Darkness bathed the dank and dreary walls of the cell block. Exposed piping and heavy metal plating were the only visible features as there were no windows and the lighting was so bare it may as well have been the middle of the night. A steady 'drip, drip, drip' from some leaky vent echoed around the room, but it was drowned out by one prisoner's cries.
"Ooh, you are such a meanie eggface! I wanna play so let me out! Let me out so I can gut you open and play jump rope with your intestines!"
Rosy's unstable personality kept flashing back and forth between a childlike annoyance and the desires of a deranged killer. She flipped about the cell like a 10 year old on a sugar rush, ineffectually swinging her hammer about in hopes it would damage the reinforced metal bars, not seeming to notice both her efforts and her threats were doing nothing.
In the cell beside her, Cream whimpered and hunkered down, trying to ignore the crazy hedgehog's ranting. This wasn't the first time that Doctor Eggman had chosen to kidnap her in one of his schemes, but that didn't make it any less scary, and being next to Rosy just made it all the more terrifying.
"U-uhm, M-miss Rosy. C-could you p-please stop y-yelling so much?" she asked timidly.
Rosy responded by flinging herself at the bars and staring dead on at the bunny with her unhinged grin spread wide.
"I'm gonna have so much fun with you when I get out little bunny. We're gonna have tea parties and play games like house or doctor while I cut into your still screaming body and start pulling out your organs and inflating them like balloons!"
The rabbit pushed herself to the opposite side of the cell with all the strength she had, as though hoping she would phase through the wall and be as far away from Rosy as she could. The pink hedgehog just found this incredibly amusing and let out a high pitched giggle before resuming her futile efforts to draw Eggman's attention.
Cream was so scared and sad. She hoped it wouldn't be long now until Mr Sonic and his friends found her. He always saved the day, she just had to have hope.
Repeating in her mind over and over 'Mr Sonic will save me' helped to calm her down. Slowly she let herself relax and she stopped pushing against the cell wall. She just had to be patient and wait. Mr Sonic would save her.
Her ear gave a twitch as she heard a sound behind her. She turned to see the other occupant of the cells finally beginning to move from the ball on the floor she had held herself in.
Fiona had worried Cream since the moment they got put into these horrible cages. She had gone completely silent and wrapped her arms around her legs as she lay in a ball on the floor, saying nothing, doing nothing. Cream knew this whole situation was scary, but despite her young age, the bunny girl was getting the impression that something about this situation was affecting Miss Fiona much deeper then it was her or Rosy.
The vixen slowly uncurled, but she still didn't speak. Quietly, she moved to the back wall of her cell and sat down, her head held low and her arms hugging herself tightly. Her tail curled around herself before she simply sat in silence, looking as though she didn't ever expect to see daylight again.
Seeing this, Cream couldn't help but want to try and cheer the fox up.
"Um, Miss Fiona... you... you don't have to be sad. I know it's really scary down here, b-but Mr Sonic will come save us! Maybe your friend Mr Scourge will come to help as well."
"I doubt it, but thanks for trying there kid."
The response threw Cream off balance a little, before she plucked up her courage and tried again. "Don't think like that Miss Fiona. I'm not sure what things were like with that other Sonic you knew, but my Sonic always saves the day. He'll come help us, I'm sure of it. Mr Scourge seemed to really care about you too, so I think he'll come too. You just need to keep up hope."
Fiona said nothing for a moment, before she finally raised her head so she could look the little bunny in the eyes. It surprised Cream to see them filled with so much despair. She hadn't known Fiona long, but she'd seemed lively and vibrant during their first meeting. To see her so despondent was unnerving.
Fiona said nothing for a few moments, just watching Cream in silence. The bunny started to feel uncomfortable (both from the silent stare and Rosy upping her ranting up to new and extremely disturbing levels) when the fox gave a quiet sigh and looked away.
"Kid... I hear what your saying... but I've learned the hard way not to bother with 'hope'. In the end, the only thing you can truly place faith in is yourself. I've felt the pain of betrayal from those you believe will always be there. The devastation of being let down when all you have left is hope. I refuse to let myself feel that pain again."
A frown creased her brow and she slowly turned back to Cream, who just looked saddened by her words, but still ready to keep trying to cheer the fox up if given the chance. The pain of memories past looped through Fiona's mind, a weight she had never been able to shake away. Memories that had shaped who she became, helped her to see the truth of the world, to never let herself foolishly put her faith in others.
Seeing Cream was about to try and speak up once more, Fiona continued, once more turning away.
I can tell you've been in Eggman's hold before, but what you've been through is truly nothing compared to the horrors of my past. This Eggman seems just as smart, but his reach isn't anywhere near as strong as mine's was. The Eggman from my world had over ninety percent of the planet under his control. Those that weren't fortunate enough to find shelter in Knothole or later New Mobotropolis, they suffered daily. Slave camps dedicated to mining resources for machines were everywhere. The horrors that went on in them... the nightmares you'd have if you saw them would scar you for life."
Cream was silent for a moment before a dark realization came to her, filling her with understanding and pity.
"You were in one of the camps weren't you."
Fiona just glared at nothing for a moment, her fists tightening as images flashed through her head. Beatings, whips, chains... they filled her with rage... and with fear.
"Yeah Kid... I was in one."
Her teeth were clenched and her eyes closed as the horrible images continued flashing through her. A nightmare that was always with her, always hiding in the dark recesses of her mind.
"That camp, was the worst thing I have ever gone through in my life. I was just a little girl, probably no older then you when I was taken from my family and forced to work in one of Robotnik's mines. Robots watched over us, never needing to sleep, or rest, or ever leave. They just kept us working, until we were so exhausted we physically couldn't move, and then we'd have to do it all again the next day. We'd dig into the earth with pick axes and shovels, mining ores and coals for his monstrous machines. If we ever slowed or resisted, they'd make sure we knew it was a mistake. Whips cut our flesh. Metal fists broke our bones. Chains broke us down until we were nothing more then empty shells, no better then that monster's slave keeping robots."
She could feel the scars buried underneath her fur. The marks of the Doctor's cruelty hidden in plain sight, but always remembered in her mind. Always felt. Always feared.
I spent over ten years in that hell hole. I never had a true child hood, just the life of a slave under a tyrant's thumb. But I refused to let him break me. Despite the pain, and the cruelty, I fought back. I became an icon to the other prisoners, someone they could look to and feel hope in their suffering. In the end, that same role would ultimately show me the truth."
Fiona pulled herself from her position against the wall and began pacing about, the anger and the despair and the memories of the pain overwhelming her. She could remember the looks all those slaves gave her. Looking up to her and to Mighty the Armadillo and Ray the Flying Squrriel as the three of them banded together, became a source strength they could all turn, something that could keep them holding on despite all the mad Doctor had done to break them. But as she remembered their hopeful faces, pain filled her, as the coming betrayal drew near, destroyed any joy she could take from the role, turning even the brief moments of happiness in her memories bitter.
"Robotnik soon decided to make an example of me, to show the others that resistance would not be tolerated. That his rule was absolute, that nothing that apposed him would ever win." she actually trembled a little as she remembered him standing over her, that sadistic grin on his face as his soulless robots pulled her away from Mighty and Ray. The way she'd tried to hold strong until it became too much and she screamed for her friends to help her. How they had been held back and could do nothing to help her.
"I was dragged away into a solitary cell. No light, no windows, just nothing but darkness. I was left in there for a week with no food or water, slowly beginning to starve." she remembered her voice going hoarse from her screams in the blackness, only to be ignored and forgotten. The intense pain as her stomach began cannibalizing itself, desperate for nourishment. But even with all that, she knew the worst was to come.
"Eventually that monster of a man came and pulled me from that cell, weak and helpless and desperate. But he didn't return me to the others, instead I was taken to a hidden part of the facility. A laboratory he conducted secret experiments in. He experimented on me there for days."
Restraints strapped to her wrists. Held tight to an operating table, helpless and weak to resist. Scans and needles and pain... so much pain...
The memories didn't stop, they just kept coming, burning through her mind. Fiona's body started to shake and she couldn't tell if it was from the rage or from the terror.
"Eventually he showed why he had put me through it all. He constructed a robot duplicate of me, with synthetic flesh and fur hiding the metal skeleton beneath. He hadn't cared at all about my resistance or acting like a beacon of hope for the others. To him it all meant nothing. So hopeless that he didn't even care if the slaves pretended to themselves that their hope would save them. All he wanted was the template of a female fox so he could use it as a spy to trick and then trap Tails so he could hurt Sonic. It wasn't even a high priority mission. Just a passing fancy, to give him something to do while he finalized his real plans. In his eyes, I was just nothing... just... nothing..."
She remembered how devastated she was, to learn all that torment, all that suffering, had been for nothing. For a passing fancy. Just to give him something to do. She had meant so little in his eyes that he hadn't even used her suffering for something important. She was nothing but a tool, a toy for him to play with until he got bored. The tears that had been in her eyes then didn't cross her eyes now. Instead, she felt rage. True blistering rage at what she knew transpired next. The last string of the ripped and ruined tapestry that had been her life.
She clenched her fists so tight her knuckles began to whiten beneath her gloves and her eyes were filled with such hate, it was like staring into two blue pools of fire.
"After that he had me locked up in another solitary cell. At least this one had a window and a dirt floor instead of the metal plating I'd been subjected to for weeks. That cell became my home for the next two years. The only interaction I had with anyone was with an automated robot that brought me one meal a day. All I could do was sit there, hoping, praying that someone would come for me. That someone would save me from this horrible fate."
Days turning into weeks. Weeks turning into months. Months turning into years. Everyday the same. Just the same metal walls, the same dirt floor, the view of a barren field filled with nothing from her barred window. The overwhelming loneliness and the crippling depression. The only thing keeping her from just killing herself was that desperate hope that she would be saved. That Mighty and Ray would come for her, or even Sonic the hedgehog and his Freedom Fighters, that myth of heroes that had spread through the camp like wildfire. Looking up at the stars every night, praying to whatever gods there were that she could escape this nightmarish fate, only to keep waking the next day still trapped within those cramped metal walls.
"That was, until the rescue."
At the word 'rescue' Cream started to let a little joy come back to her face, but the feeling was crushed as she saw the burning hatred on Fiona's face. The fox had to stop for a moment to get her breath back she was panting so hard, her rage so intense it was like a living volcano.
"One day, the camp was located by the Freedom Fighters and Sonic, on one of his first missions, led the charge to free all the slaves held within."
Cream watched as Fiona stared at her dead on, making sure the little bunny heard her next words. Quivering with fury the fox spat out, with a venom so vile the air seemed to burn.
"All except me!"
Cream gasped and covered her mouth with her hands, not able to truly process what she had just heard. Mr Sonic didn't save someone. How could that be. He was a hero, he saved the world from that mean Doctor all the time, and all sort of other threats. He was always there when people needed him.
But Cream could see the hatred in Fiona, the unforgiving fury towards Sonic for his perceived betrayal. But the bunny could see deeper, passed all the overwhelming anger to the deeper feelings. The feelings of despair, the feeling of having been let down by someone so trusted. The pain of being forgotten and abandoned, especially when all the others had had their faith rewarded.
This act had imprinted itself so deeply within Fiona, that it had shaped how she saw the world. In her world there was no hero now. No one to save the day. Just a skilled fighter leaving her to rot away forever.
As Cream observed the fox, Fiona continued her tale, too consumed in her grief and rage to see how the young bunny was analyzing her.
"There were people in that camp who knew I was there! So many of them knew me! I had been there for them all, watching out for them, doing everything I could to protect them! Yet when the brave hero of Mobius came for them all, only I was left behind! I screamed and cried and did everything to get their attention, but that arrogant blue fool didn't hear any of it! And then, after everyone was freed he left! Didn't bother doing any checking of the facility! Didn't think to even look if others might have been there! He just ran off into the sunset, that infuriating smirk on his face, congratulating himself on what a good job he'd done!"
So caught up in her tale, Fiona didn't realize her outraged cries had drawn the notice of Rosy. The hedgehog watched silently in confusion from her cell, while Cream struggled not to start crying, hearing the despair covered by all of Fiona's hatred.
"I lied to myself for days after that. 'Don't worry Fiona, they'll come back for you. It was just a mistake, they'll come save you soon.' But after two more weeks of being stuck in that cell, with that damn robot bringing me my one meal and nothing changing, I realized the truth. I had been abandoned, forgotten. Everything I had done for those people, forgotten about in an instant. I wasn't even an afterthought to them. And Sonic, that bastard was riding so high on his perceived greatness that he didn't even bother to see if there was anyone else trapped in the facility. I knew then that faith and hope were nothing but lies. Lies designed to keep us from giving into despair, only to cause us even more when reality arrives to crush us beneath its boot."
The fox went silent for a moment after that. The tension in her body relaxed and she stopped her pacing, closing her eyes and taking a few deep breaths. After a few moments of calming down, the fox turned back to Cream, a slight bit of surprise in her eye when she spotted Rosy silently listening as well. However Fiona continued on anyway, letting the painful memories sink back away into her mind. Not forgotten, but no longer overwhelming.
"After that I took my fate into my own hands. I spent days after that digging through the dirt with my bare hands, tunneling away until finally I broke free and escaped. I headed back to my old home, only to find it abandoned and my family long gone. They had left me behind just like everyone else. So I set off to make my way in the world and find a place for myself, but I carried that hard taught lesson with me always."
Slowly the fox walked forwards, kneeling before Cream, who watched her silently, her face conflicted and scared. Gently Fiona patted the young bunny's arms through the cell in a comforting manner, her expression easing slightly.
"I appreciate you trying to cheer me up kid, but at the end of the day, I have no false hopes in my mind. Sonic, Scourge, they aren't gonna risk their necks for us. In this world, the only person you can count on is yourself. Besides, I know Scourge well. I know he cares about me, at least more then he's cared about any of his previous girlfriends. But when it comes down to it, the one person he cares about more then any other is himself. I know he cares about me, but he won't do anything that puts himself at risk. He might try something against Eggman the next time he sees him, but he won't come here."
Fiona gently continued to pat Cream, hoping her movements felt soothing despite the hopelessness of words. Behind her she could see Rosy remained quiet, processing everything Fiona had said and coming to whatever conclusions could be achieved in that crazy broken mind of hers.
"So, that's what happened to keep you so quiet down here. My respect for my counterpart continues to grow with everything I learn about him."
Fiona turned sharply, a glare immediately coming to her muzzle as the pompous Doctor Eggman strode towards them out of the shadows, a malicious smirk on his face. Behind him, some sort of machine was pushed forwards. It was far too dark to make it out properly, but it looked like some sort of laser.
"I hope you have all had fun telling stories and getting to know one another, but unfortunately it is time to get down to business."
Rosy let out a giggle at this before her manic smile reappeared, her eyes filled with sadistic glee. "Ooh its been really great. Hearing all the neato stuff the Doctor did to Fiona. He sounds extra fun. Nothing compared to me though!"
Eggman paused for a moment, observing the crazy hedgehog, a slight nervousness coming to his face, before he dismissed it and strolled forwards looking as confident as ever.
"Yes well, moving on. I have been having a very enjoyable time sorting through Shard's memories. That machine has seen quite a few extraordinary things in his time, and has schematics and designs for several of my Counterpart's weapons and devices. In fact two of them in particular caught my interest. One of them I'll have to look into in the near future, but for now, allow me to show you my version of the previous Doctor's greatest invention."
With an exaggerated flourish he stepped aside, allowing the laser like machine to be brought closer to the cells. Rosy and Cream had no idea what it was, but something in the back of Fiona's mind told her this device was extremely dangerous. She couldn't remember ever having seen it before, but something about it seemed familiar. Like she'd been told about it or given a description at some point in the past but couldn't truly picture it.
"What's it do, what's it do!? Does it blow bubbles!? Does it shoot confetti!? Does it melt the flesh from your target's bones and leave them screaming in agony until they've been consumed in all encompassing waves of fire and death!? Ooh ooh, does it shoot out sparklers !?"
Everyone just stared at Rosy in silence as the hedgehog started bouncing up and down in excitement. Finally Eggman just gave an irritated sigh.
"You know what. I was going to test this thing out on Cream here (the bunny gave a startled yelp at this) but now, screw it, I pick you."
"Yay! what am I picked for? Will it be fun? Will I get to tear out Scourge's spine and beat him to death with it!"
Eggman just stared at her in annoyance before turning to his laser and aiming it at her while Cream cowered down and Fiona mentally fought over whether she should actually give a damn about what was about to happen to this crazy girl.
"Fiona and Cream my dears, prepare yourselves, because soon this will be your fate as well."
With that Eggman pulled a remote from his pocket and hit a switch. The laser flared to life and with a bright flash, Rosy was completely consumed. Her giggling and excitement rapidly changed into a scream of fear and pain, before there was a disturbing silence.
Fiona and Cream shielded their eyes from the blast. But as it died down, the sight before them was beyond horrifying.
The fox went silent, her eyes wide as she realized exactly what Eggman had done, an intense fear welling up within her. Cream however had only one reaction.
Scourge glared before charging into another spin as a rhinotank attempted to run him flat.
The group had made good time and with Nicole's tracker, they had come across Eggman's base. It wasn't as large as some of his usual bases, but Sonic suspected it likely had several layers beneath the ground to compensate. The whole thing had Eggman's signature flare to it. Large chemical barrels rose up high, alongside smoke stacks, belching poisonous fumes into the air. Metal plating on every surface, with all greenery ripped away, destroying the natural beauty of the world in his mechanical tyranny. Dozens of egg fighters, aero canons and other badniks models littered the place, all set and prepared for the group's arrival, just waiting to gun them down for their master. Above it all, the metal grinning duplicate of his face and mustache, the signature detail of any Eggman facility.
For all its defenses though, it hadn't taken long at all to fight their way to the entry point.
The rhinotank was obliterated in a shower of sparks as the green hedgehog slashed straight through it, it's large bulk doing absolutely nothing to the enraged Moebian. As the jacket clad hedgehog unfurled, an aero cannon took aim at him, only for a damaged and sparking egg fighter to collide with it in a large explosion. Scourge just glanced behind him to see Amy, her hammer unwound from her attack, looking quite pleased with herself.
"Thanks for the save Pinky, though believe me, I had it well handled." he said offhandedly, turning his focus back on the remaining security defenses.
Amy rolled her eyes and scoffed, but her response was cut off as another egg fighter bulldozed into her with a massive haymaker. Scourge let out a snide laugh before zooming forward in a green blur, slashing through several motobugs in the process.
Amy came to a rolling stop, groaning before giving a yelp as the egg fighter pressed the attack and tried to crush her skull. A buzzing blue disc suddenly dashed forward and slashed through the machine, splitting it in two. Amy smiled as the saw unfolded into the frowning form of Sonic. The blue hedgehog watched in irritation as his dimensional counterpart continued smashing away at Eggman's robots, completely ignoring that he'd just let an egg fighter tackle Amy. She could have been killed!
He turned to the pink hedgehog and stretched out a hand to help her to her feet. "Man that guy is a real jerk. He just stood there and laughed, right after you saved his butt. I swear as soon as we've saved Cream and the others I am going to smack him upside the head."
Using his hand, Amy pulled herself up, dusting off her dress a little and pulling out a new hammer from the ether, a determined expression on her face.
"Don't worry about him Sonic. He'll get what's coming to him soon enough. For now, let's focus on clearing out these badniks and saving our friends."
Sonic's eyes widened, before his iconic smirk returned to his face. "Now you're talking Amy. Lets get to it!"
The two gave a determined nod then zoomed off in different directions, Sonic becoming a blue of blue while Amy began swinging her hammer back and forth, smashing anything that came her way.
Tail's meanwhile was swooping through the air, Nicole's pad held tight in his hands as he ducked and weaved through the aerial combatants, flying about so erratically that their weapons were doing more damage to each other then doing anything resembling damage to him. Below him, Knuckles leapt high, then zoomed at the ground, fists outstretched. He hit the ground, sending out a tremor, tripping up several egg fighters that were then mercilessly sliced to ribbons in combined flashes of green and blue.
However just as the last badniks were being taken down, a large screen was deployed from the facilities roof, a static signal flashing before Eggman's face loomed over them, leering down at them menacingly.
"Well well, you lot certainly didn't take long. Then again, I should have come to expect that. You rodents are a tenacious lot after all."
Scourge glared up at the mustached villain, his eyes full of fury and his fist raised threateningly. "Alright asshole enough games! Give Fiona back or when I find you I'm gonna rip that greasy facial hair off your face and choke you to death with it!"
Eggman actually pulled back at this for a moment. Sonic had insulted him plenty of times in the past, but they all tended to be childish and filled with smug confidence. He wasn't used to receiving death threats. Perhaps all the inhabitants of Moebius were simply more violent in nature. He'd need to be careful with this one. One Sonic was bad enough. A Sonic that might actually do more then just try to stop his plans was certainly not someone to take lightly.
Still, he was hardly going to just take something like that lying down. What sort of evil genius would he be if he just let these furry freaks walk all over him.
"Hmm, it seems your still very wound up from earlier. Perhaps seeing an old friend will calm you down a little. After all, I know he's positively dying to see all of you again."
Letting out a dark chuckle, the view screen deactivated and pulled itself back. However before Scourge could smash down the facility doors and make good on his threat, a loud grinding noise echoed through the air.
A large section of the metal platform they all stood on opened up and a lift overflowing with badniks rose up. Large mechs designed to crush them easily. Egg fighters wielding chainsaw blades, or handheld energy shields designed to repel spin dash attacks. Dozens of security drones took to the air, lasers and machine guns at the ready. Turrets activated from the facility walls, all trained on the group of fighters, just ready to blast them.
But it was the figure at the head that drew all notice. Nicole's avatar flared to life, her face filled with terror at the sight before them.
Black and yellow steel, glistening in the skies dying light. Digitally displayed optics, flared red, with combatant sensors deployed and ready to engage. A metal fist clenched and ready to punch, while the other was converted into an energy canon, aimed straight for them. A crystal, no longer cracked or damaged, but filled with menacing red light.
The AI lynx could only stare back speechless as her greatest friend stood before them on Eggman's side.
With no words being said, Shard the Metal Sonic fired his canon.