The Elevator closed as silently as they opened, leaving the two occupants inside whitewashed walls. As it moved downward, the Fox steadied himself against a bar, grunting as he attempted to shrug off the effects of days of self-pity and drink.
The gray feather on the other end flexed a metal arm, an obvious robotic replacement that Jerry, the Fox, could make out in clearer detail, though his head still swam. It was hard to focus really. Maybe he should have had more water. Or maybe some more scotch.
“Well?” Jerry asked as the elevator had gone a few moments downward in its descent.
“Well?” She asked back, presenting the arm, “What should I tell you? The lie, or the truth?”
Jerry perked his ears, his gold gaze focusing on Mags’ face, “Tell me the truth, assume I know the lie,” he grunted. There was something in the air that pricked his fur, he just quite could not put his finger on it. It was as if someone else was watching him, and he just could not see them. Absently, he belted his swords back on his hips, then played with the end of one of them as she started her story.
“Wade discovered something,” Mags gestured at the elevator. “He found an old Overlander bunker here in the mountains, an observation post maybe, researching Mobians during the Great War. We aren’t really sure. But, he knocked out the old wall to the office to increase the size of the room and behold, there was a shaft going straight down. Wade, being ever so curious, explored the base with me in tow. We found evidence that some of its computers were being put to use in minuscule projects by someone else. That was about a month after his retirement.”
Mags paused as the elevator slowed to a halt, the doors opened, and she stepped out, looking back towards Jerry, who hesitated at the well lit, white-walled passage.
“Drink wearing off that you don’t feel as bold as you did?” she asked with a grin on her beak.
Jerry scowled, snorted, and moved forward, “Yeah yeah, I’m coming, what does this have to do with your arm?” he questioned, his eyes never leaving the back of her skull as they moved forward.
Margaret smiled and chirped cheerfully. “Getting there.”
“You see, Wade brought this to the attention to a person we’re going to call Control. Control, after pouring over the data, presented a horrible fact to Wade, which drove him to act. He enlisted the help of myself and two others, though, in the end, I never got past the training.” she mused sadly, twirling her fingers around her.
“The elevator we fashioned malfunctioned about eight months ago, and I lost my arm. Damaged well beyond repair at the bicep. In order to give me any sort of independence Wade fastened a prosthetic. I still don’t have full motion control, I can’t raise it but so high and move it so far back.” Mags mused sadly.
“I would have been MARS3,” Mags looked back to Jerry, who just stared at her with furrowed brows.
“The fuck is a MARS3?” Jerry grunted sleepily.
“What did Wade need help for? He could have come to us, no offense.” the Fox added the last part quickly, though Mags did laugh.
“Control asked the very same thing, Wade told her the less the better, so this is top secret,” she finished as they came to a set of double doors, larger than normal for a Mobian, but good enough for an average-sized Overlander.
“By whose authority?” Jerry asked, furrowing his brows.
"That is on a need to know basis, and you do not need to know." a feminine voice announced from hidden speakers, and the doors slid open.
Jerry whirled, the voice sounding as if it came from behind him. As the doors hissed open, he drew a saber, turning round again at the sound. Jerry turned so fast he almost fell forward in his state of intoxication. A freehand shot out to the wall, steadying the imbalanced Fox.
"Quick reflexes for someone inebriated." the voice noted.
Margaret concurred, “Pain tolerance too, though I think that’s the hooch in him.”
“Huh, what? Who the hells is that?” Jerry muttered, then stumbled to the wide table that stood dominate in a nearly empty room.
"My name is Control.” the Voice spoke again.
Jerry looked about once more, the voice sounding just behind him, but Gods he could not see who was talking!
“That’s a cover, none with sense names their kids like that, where are you?” Jerry countered, continuing to spin around in a drunken stumble.
"Yes, and Tyson isn’t your real name, so let’s not go about asking questions about where or who I am."
The fur on the Fox stood on end, and he bared his teeth.
“What do you know about me?”
"More than Mrs. Duckington. Awarded the Purple Star for wounds suffered at the battle of Horrow’s Vale, decorated twice for Bravery. Once for the Battle of the Great Plains and the second fighting side by side with General Prower as the Mobian Royal Army Drove the Overlanders from the walls of Mobotropolis. You lost your Father at the Battle of High-Low Tower, your Brother fell early during the siege of Mobotropolis, your Mother during the routing, and your Si-"
“-I have no Sister!” Jerry finished for Control, ramming the sword hilt into the table as hateful gold eyes snapped around the room.
"I see, if you insist, the family connection is something I am willing to overlook."
“Overlook?” Jerry demanded, confused more so than ever, then his eyes, still reflecting frustrated drunken rage, looked to Margaret, “Do you care to elaborate or do I have to fucking guess everything?”
What did Jerry’s alienation of his only surviving sibling have anything to do with whatever was going on?
"Vulgar as well, please continue Mrs. Duckington, I have something else to look into.”
“Control,” Margaret nodded towards the ceiling, then gestured towards the table, “Wade, give me a visual of mission parameter seven.”
Wade’s voice, his Sergeant’s voice, acknowledge the request, or was it an order? Jerry looked up to the ceiling and down at Margaret, his confusion mounting.
“Wade and two others started the MARS program, Mobile Assault, and Reconnaissance Specialists. They were to launch covert assaults and provide confidential intelligence to other agencies. One of which used to be the Royal Secret Services.”
Jerry looked to interrupt with a snide comment about the ‘Secret Services’ but Margaret cut him off
“We stopped interacting with them shortly before the Civil War. They were prodding for the identities of our agents and our resources, and in our line of work we have to keep our activities secret or wind up on everyone’s hit list.”
“And the voice? Is that Wade?” Jerry asked, glancing around once more as if the Old Duck would appear before him.
“No, not the Wade you knew and served with, that was an artificial intelligence designed by my Husband, he used to go by the name Jeebs, but since Wade-”
“-What happened to Sarge?”
Margaret hesitated, her feathers ruffling around her neck. “Wade, MARS1 assigned a Recon mission into this area here.”
The Gray Sparrow indicated that Jerry looks on the map with her natural arm. Jerry looked down, unfocused, but he quickly sucked in his breath at the sight.
The map displayed a three-dimensional view of a deep ravine in the Badlands, known as Traitor’s Gulch. It was where it had been speculated by whoever was left of those of academic standings that Julian Kintobor accumulated their vast robotic army and their floating battleship. According to the same speculators, it was here that Julian assumed his identity of Dr. Ivo Robotnik and launched his coup d’etat, plunging Mobius into an endless Global Conflict.
It was where a bulbous ship, ripped from nightmares deep in the corners of Jerry’s mind, floated just within its very cliffs.
Jerry had seen it only once before in his life.
And the peace Jerry and Countless Souls paid for with Blood had been Lost in a Single Day.
“Is that what I think it is?” Jerry demanded, quickly sobering up. The adrenaline that hit the Fox’s veins quickly burned away the haze of alcohol in his system. Though his body was still unsteady, Jerry’s attention had sharpened to a knife’s edge.
“Yes, it’s a battleship, but the markings sent back to us were not of the Eggman Empire,” Margaret paused, as if not wanting to really part with this information. Yet she did so, slowly, so she couldn’t be mistaken, “But were of the Battle Standards of House Kintobor-”
Jerry nearly hissed, he knew the name, backward, and front, “-Kintobor? Not Eggman, an actual factual Kintobor?”
“We don’t know much on that, now do we?” Margaret countered, “MARS1 assigned MARS2 to recon the perimeter, she sent us imagery before having the Clear to sabotage the refinery base nearby.”
“MARS2 was followed and took refuge in the Refinery. She held out for a few hours while we scrambled to rescue her. When she was close to being captured, and not wanting to risk her comrades, MARS2′s sacrifice herself and leveled the entire Facility but delayed the inevitable. MARS1 and 3 recovered, some, of her body.”
Jerry noted the old Sparrow paused with pain on her face every time she mentioned MARS1.
“MARS3 was sent to investigate a detachment of old module recon drones dispatched from that location towards the Forbidden Mountains, we lost contact with him before MARS1. Wade.” Margaret frowned, shaking her head.
“Wade went in there alone, to that ship, and he didn’t come back.” Mags finished as she stared at the image on the table.
Jerry looked up from the map. “Then he could be alive?”
Margaret shook her head in a slow denial, whispering, “He would have come back for me,”
There was a pause there, and awkwardly, Margaret cleared her throat.
“Anyway, what we could gather before Wade severed the land-lines and remote accesses, is that someone there has been gathering resources. Slowly, trying to do so where they won’t be detected readily by anyone, including our current problem makers.”
Mags pointed at the battleship. “And they have been doing so for years.”
Mags moved around the desk, bringing another three-dimensional image for Jerry’s viewing ‘pleasure’, then moved around once more to stand beside him. The image was also nightmarish and sent a chill down Jerry’s spine.
It was man-sized, gray armor plates on a black body, complete with spikes on its fists, elbows, knees and the very top of a saucer-shaped head.
“These are old model SWATbots, first-generation equipment, and what MARS2 could figure from her own close scans, the same power supply, and manufacture that were used for the initial years of Robotnik’s-”
“Stop,” Jerry shook his head, “No, stop, this is way too big. Why not call Sonic, let him know, he’s the superhero.” And Sonic was. They were the fastest thing alive. The Blue Blur could go in, wipe out everything and be out before anyone realized what had happened.
"We need an expendable assist, to put it bluntly, Corporal Tyson," Control’s voice returned, giving Jerry a start, ”At this point, Sonic is in mortal combat with the Iron Dominion."
"This resurgence of House Kintobor, or an impostor, is something that needs to be settled in secret. Poor morale had already seen saw the fall of the Kingdom of Acorn, what do you think will happen if that Battleship launches on New Mobotobolis? How many innocents will be lost in the chaos that will ensue?”
“How do you think the World would react knowing there is another Eggman?”
The Fox said something under his breath, Margaret did not catch it, but then he spoke up, “So you need someone to do what? Take on a threat to Mobian freedom on a suicide mission?”
"I will not lie to you, but the likelihood of survival is moot. They will know you are coming, you will be completely and utterly outnumbered, but MARS1, Wade Duckington, knew the risks and despite age, he felt honor-bound to try."
“I suppose if I don’t do this, I’d still be wanted for desertion?” Jerry asked, frowning as he felt uncomfortable even suggesting what he was thinking, “And if I don’t comply, you’ll make my immediate location known?”
“Actually, Commander Prower, prior to Fort Acorn’s Fall, claimed that you retired from your position, pending personal leave. The Republican Guard wants you for questioning for the timing of your departure, but I am sure they have nothing on you that will put you in the Devil’s Gulag, regardless if you accept or not," Control attempted to reassure the Fox.
It failed, but Jerry relished any attempt to arrest him.
"However, because of the sensitive nature of this material, and what you have been made privy to, I will be insistent in you joining us. Due to MARS3′s absence, and Mrs. Duckington’s disability, you are the only option I have available.”
Control somehow replaced the holographic image with one that looked to be a heavily censored war record.
Jerry’s War Record.
It was very official and suspiciously short. Even some of Jerry’s accommodations, including ‘official’ name of the Unit he served with, right down to his face had been covered with permanent, black ink. It was the only paper documentation that had Jerry’s name on in the entire War Ministry.
Which it should have been destroyed. Most, if not all records lost when the Old Kingdom had been nuked into oblivion by a treacherous Overlander who still, somehow, lived.
Jerry’s eye narrowed on the Record, his ears pressing against his scalp. How much did this ‘Control’ know?
“Short of Wade, you have more field experience than any other available, quote-unquote, ‘Scout’ or Mercenary within five hundred miles. You are also the only one capable of following Orders in the parameter needed for you to succeed.”
Again, Control dropped a hint that she knew more. Jerry was immediately suspicious.
Yet, Control was promising a fight. The disembodied voice touched a cord that strummed through the Fox. Even intoxicated, that mind of his went back to a bright blue day.
A day filled with smoke and burnt ozone that he could, even now, smell. The sound of laser fire echoing around him with showers of sparks mingled with the cries of the wounded. Jerry could see, with uttermost clarity, wave after wave of SWATbots marching coldly towards the gates of the Castle Acorn. What was left of the Royal Guard bitterly stood their ground, unknowing that their Sovereign had been already captured.
That this meager resistance had already been defeated.
A lone Duck, holding their Falchion overhead, cried out Royal Guard’s credence for grim and final inspiration. They were Doomed. It was Hopeless.
But they held for ten horrible minutes, with no hope for themselves, no call for a parley, no hint of surrender.
They had to be taken by force and they did not go quietly.
“I’ve done worse,” Jerry finally admitted with an almost casual shrug of his shoulders. This was not going to end pretty, but to strike out against the House of Kintobor? That was just as good as getting a free shot at that treacherous Commander.
No amount of ‘good words’ were changing Jerry’s mind on Prower. If he lived through this, then the one-eyed Traitor and their Republic would be next.
“I’m in, now what part of this thing I poke at with a sharp stick to make it go boom?”
Margaret stifled a laugh at Jerry’s drunken display. Control, however, gave an exasperated sigh.
They had only two weeks.
In three weeks, according to the calculations of Control, the floating Battleship marked as a war vessel of House Kintobor, would be fully operational. Jerry was shown to a room, deep in the underground base, where he had a selection of clothes for him to change into in the morning after a shower.
Despite an offer to clean his uniform, Jerry saw to it himself before Margaret came for him that morning. It was clean, pressed and laid out over a table, ready and fit to wear, though he wore a blue hoodie instead.
Jerry had showered, his limp brown hair had a wet sheen to it, his fur damp, but it was more than likely he took one to wake himself up. It was obvious to Mags that he did not sleep well, there were dark circles around his eyes. Yet, compared from last night, Jerry moved steadier, his expression dispassionate and calm.
When Mags escorted him just down the hall to the same room, the same table, Jerry had his breakfast right there as he steadied the holographic map before him. Control took an hour longer to come over the communications, citing that the fighting around New Mobotropolis was keeping her from her duties to the Program.
All the while they waited for Control, Jerry looked over the terrain of the holographic map. He was studying it. Absorbing it in. Hating it. Mags could see the anger burning in those eyes, focusing on parts of the map as if trying to burn holes through defensive positions. It was as if Jerry had been insulted by the mere existence of the bunkers, or those machines, or the unknown they could not get images of.
Why? Why did he display so much rage?
Before Julian Kintobor became Dr. Robotnik, Mags had been privy to Wade’s plans. It would have been a year before Wade would have been out of the soldiery business. Wade wanted his own Tavern, settle down with his beloved Mags and live happily somewhere away from civilization.
Then Kintobor betrayed them all. Mags, like many, did not make it out of Mobotropolis and had been Robotized. When they were freed from their Machine like Prison, Wade reunited with her, and they quickly returned to that dream.
Yet that call to Action plagued them both, and they both were happy to join the MARS Program to rejoin the Fight. Mags had to be left behind due to her injury, she did not begrudge Wade for going on.
Now Mags was looking on a former member of Wade’s squad from that dark time that History called the Great War, she now realized her Husband never spoke of those times. The Old Sparrow also could not help seeing a stark contrast in personality. Wade had been upbeat and talkative. Yammering a mile a minute over something that had sparked Wade’s interest.
Jerry was not upbeat. Mags thought their mood would improve when they did not have the effects of alcohol burning in his veins. But there was a quiet hatred Jerry poured out of his soul at the map. The sort of hate only would see in horror films from the monsters and maniacs that lurked just outside the campfire light.
It did not instill Mags with a lot of confidence.
"Good morning." Control’s voice rang quietly in the room.
Jerry glanced up, then returned his baleful glare down at the map.
“Let’s skip that and get straight to the point of it. I’m awake and my brain is working better than it did before, answer stands, I’m in. Now, what do I have to do to blow that ugly piece of Overlander shit out of Mobian skies?”
"Well, that answers my first question, my next, however, is the Chain of Command."
Margaret saw the fur on Jerry’s body stand on end as he reared.
“You mean where my loyalty lies?” Jerry demanded, apparently not wanting to approach the subject, but since it was brought up.
"You serve me." Control noted in a matter-of-fact tone, ”If you are to be MARS4, you must obey my every order even if it means in a proxy, serving the Republic."
Jerry’s fur was still bristling in some sort of rage,
“For Honor, For Justice, For the King!” Jerry began to chant.
“No Matter the Cost!” the Fox added as he thumped his chest to emphasize the point. Wade had spoken those words more than once, it was the Royal Guard’s creed, normally shortened to For the King!
Jerry did not sound nor appear the type to take those words to heart. Yet the enthusiasm in which Jerry quoted it, and the speed, it was clear it had been indoctrinated into his blood.
“Nowhere in there does it say I serve the Republic that betrayed me or some voice from the air I just met.” Jerry challenged defiantly, “Just because I agreed to this suicide mission doesn’t mean I’m a dog doing tricks for their benefit.”
“Get me to where the problem is and let me be me,” Jerry added, there was a hint of a smile on his face to barely mask the anger in his tone. “With hope, we both get what we want,”
"Then you tell me how to destroy a million tons worth of equipment with limited resources and limited personnel?" Control retorted in the same calm, matter-of-fact fashion that told Margaret she had prepared for this part of their encounter.
Jerry had no answer. Instead, he just lowered his gaze to the ship in question, scowling at it since he had nowhere else to send his ire.
After a moment more of silence, Control continued.
"Your record shows that you follow orders without question or regard to your personal safety, which garnered you your awards. This same record shows that you have the tendency to violate withdrawal orders for petty vengeance.”
“Petty Vengeance?!” Jerry shot back. That smile disappeared, and he glared up at the ceiling. The fur stood up on end as Jerry sought the source of the voice in the room, momentarily forgetting it was being pumped from a speaker box.
“It isn’t Petty when it’s an Overlander!”
"That War is Over Corporal, it has been for a very long time." Control observed with a sternness in her voice Margaret had not heard before. ”Now we’re facing an enemy who, I can speculate, has no need for allies and no qualms for rewarding cooperation with treachery. Their goal? The Complete Subjection and Enslavement of every life-form on this Planet, and that’s only if we’re lucky. I need you to obey whatever order I give you for the good of Mobius itself, and not just the Republic or the King."
Jerry turned on the spot, again, seeking her out as he vented, “Orders come from a leader that can be trusted, I don’t know you-”
"-And yet you knew Commander Prower and he betrayed the Principles you swore to uphold. You even walked out on the very people who expected you to be there for them just days before the Iron Dominion sacked Fort Acorn." Control countered, which shut Jerry up in mid-argument.
"Wade saw fit to follow my command.”
“And he’s dead.” Jerry observed without a second thought.
“He volunteered.” Mags spoke up, her voice had an angry quake she did not intend to have. Yet, the Old Sparrow had been disappointed her husband had been brought up like that.
“He knew the risks, he knew what he was getting into, and he died trying to fulfill her orders.”
Jerry turned to Mags, the smoldering hatred that burned without restraint faded in those golden eyes the instant they lay on the Gray Sparrow. Sadness reflected from sadness.
Jerry’s ears folded against their scalp and they leaned heavily against the holographic table. They wrestled with whatever anger that festered within, and sighed long and hard before they bothered to peer back up once more.
“Fine,” The Fox muttered, “Where do I sign?”
There was a pause in the air as if Control had not expected to gain the upper hand in this scenario. Mags was expecting him to continue to argue until they had no choice but to send him on his way, or at least he would lie and go along with it.
Jerry’s body language showed defeat. He was not going to argue any further on who was in command or not. Apparently, Control had to be viewing this from one of the many cameras they had across the base and was flabbergasted.
"From this point forth." Control finally spoke, ”You are MARS4, Mrs. Duckington, if you have the time, please take Specialist Four to the armory for outfitting. Then turn him over to Jeebs for evaluation and weapons familiarization.”
“I don’t think that would be a good idea,” Margaret remarked sadly. “I saw how he reacted to the SWATbot image.”
"I know, but if he is going to work for this program, then he will have to be introduced. Ask Bron to give me a call, he has been looking to make himself useful, I would like to make a request of him.”
Jerry looked between them, or he thought he looked between them. He just noticed the camera in the upper left corner of the room himself before looking to Mags, voicing the question. “What am I doing now?”
“You are going to overlook the Armoury,” Mags explained, and escorted him through another set of doors. They were in yet another corridor of white walls and tall ceilings. Jerry knew Overlander craftsmanship, and was disgusted by it. He said nothing however, and kept to himself as he followed after the Old Sparrow. “We have a wide variety of firearms and edged weaponry to fit someone of your stature.”
“Fire what?” There was honest confusion in Jerry’s voice as his attention quickly focused on Mags again.
“Guns,” Margaret explained, a grin forming on her beak, “Overlander, and Mobian.”
“Mobians don’t make guns,” Jerry immediately fell on the old edict that Guns were Forbidden in the Kingdom of Acorn. During the war, Jerry had his bow, his swords, and his knife. The guns that were captured were to be turned over to Command for disposal or inspection. That included the one his former squad leader disassembled and nearly shot themselves with.
“Wade did. We’ve gear to rival even the Army in Station Square, all thanks to his tinkering and inventing.” Margaret spoke with a hint of pride in her voice.
“Sarge an inventor?” Jerry asked, unsure of the notion.
“Sure, my husband even made me this arm. Wade was always interested in sciences more than war, yet he was more of a warrior than he was a scientist,” Mags smiled, holding out the metal arm to flex it.
“He promised me he’d see about giving my arm a full motion control overhaul, but-” The Sparrow drifted off sadly, then shook the thoughts from her mind.
Jerry simply nodded to himself. Wade had never gotten a chance to finish their work. Jerry did not understand robotics to well. He knew how to disassemble a ComBOT with his blades. He could keep his Hoverbike, Elizabeth, in working order. But advanced Engineering and constructing was way beyond his limited knowledge.
“Now, what about this Wade? I’m not big on AI, NICOLE was a piece of work, but this thing?” Jerry pointed towards the ceiling.
“Wade isn’t anything like NICOLE, the program itself is basic,” Margaret smiled back to Jerry. “I love the AI to death, but he’s not overly bright,”
“The original name for the AI, but given to something more complicated,” Mags said after length. “Jeebs is more like our personal SWATbot,”
“Wait, whoa, back up there, a fuck what-to-the huh?” Jerry stopped walking with his fur bristling once more.
Mags knew that this was a bad idea, “Relax, it’s an AI in a suit of armor, it’s more of an extension for the Wade AI than an actual robot.”
Jerry just stared at her.
“What can I say?” Mags asked, smiling once more, “Wade was a really smart Duck.”
“Smarter than what we thought he was, weapons? Artificial Intelligence? Restoring this? Your Wing?” Jerry asked, frowning as thought back to the days Sergeant Wade Duckington toyed with electronic gizmo’s Jerry could not pronounce if he tried. Was it there? His smarts? The whole time? And no one noticed?
“Control gave him some help. Despite her limitations, she’s really smart too, but the weapons?”
Margaret gestured him onward, “Those were all Wade’s babies.”