so much about it,” accused Sonic, injecting excessive drama into his voice. “Off with his head!”
“Bandit told me once,” shrugged Knuckles. Tails and Sonic both went ‘oh’ and ‘right’ as if that solved everything. Silver stared numbly.
“You need two emeralds and two conductors. There’s something about it being easier to accomplish if the conductors are related,” Knuckles shook his head, “I’ll have to check, but two-hundred years is a record by a long, long stretch.”
“So why did I get flung across a continent in the space of a few seconds?” said Silver. “What emeralds?”
“Technically it was two-hundred years,” pointed out Sonic.
“Whatever. What emeralds?”
Sonic held out a hand, and in it appeared the blue emerald. Its light illuminated everything within a thirty-foot radius. After a few moments it ebbed down to the luminosity of an average torch.
“These are Chaos Emeralds; basically nodes of infinite energy. There’s seven, and they’re balanced out by the Master Emerald, which Knuckles here protects. Only now your brother has turned up with one we have never seen before. Obviously we’re worried about what that will do to the rest; it started up a pretty violent reaction back in Green Hill Zone.”
Silver didn’t seem to be listening. He stared intently in the emerald, face blank.
“Silver?” asked Sonic slowly. He exchanged a look with Knuckles and Tails, “You’ve seen one like this before?”
“Not blue. But yeah… that snake had it…” Silver shook his head as if trying to shake off his confusion, “This is madness. That snake had one on his body, like it was a part of him?”
“Oh… that’s…” Sonic shrugged at Knuckles, “Like Perfect Chaos?”
“Was he made of water?” asked Knuckles sarcastically to Silver, who looked at him, nonplussed. “Well, then it wasn’t a Guardian of the Ring Pool. And you’re sure he wasn’t an Echidna?”
“Do Echidnas have scales?” asked Sonic, matching Knuckles’ previous tone.
“He wasn’t a hedgehog or an Echidna,” said Silver. He indicated the blue emerald, “Tell me more about these. How were they made?”
“We don’t know.” said Knuckles.
“Wait, what? Well, what are they, where did they come from?”
“As it turns out, we’re actually onto that mystery right now.”
Sonic and Knuckles explained the Angel Island mythic records, and how it seemed too much of a coincidence that the Rainbow emerald featured in both.
“Whatever that eighth emerald is, we think it’s got something to do with how these emeralds were created,” finished Sonic. With a small flash the emerald floating in his palm disappeared. “Which is awesome.”
To say Silver looked struck dumb was a huge understatement. “…So they’re magic emeralds?”
“They’re not magic,” frowned Knuckles, “we just don’t understand them well enough.”
“We might if we let somebody study them,” muttered Tails.
“What do you mean, you’ve had plenty of chances to look at them!”
“Not me, that level of science is way outta my depth, and you won’t let me have somebody like Spag U have a look – which is why twenty four hours ago I was supposed to be locking them up for good” –
“Back on topic!” said Sonic loudly, turning back to Silver, “When Nickel arrived, his eighth emerald sent the rest nuts when it got close. But – other stuff was happening” –
“No, tell me what happened.”
Wondering whether Silver could take Metal Sonic on top of everything, Sonic complied. He did not, however, divulge the Super State, instead explaining that the reaction from the Rainbow emerald scattered them.
“Wait, so Robotnik knew Nickel was coming?” frowned Silver.
“It’s possible Robotnik just picked up on some kind of signal nobody else noticed,” said Tails, “You’ve got to understand, Robotnik’s mind is incredible. He can see patterns where others wouldn’t even glance. He might have already had that cruiser sitting there since the Robotnik War as a sleeper. GUN finds a couple every year. More likely, Eggman just happened upon a signal that coincided with the location of a sleeper. He runs rings around national security, slips into the country and waits for something interesting to happen.”
“Well, it’s a theory,” said Sonic dubiously.
“And GUN? What do they want with my brother?”
“I doubt they know,” said Sonic, “They do know Robotnik is going to lengths to keep him, so that makes him a hot topic.”
Frustration flashed bright on Silver’s face.
“Then who was that other hedgehog, the one with the psycho red eyes?”
“That’d be Shadow.” explained Sonic, and then in a sheepish tone, “You probably shouldn’t pick a fight with him again.”
“What? Fine, then how do we get Nickel back?” Silver demanded. He decided to give up trying to grasp what was happening. All that mattered was Nickel.
“We’ll have to make contact with GUN,” grumbled Tails, “We need air-transport anyway.”
“Wait, what’s that got to do with GUN?” asked Sonic. “And did you miss the part where they tried to arrest me?”
“Yes, I did, because you went off on your own! GUN have been making copies of the Tornado for a long time. As the original owner, I want one back.”
They did not bother asking how Tails knew of GUN’s top-secret projects – the army of leaks and hackers that had accumulated in awe of the boy-genius sometimes appeared more formidable than Sonic or Knuckles felt comfortable acknowledging.
Silver rubbed at his temples, utterly overwhelmed. Forty-eight hours ago, life had been normal.
Tails continued, “Of course, though they’re not the best in the world, I still wouldn’t want to get on the wrong side of GUN security,” then with a touch of sarcasm, “If Robotnik comes by the coast again, we might have a big enough distraction.”
“I specialise in distractions,” said Sonic with a wry smile. His concern over GUN’s ability to arrest him was brief – he was more useful to GUN as an ally and they knew it. As long as they didn’t step on each other’s toes Sonic didn’t believe he had much to worry about.
“First we should rest, and recharge,” said Tails. Silver had just opened his mouth to protest when Tails tiredly interrupted, “Don’t worry, once we get a plane, we’ll catch Robotnik in no time.”
Long after the others finally nodded off, Sonic remained awake. He estimated it was about two in the morning, but he could not sleep. Fortunately the years had taught him to run on sleeping hours as little as two or three. In the pitch black, he listened with disgust to the sound of the sewerage water flowing through grimy pipes. One of the first things he wanted once their names were cleared was a shower.
A silver lining still existed; an adventure had fallen right into his lap. But still, it almost seemed as if it had less fallen… and more been aimed. Nobody had wanted him involved, and yet could it be a coincidence that the location Nickel and Robotnik had converged on had been within jogging distance of Tails’ workshop? And he had only planned to be there for no more than a few days.
Of all the powers on Mobius, none had the power to determine that, but he had long since learned that coincidences should rarely be left unquestioned.
Sonic, Knuckles, Tails and Silver all awoke at exactly the same time, their ears perked.
Sonic had eventually fallen asleep. But the faint sound of sirens from the surface had broken the slumber.
“Hear that?” said Sonic, snapping to his feet.
“Has GUN found us?” asked Silver uneasily.
“No, it sounds like a commotion on the surface,” deduced Tails.
Knuckles grumbled, leaning back once more, “Central’s got a crime rate almost as high as its debt, let me sleep – agh! Why you” –
Sonic danced out of range before Knuckles could retaliate with a kick of his own. “Knux, there’s a manhole like a minute away, if we hurry maybe we can help.”
Silver gasped as Sonic ran with inhuman swiftness to the exit.
“Oh yeah, you don’t know he can do that, can you?” smiled Tails, before following, crying, “Sonic, wait up!”
Silver stared blankly again, as only Tails’ toes touched the ground while his twin tails spun like helicopter blades, propelling him forwards. Why hadn’t he even questioned them before?
Silver looked expectedly at Knuckles.
“Well, what are you going to do, teleport?”
Sonic made it to the first manhole so fast he overshot it by fifteen feet. By the time he had stopped and doubled back, slower, Tails had caught up.
The sirens were much louder now.
“Wow, wonder if it’s a fire, or bank robber or something?” asked Tails.
“Time to find out.” Sonic quickly scaled the ladder up, and with ease pushed away the metal manhole.
At first the sunlight seared his eyes. Nonetheless he jumped onto the surface, then immediately ducked as what he initially thought was a jet-fighter zoomed overhead.
Clutching his ears from the mind-bending noise, he squinted into the light’s glare to find what on Mobius was flying so low.
“Sonic!” cried Tails as he flew out of the manhole, “It’s Metal!”
“Yeah, I can see that, Tails,” said Sonic, squinting into the glare of the sun where Metal Sonic had disappeared.
“I thought you said he was…well, dead!”
“SuperSonic tore him in half! Yeah, I thought he was dead!” exclaimed Sonic.
They waited, the sirens keeping their senses taut, but no further disturbances transpired.
“I don’t believe it. He bounced!”
It was Silver’s turn to exit the manhole, and Knuckles straight after him. Silver’s psychokinesis appeared identical to his brother’s.
Sonic took a moment to assess their surroundings. Towering skyscrapers surrounded them, even larger ones were to the east, where the sirens came from. Dozens of humans populated the streets, many still looking for the mysterious noise that that had so terrified them previously.
“Who bounced?” asked Knuckles.
“We need to check out the damage he did. C’,mon, Tails!” Sonic had barely finished his sentence when he began running.
Again, Silver boggled at Sonic’s speed.
“C’mon,” grumbled Knuckles, dragging Silver by the arm.
As the sirens grew louder and they approached, weaving within the heavy traffic, GUN HQ appeared as the cause of the commotion. They reached a blockade of police officers holding back the crowd eager to get a glimpse of the damage.
GUN HQ was an architectural wonder, proof of the substantial amount of funding the organisation received from the United Federation’s government. Water was pumped from the ocean to create a moat around the main tower, and rivers ran throughout and around the buildings. The water weaved around the buildings in the clear shape of a ‘G’. The most noticeable part of the HQ was the large, black tower, built so that it looked, to Sonic, like a cylindrical waffle cone, except waffle cones don’t look formidable. Sharp layers overlapped each other, rotating around the tower in an anti-clockwise direction, silver supports could be seen flowing with the direction of the tower, and each layer acted as a superfluous, tinted window. At the top a humongous, sharp-edged but softly curved triangle of glass shot upwards above the rest of the building. On the side of the ridiculously high structure a small-in-comparison high-speed elevator shaft with glass walls could just be made out.
“Where’d Sonic and Tails go?” asked Silver, still staring at the building.
“Who knows. C’mon, let’s get a bite to eat.” Knuckles turned back the way they’d came, away from the crowd.
“What!? Right now? Shouldn’t we see what’s happened?”
“Do you care?” asked Knuckles over his shoulder.
“I was having a pretty good day. The emerald’s were safe, the Master Emerald was doing fine, then Sonic rocks up and all hell breaks loose. I’m tired and I want to eat, we’re not going anywhere until Tails finds a plane anyway.”
“Aren’t we wanted by GUN?”
“Sonic’s clearly forgotten that. Just leave him to it.”
Silver grimaced, then followed. “I guess I don’t really owe these people anything anyway…”
Knuckles nodded at the logic, “Chun-anese or Shamarite?”
“These people just don’t look up,” said Sonic in amazement, holding onto Tails’ feet as he took them over the blockade.
“Sonic, look! It’s Shadow and” – Tails gasped, “The Commander!”
Away from the front entrance, around the side of the enormous building, nearly a dozen bodyguards could be seen ferrying their cargo. Shadow could only be seen from their vantage point, dwarved by the burly humans around him. They were heading for a black armoured van, but through them Sonic could see part of the Commander’s face was covered in blood.
They may have gotten past the police, but the trained agents spotted them easily.
Luckily so did Shadow. Tails dropped altitude immediately as a handful or so of the agents whipped handguns from their holsters, dropping Sonic while he dove for cover.
Sonic thought he heard Shadow cry, “Leave them, focus on the Chief!”
Tails hot on his heels, Sonic ran for the van as the Commander, Shadow and a few of the security climbed in. The remaining security tried to stop Sonic and Tails. Sonic just vaulted himself over ones head, Tails slipped through the same one’s legs. Both piled into the van.
“Hi, bud, we need a plane.”
“Get them out!” shrieked one of the security guards, making to stand.
“Forget it, we don’t want a scene! Let’s move!”
The van’s doors shut, and with a squeal of the tires they were moving.
There were six of them inside in total, not including whoever was driving. The human security scowled at both them and Shadow, one of them holding makeshift bandages to the Commander’s head wound. There was no room for Sonic and Tails to sit.
“What happened to him?” asked Sonic, indicating the Commander. A tall man, his knees jutted out awkwardly. “We just saw Metal Me.”
This was apparently news to Shadow. He shook his head and growled, “Well, that was only a matter of time.”
Tails gasped, “It wasn’t the one we destroyed yesterday, was it? Robotnik’s activated the old one…” Tails looked to Sonic, “Why?”
Shadow barked, “Where’s the brother?”
“Just forget Metal. Do you want a plane or not?” snapped Shadow.
The Commander barked, “Enough!” and silence fell. Sonic and Tails were constantly at risk of falling into one of them – the driver drove like a maniac.
“Are you two aware of what that thing was that did this to me?” asked the Commander sharply.
“Metal? Yeah, we beat him for you a few years ago, remember?”
“It wasn’t Metal,” said Shadow, tersely.
Sonic looked taken aback. This day was becoming just as strange as the last.
“We’re not sure, sir,” answered Tails, “Maybe we could help if you explained further?”
A moment of quiet, then Shadow said, “It could… change its shape. It needed to escape and it… grew what it needed. It grew a pair of wings right out of its back before my eyes.” He looked as if he held back a curse.
“It looked a bit like a hedgehog?”
“You know of it?”
“As of about six hours ago. We think he’s hunting Nickel.”
“The boy with Robotnik…”
Shadow looked Sonic in the eye. “Sonic, whatever he is, your Echidna friend needs to give up whatever he knows on the emeralds.”
“Because he had one in his head,” snapped Shadow, “I don’t know what he is, but he was physically part of the emerald.”
He shook his head in disappointment. “And he stole GUN’s.”
“Ha! Oh, I mean… that’s- that’s bad!”
“We know.” growled Shadow tersely. His eyes narrowed, “I’ve never seen anything like it. Like some kind of hybrid, hedgehog-like but with scales.”
Inspiration jerked Sonic, “Wait – like Black Arms?”
“I… don’t know.”
“Jeez, Silver and Nickel really stumbled into something here,” said Sonic, rubbing his chin.
Shadow’s scowl immediately became a black glare at Sonic’s nonchalance. “You two have literally have three seconds to tell me where that hedgehog is and what is going on” –
Again the Commander cut over Shadow.
“Is that boy a threat?”
“Um…” Sonic thought quickly, “no. He just wants Nickel – his brother, back. Away from Robotnik. They’re connected to that snake-hybrid thing” –
“Nyx.” said Tails.
“Yeah I know, buddy, thanks,” sighed Sonic.
“Look, but they’re not on his side, okay? Just give Tails one of the Tornado’s you’ve been working on, and we’ll get to sorting this out. You can’t deal with Silver and Nickel without upsetting your bosses or the public of whatever, we can get them off the scene and we can work to putting a leash on Nyx without stepping on each others toes. What happened last night didn’t help either of us.”
Shadow said, “Out of the question – sir!?”
The Commander had taken a notebook from inside his torn suit. With a pen from his front pocket he began to write. When he was finished he tore off the page.
“Take this to the Krovak Memorial airbase and give it to the CO.”
As Tails reached for it, the Commander whipped it back. His ice-blue eyes, one covered in blood, bore into them, “I’m giving this to you as a gesture of good will, for all the generosity and patience you have given this state, in times when we were less than open to communication.” He nodded to his bodyguards and passed Tails the single page.
“Now get them out.”