"Hatter is complete. A few bugs in his programming have made him somewhat mercurial, but nothing unmanageable. Snively keeps asking about the design. I will admit, he looks and acts rather unusual. But the design schematics were a flash of inspiration that I couldn't keep out of my head. And besides, variety is the spice of life. As long as it doesn't threaten my power, I see no harm in letting Hatter loose."
Casey had just finished relaying the message to the others when she was nearly smashed into the wall by the Hatter's cane. That 'man', or whatever it was, moved a lot faster than it looked. The girl managed to roll out of the way before the teapot head smashed a small crater into the floor, breaking the dropped commlink into pieces.
"Off with her head!" Hatter snarled, raising his cane for yet another attack. The gangly frame of the straightjacket clad attacker seemed to spin at impossible angles, twisting and contorting to whatever position necessary. The tall man suddenly tensed as several blasts hit him in the back, giving Casey enough time to run out of Hatter's cane range. The machine man whirled around to see an enraged Fox Therianth aiming a guard's weapon straight at him.
"How could you do something like this?" McCloud growled as he fired a shot directly at Hatter's head. Before the insane creature could react, the energy blast hit him right in the face. The force of the blast forced Hatter's head back while his feet stayed in place, causing his body to bend over backwards like a contortionist.
For a split second, it looked like it was dead, not moving in the slightest. But then, as casually as if he had simply been stretching, the Hatter brought his chest and head back up, standing up straight and glaring ferociously at his attacker. The blast had blown off a good chunk of his face, revealing several gears and wires inside his head. Another robot, albeit a much more sophisticated one.
"I like what I do and I do what I like. Simple as that." He answered before raising his hand at McCloud. At first it just looked like he was making a threatening gesture, but then the tips of his finger screwed off and what looked like a tiny missile jettisoned out. McCloud barely had time to duck before the projectile hit the wall behind him. A smoldering hole told the fox what would've happened had he been slower.
Hatter seemed to grow more irritated, and several more miniature missiles were fired from his finger compartment. McCloud dodged them all, although several explosions came close enough to burn his fur. The mechanical man roared in frustration to the target that wouldn't stay still long enough.
Meanwhile, Casey was trying desperately to break open the glass case with a handy wrench. Despite her best efforts, she could barely crack the glass. Jimi struggled from inside, trying to free himself from the wires that drained his electricity to power the despicable machine. The Robotocizer kept running, the loud noise providing a dissonant soundtrack to the events in the room.
Casey stopped to get her breath back. "DAMMIT!" She wasn't strong enough to break this glass – not with this wrench, anyway. She needed something more powerful. She tried to think of something that would be damaging enough to break this glass, when she suddenly heard a noise from another part of the room.
Looking up made her gasp. The metal claw was coming back into the room, carrying another struggling child to the Robotocizer. He didn't have much time. Neither did Casey.
Hatter snarled as McCloud continued to dodge his attacks. Rather than stand around shooting and missing, the mecha leapt towards the fox and tried to grab him. McCloud quickly backtracked, avoiding Hatter's long reach. Hatter's chest and arms spun about suddenly, his cane catching McCloud's legs. The Fox Therianth tripped and landed on the floor hard.
McCloud rolled over to see the immense Hatter glowering down at him, finger gun at the ready. The entire situation would've been ridiculous had it not been for the fact that this homicidal creature had kidnapped, imprisoned, tortured and turned into mindless soldiers countless children. The boy that the claw was carrying was almost directly over the machines entrance hatch, and he desperately shut his eyes waiting for the inevitable.
McCloud raised his blaster and unloaded the rest of his clip into the mecha's chest. Hatter didn't even blink when the blasts made large holes in his straightjacket exposing more machinery. His face smirked mockingly. "Waste of time. And if you knew time as well as I, you wouldn't dream of wasting it!" hissing, Hatter readied another blast right at the hapless fox…
When a wrench suddenly connected with the back of his head, surprising him. The finger shifted away from the target, and the missile hit the floor right underneath Hatter. The blast singed McCloud's tail and threw Hatter back in an undignified manner, enabling the fox to scuttle to his feet and retreat. The tall mecha was forced onto his back, but he almost immediately leapt back upright and turned his attention to the teenage rocker who messed up his aim.
"BRAT!" He snarled, firing a quick missile right at Casey Lynch. The girl saw it coming, and just as the missile started streaking towards her, she leapt out of it's way. The projectile kept going past her towards the machine behind her…
Casey raised her arms to protect herself from the glass and metal shards flung out by the explosion. Hatter snarled and readied another fire, but then something caught his ear. Silence.
The whirring and clanking and hissing of the primitive Robotocizer had abruptly stopped. The lights inside the machine had gone out, and the mechanical delivery arm had stopped just above the Robotocizer, still clutching it's hapless passenger. The generator that had provided the power for his precious machine was left in smoldering ruins. Hatter's eyes widened as he suddenly realized his mistake. "Oh dear."
"Fail." Casey growled.
A lightning bolt erupted from the broken glass prison, hitting Hatter dead on. His circuits and gears were suddenly overloaded with powerful electricity. His limbs began to spasm as a pained scream escaped his mouth. From where McCloud stood, Hatter was a whirlwind of randomly rotating limbs and gears illuminated with yellow-white light. The cane was flung aside, but oddly the hat remained on his violently twitching head.
Several tiny explosions erupted all over his body, and he stopped twitching despite the onslaught of electricity. The electric current ceased as well, allowing the lifeless mecha to fall in a twisted heap on the floor. Hatter, the inhuman machine who creating this instrument of destruction, was dead. Destroyed.
The child dangling over the defunct Robotocizer breathed a sigh of relief.
Jimi crawled out of the broken cage, trying to get his breath back. Casey immediately ran up to her pet, relieved tears in her eyes. The Pikachu was abruptly swept up into her cut arms as Casey embraced her friend tightly. "It's alright, buddy. It's alright now." She babbled. Jimi nodded, closing his eyes.
McCloud walked up to the deactivated mecha, scowling at the machine. The fox stood over Hatter for a second, thinking about all that this machine had done and what they had been tricked into doing. With a snarl, McCloud forced his boot into the creature's neck, stomping down hard. The metal neck, which had been more or less destroyed by Jimi's thunderbolt, was severed and Hatter's head rolled away.
McCloud took a deep breath and turned to both Casey and the child over the machine. If they hadn't destroyed Hatter, that boy would've been as good as dead. They had been doing a lot of killing since they entered this place. Now, there was something beautifully refreshing about saving just one life now.
"The trial runs of Hatter's Robotocizer prototype are a success! I had to use the laughable technology left behind by Cipher in order to fix the brainwashing procedure. It still isn't entirely perfect…they can only follow the most basic of orders. Still, nothing that can't be fixed. And I have the most delicious idea for another test candidate…"
"You cannot be serious!" Aven shouted. "How could the chronicler know that the target is inside?" The elite still had the gun pointed at the still mecha's weak point, but the recent news had caused his superiors to hesitate.
Lara tapped her commlink again. "Signal's gone…she's not responding. Neither is McCloud." She groaned. "I can't get any more information."
Arbiter glanced at the mecha. The green tank had stopped firing, apparently reloading it's weapons. "Even if what she said is true, would it not be better to..."
"I know what you're thinking, Arbiter. No." Lara retorted. "The assignment was to get her back alive. If she's in that thing, we have to get her out."
Aven scowled. "Then what do you propose we –"
The green mecha abruptly reactivated itself and blasted away Aven's cover. Everyone else had to duck for cover as the green mecha started firing it's multitude of weaponry, blasting more holes and burns into the room's floor and walls.
Aven shook his head clear and quickly got back up, cursing under his breath as he found another spot to hide. If he'd fired when he had the opportunity, this could've been prevented. How could the target be 'inside' there? If she was, she was definitely not cooperative. Mind-control came to mind, but then it would make sense to kill her and free her of the indignity of being a puppet. Arbiter understood…he had encountered that sort of thing during the Halo wars. What was different about this?
That was the same question Arbiter was asking Lara, although the words were lost in the noise of the gunfire. Still, the Coalition's orders were orders. They had to at least try to get Sally out of that mecha without killing her…
Arbiter suddenly had a realization. The doctor's hasty departure, the lockdown, the kidnapping, the mecha, the obvious weak spot…this wasn't a rushed plan born of desperation, this was a disturbingly brilliant stratagem. Robotnik knew the league would come in guns blazing, and would regard this mecha as yet another enemy. Shooting at the obvious weak spot would kill Sally…if it hadn't already. They had been tricked.
They couldn't fire at the mecha carrying Sally. They'd have to think of something else. "All operatives, do not engage!" He roared over the commlink.
"WHAT?!" Aven yelled from his hiding spot. The green mecha turned around to look at the loud elite, whirling it's head 180 degrees. Recognizing the operative that had seriously wounded it, it turned it's entire attention and arsenal towards the elite.
Lara noticed the smoldering hole at the base of the mecha's 'neck', and quickly formulated a plan that she shared with Arbiter. The Sangheili nodded in agreement, not seeing any other options available. Fortunately, the mecha had turned it's back to Arbiter and Lara, giving him just the opportunity he needed.
On seeing the huge mecha bearing down on him, Aven instinctively reloaded his weapon.
The machine carrying Sally raised it's weapons, ready to let out another cascade of bullets.
Arbiter leapt onto the back of the machine, grabbing the hole at the base of the neck and pulling up.
Detecting the threat onto it, the guns moved to point directly at the Arbiter.
Without thinking, Aven fired another shot into the red circle.
The machine's guns didn't fire, and the entire mecha stood still. Arbiter cast a momentary glance at Aven before tearing off the rest of the green mechanical head. An electric sparking was heard as wires were ripped out and steel was torn off. The powerful Sangheili chucked the metal head aside and looked down into the machine.
Sally Acorn had been badly mutilated, but the target was still recognizable. Some apparatus around the head covering blank eyes explained her violent streaks. The mechanism that held her inside and allowed the mind-controlled Therianth to move and fire was sadistic in design. Two bleeding wounds on her chest couldn't be accounted for with the machine. She was still breathing, though.
Arbiter radioed the Master Chief "Clear. We need a medical unit down here NOW. The coordinates are being set." They had the target now…hopefully. If Casey had radioed them sooner, it might not have been this messy.
Aven couldn't help but feel everyone looking at him. "What?! Why are you all staring at me? That machine would kill all of us, what else could I do? What?!" He demanded.
Arbiter sighed, before stepping aside to allow Lara to do some basic CPR and keep Sally alive long enough for the medics to arrive. Their 'target' had been found, but it was because of them she was in critical condition. However any disciplinary actions would have to wait until they were back at base, and when Sally was being treated.
Strangely, Arbiter wasn't looking forward to that.
"…alright. Mission was a success, I guess. The target, Sally Acorn, has been rescued, although she's now in...the hospital. Hurt pretty bad. No significant loss of agents…several have been hospitalized though. Lot of hospitalizations. Plenty of casualties inside, though. Christ…nuh-nothing else to say. End record."
Casey ended her report with a long sigh. With the propulsion systems damaged, the League was forced to sit and wait until another Phantom came to pick them up and bring them back to base. This didn't please any of them. Most of them, including Casey and McCloud, were eager to leave this place behind. Casey was sitting down in one of the Master Chief's briefing rooms, watching the medical units take Sally away. Jimi slept off his own ordeal in her lap.
Sitting across from her was an elite in blue armor. Aven was upset, but he didn't know if it was shame, anger, disappointment or disgust he felt. That only made him even more frustrated. The fact that he had chosen the same room as Casey didn't help, but for some reason he didn't leave.
Taking a deep breath, Aven finally spoke. "I suppose I should thank you." He remarked grudgingly.
"Eh?" Casey wasn't really listening, still watching out the window.
"If you had not contacted us when you did, the target would have been…" Aven couldn't finish the sentence. He knew what would've happened if he had fired that second shot when he could've, and he was sure Casey knew as well. He braced himself for the snappy retort that would inevitably come.
Except it didn't. Casey stayed completely silent, staring out the window. Her strangely quiet and solemn demeanor, a lot different than how he remembered, confused Aven. "Nothing to say, chronicler?"
"I destroyed an army of those automatons."
Aven blinked, still a bit confused. "Good for you, what…"
"Do you know what was IN them?" Casey snapped back, glancing up at the elite for a second before returning her gaze to the window. The harsh tone of her response troubled Aven.
Aven followed her gaze outside, and looked out a nearby window. Let out of the building were several human and Therianth children, wearing straightjackets and looking very traumatized. The elite put two and two together. The resulting thought made him slightly sick, but he tried to rationalize it.
"Well…they…um…the ones that were…" he stammered slightly. "Their suffering is…"
"Aven, shut up."
Aven nearly retorted, but after careful consideration and reflection he simply sighed and sat back into his seat. So much for the joys of battle and the thrill of victory.
"Mr. Wesker, I have carefully considered your offer and I accept. The recreation of this so-called 'Devil's Machine' intrigues me, and it is true I am the only one intelligent enough to reproduce this fabled machine. As long as I am properly supplied and funded, I will be able to fulfill your request. However, I ask that you wait a little longer. There are things I must see to before I relocate."
The original generators of the Cipher lab were too weak and underpowered to be useful for the Robotocizer. The machine prototype – as well as the force field - required a huge amount of energy to work, and the electrical generators simply could not produce that energy. Fortunately, Robotnik had kept a souvenir from his time as dictator.
Inside the generator Jimi's thunderbolt had wrecked, hidden behind the turbine, was a glowing orb that pulsed with unnatural energy. It had fallen from the sky into Robotropolis, and Robotnik had quickly discovered it's usefulness as a near-perpetual energy source. With the proper equipment, it produced more than enough energy to power his machines. Now, with the generator around it destroyed, the orb simply pulsed, casting a dim light into the shadows.
In the shadows appeared an emaciated cat, who grinned at the power before him. The Cheshire Cat licked his teeth and gently caressed the orb before him. He could feel the power emanating at the very touch. Robotnik had to refine the energy into something he could use, but as it was…well, the possibilities were endless.
The cat loved having a bit of power. Because of his less-than-healthy stature, he had very little strength, and couldn't control things like most people could. But he was clever. He was stealthy. And he knew how to use that to make people bend to his will, while he watched from the shadows with a dark glee.
He had been the one to inspire Robotnik's unusual design for the Hatter. It was amazing how much a few whispers and appeals to his ego could do. That was what the cat enjoyed...gently pushing matters to their destinies and endgames, for good or ill, and watching from the background to see the entertaining results. That was the power he enjoyed.
Before him now was REAL power. It was a shame he couldn't take that power then and there. He would have to settle for touching it when he took it. But there would be more. Much more. The creature purred contentedly at the thought of what could be accomplished…and what would be accomplished.
But that was for another time. This would be needed later, much later. Right now, the cat vanished with the orb. The room sank into complete darkness as the creature departed with it's target.
The League would need another nudge soon...and he couldn't wait to see the results.