Chapter 2 - Nickel
The sweet pasture became a blur in his peripherals, but the road ahead had never been clearer. His feet flew over the unfenced paddocks, crossing an hours worth of countryside in a matter of minutes. His perfectly sleek body easily cut a path through the air, his hands balled into fists and splayed out behind him, fighter-jet-like, to maintain balance. As he approached a steep hill he sped up, building the power in his legs, leapt, crouched, and flew into the air, silhouetted against the light dawn sky and curling his body into a ball that span so fast it blurred into a elongated cobalt sphere.
As he reached the height of his jump he unfurled, and fell, feet first through the fresh morning air.
Sonic broke his fall by... well, he didn’t. After he had taken a good look of his surroundings he curled back into a ball and, ‘WHAM!’ slammed into the ground, bouncing and spinning as fast as he could, so fast that for a moment, he didn’t go anywhere, merely cutting into the ground as tufts of grass and soil flew out behind him. Then, like a racecar relieved of its clutch he sped off. He knew he was supposed to be solving the mystery at hand... but he could never resist a jog over Green Hill Zone. So he skidded; skidded and jumped and leapt and rolled and ran through the rocky meadows and over the fantastically rickety pinewood bridges, up the magnificent palm trees and onto wherever he could land.
He yelled in exhilaration, as he neared his trademark supersonic speed, the adrenaline in his system increasing and pumping all the faster.
He was so close, he could almost feel the surge of energy and speed as he hit the barrier, hear the resonating BOOM that disappeared and feel the shroud of silence as raced along the thrill of the speed of sound.
However, by then he had reached the base of Grass Mountain. The ridge separated Green Hill zone from the next zone to the west. Here the famous undulating hills slowly faded into grainy rocks and gritty sand of the border-lining mountain. Sonic slowed – too fast was sometimes too dangerous, but he still would have been moving ten times the speed of the world’s fastest sprinter. Pine trees sprung up higher on the craggy hill, but at Sonic’s level there was only flat, thin grass, the ghost-like remnant of the fading Green Hill Zone.
Having already done his homework beforehand, Sonic knew where the base was built, and thirty seconds’ speedy jog found him some barbed wire fencing surrounding a concrete compound built sneakily into the side of Grass Mountain.
Situated among broken, jagged boulders and cragged rock formations that jutted out of the grey gravel earth, the one-storey compound was built deep into the mountain, as if whatever rock that had once been there had been scooped out and replaced.
Just before the sides of the mountains concaved to where the compound was situated, Sonic scooted quickly into cover, diving behind a boulder. The barbed wire fencing was built quite tight to the base, leaving a large empty space of gravel earth between it and Sonic.
“Okay Chaotix, why am I here?” muttered Sonic to himself, peering around the side of the boulder to take a look at the compound – and it did seem a bit odd. There were two watchtowers doubling as mounted searchlights, one built atop the compound and another on the steep mountainside, jutting over the treeline. They and the barbed wire gave Sonic the sense that whoever owned this place had something to hide. You would expect that for a place with this much security there would be some active patrols – and that’s what caught Sonic’s eye the most.
The compound appeared totally deserted.
And it was utterly silent. Not so much as a far-off hum of running generators or motor vehicles to colour the quiet.
Sonic was just about to creep forwards for a better view, encouraged by the apparent desertion of the complex, when a loud explosion from above caused him to jump in surprise and duck back against the boulder.
Barely a second had passed before Sonic had to laugh at his own paranoia.
“You’ve been shot at one too many times, hedgehog,” he said to himself, looking curiously up at the sky – he had been so interested in the compound he had not noticed the sudden change in weather. Storm clouds had gathered, storm clouds where just a few minutes ago, nothing had been but the rose-pink of first light. He stared at the rapidly darkening sky, the clouds blackening, blotting out the bright morning sun. The explosion he had heard had instead been the drum of the sky, thunder, now rolling overhead as blue lightning flashed from within the thick clouds.
But, he thought with a frown, it would have had to been very sudden, he was sure the sun had been shining no more than fifteen minutes ago – and indeed, the dark clouds just cut off after what Sonic estimated as a few kilometres. He could actually see blue sky in the distance surrounding the concentrated patch of storm clouds.
Storm clouds that just happened to be converging on the compound.
“Coincidental weather anomaly or somebody mucking with something they shouldn’t be...” Sonic murmured, looking from the thick black clouds that writhed with the speed at which they grew.
Sonic darted out and into the open, impossible to miss – if this base was occupied, he wasn’t going to play hide-and-seek with them. Deciding he might as well rocket in with all guns blazing, he turned up the speed and curled into a spindash ten metres before the barbed wire fence. Stupidly, there was no concrete under the fence. Spinning rapidly, he dove into the ground and burrowed a shallow dip under the fence – however, the gravel was not as soft as soil and it did not all quite work the way he expected, his fantastic blaze of glory instead ending with half of him stuck under the fence, with no amount of wriggling gaining him ground in either direction.
“Oh, fantastic,” he said sarcastically, almost totally pinned down by the wire – if it was this painful with protective quills he did not want to know how badly the mesh would be digging in without them, “and now you guys show yourselves!”
Long, rectangular panels built into the gravel earth that were impossible to see until they began to slide back, and rows upon rows of large metallic cubes rose to the surface from within. About two dozen of these cubes from four different panels were arranged in diagonal strips, and then began to sprout limbs.
Sonic could only watch as silver, lanky and armed robots transformed out of the cubes. He had seen before – Robotnik’s latest generation of Badnik after the top-heavy monsters modelled previously.
“Robotnik robots... my favourite, hey, can you lend a hedgehog a hand?”
He received the response he was expecting – thankfully also accompanied by the burst of adrenaline required to tear himself free from under the fence just as all of the two dozen robots lowered their weapons to aim in his direction.
The ground behind him exploded in bursts of sound and dust, but he was already moving too fast for the robots, and had toppled four of them in the time it took for the rest to realise he was no longer stuck under the fence.
The sky thundered loudly again, shaking his bones, and Sonic almost stopped to gaze in awe at what was now occurring above. The clouds were hanging low, and blue electricity pulsed almost constantly at the epicentre – which happened to be almost directly above him.
Only intrigued at the unexplained events unfolding around him, Sonic had no problem sprinting straight into the compound and barrelling into the chest of the robot that had kindly stepped through the front door to let him in.
It took him but one scan of the inside of the building for him to get his bearings. No robots inside, in fact the place did not look as if it had seen use in a long time. An inch of dust covered the floor and in the cobwebs abounded in the corners. Apart from the odd crate or desk, the rooms Sonic could see connecting to the unit he had sped into appeared totally empty – though there was one standout feature within the compound.
The recently and roughly drilled tunnel punched into its rear leading into the Grass Mountain, lit weakly by hanging globes.
Though not thrilled with the thought of yet more tunnels, Sonic’s discovery of a Robtnik base in the heart of United Federation territory overwhelmed him with jubilance.
A particularly loud thunderclap overhead, so heavy it rattled the ceiling, reminded Sonic why he was here, and without further complaint or opposition he sped into the tunnel.
He sped up, and soon enough the tunnel straightened out, and at its end Sonic could pick out a light blue glow.
Then he burst into a clearing. The compound simply cut off at the base of a deep pit. Strange metal rods formed a sort of diamond shape in the middle, but otherwise it was claimed by nature. Above, the stormy sky was visible. He could only gawp, and wait, it was as if the storm was building up to something; the clouds swirled around a now visible eye. Blue lightning flashed like static inside it, faster and faster and brighter and brighter.
Sonic gave a low whistle at the sight.
The clearing, rocky and plain, was not large but was filled with tall robots identical to the ones he had just escaped from.
But before Sonic could joyously dismantle them, the sky flashed and boomed with sudden and violent blazes of blue lightning. He shielded his eyes from the bright flashes, and could not help shivering from the sudden ice cold gusts of wind that lashed out like whips. It was suddenly not unlike being on the deck of a ship at high seas.
One great, powerful and utterly silent blast of cyan light in the form of a lightning bolt struck the centre of the clearing.
Then the thunder came.
Sonic clutched his ears and dove back inside the tunnel in an attempt to escape the tsunami of decibel strength, all of Grass Mountain quaking with the almighty roar.
But then it was gone. As quickly as it had come, the thunder receded, leaving only two or three meek aftershocks of noise in its wake.
Recollecting his wits, Sonic rolled back to his feet, hugged his back to the wall and peered back inside the clearing. There was more awe than shock in his voice when he said, “Mauro’s saggy left… what was that?”
He again noticed the robots in the clearing. It was clear that they were deactivated, about a dozen of them lying crumpled and spitting static. Sonic had no doubt that they were of Robotnik origin, but the mad doctor himself as nowhere in sight.
Not that he gave the clearing much more than a glancing scan. It was the newcomer in the centre that caught his eye.
There was no crater or discolouring on the ground this newcomer knelt on, it was as if he had appeared out of nowhere. Of course, Sonic only had to look up to see that the storm that had been generated by… whatever had just happened, still had to run its course.
Thunder rolled overhead, causing the newcomer, a white, small and young hedgehog to flinch and cower. His quills were shorter by age (Sonic thought he looked roughly ten years old) and his boots and gloves like nothing Sonic had ever seen, but this hedgehog was still not unlike Sonic himself.
And due to that Sonic felt obligated to help the little fellow out of whatever mess Robotnik had hauled him into – for only Robotnik could have come up with something as elaborate and enigmatic as this.
Stepping confidently over the downed robots, Sonic approached the hedgehog. “Hey, I” –
Sonic never got a chance to finish. As fast as the strike of a snake the young hedgehog had whipped around, one palm outstretched towards him. They never even made contact, but somehow Sonic was flung back, his feet taken right out from under him so that he fell as if pushed back by a smothering, icy cold hand hard into the robot he had just stepped over.
“Oh no! I’m sorry, I’m sorry! A-are you okay? – I didn’t mean to… o-oh w-what is… where?...”
Sonic sat up with a groan, and stared with a mixture of awe and trepidation as the young hedgehog made his way towards him, stuttering apologies, before breaking off and turning on the spot, eyes wide and mouth hanging open. Sonic had no idea how he had managed to throw him off his feet without even so much as touching him, but had an idea that it was something to do with the hedgehog’s strange gloves, and maybe even his boots. Like his fur their primary colour was a stainless white, but they appeared to pulsate with some alien energy, manifested in circuit-board like lines which met at a wide circle on the back of the palm and ankle of the boot respectively.
“O-oh my… oh no… Nyx – no, brother – oh no! What if…. Where!?” –
Desperation crept into the young hedgehog’s voice, and Sonic decided to step in.
“Mobius,” he said, causing the hedgehog to twirl around to face him. His wide amber eyes told him that the hedgehog found Sonic as strange as Sonic found him. “Planet Mobius… Green Hill Zone?”
The hedgehog just stared at him.
“Yeah I get that reaction a lot, don’t worry I won’t take it personally – but!”
The young hedgehog gave a start as Sonic sped towards him in a blink of an eye, taking him by the wrist and pulling him towards the tunnel.
“I know about as much as you do as to how the heck you got here, but I do know that we have to vamoose before our walking toaster friends wake up.”
The young hedgehog looked at the downed robots.
“Did I do that?”
“Won’t stop Robotnik blaming me anyway,” shrugged Sonic, “But we really gotta go.”
“Wait – whoa!”
Sonic took off, all but dragging the younger hedgehog behind him, his smaller legs working double-time to keep up. Sonic sped them out of the tunnel, out of the base, now as silent as a grave – even the robots outside had been fried – and back into Green Hill Zone. Above, dark storm clouds rumbled and rolled, and flecks of light rain rode on the strong wind.
“Wait – just, slow down, please! I don’t know where I am – I… oh no… I don’t even know how I got here!”
Sonic pulled up, catching the hedgehog as he flew forwards. They were already a safe few hundred metres from the base.
“First thing’s first,” said Sonic, putting the young hedgehog on his feet and holding him steady as he swayed, “What’s your name?”
“What’s yours!?” challenged the young hedgehog, snatching his arms back from where Sonic held them and summoning bravado into his failing voice.
“Sonic – Sonic the Hedgehog,” said Sonic instantly and rather too proudly, “and you?”
“Um…” the hedgehog was clearly taken aback by Sonic’s ego, “Nickel… Nickel the Hedgehog… I-I mean, I think… why can’t I…” Nickel looked up at Sonic, a hundred questions flying behind his topaz eyes. Finally he seemed to come to some sort of conclusion, but possibly out of panic because he suddenly spilled out, “Please – you have to help me! Somebody’s after me but I don’t know who they are or what they want…. at least – I don’t think so… why can’t I remember, I swear I knew it all just a minute ago!”
Arms crossed, Sonic said, “You’re kiddin… amnesia again…”
“Okay, easy,” said Sonic, putting a hand on Nickel’s shoulder comfortingly, “Don’t worry, this sorta things happens to me more than you’d expect, you’re in good hands. We’re gonna head in this direction,” Sonic pointed to where he knew Tails’ workshop lay in the distance, “and while we walk, you just try and tell me what you remember.”
Sonic set off at a brisk walk – not even looking back to see if Nickel was following. Nickel just stood where Sonic had left him for a second, dumbfounded, then jogged to catch up.
“I think this has something to do with it?” he said, still jogging slightly to keep up – but he nearly overshot Sonic when the cobalt blue hedgehog stopped suddenly.
Sonic blinked, looking down at what Nickel held in his hand.
It was a Chaos emerald, except not only was that impossible, but it looked like no other Chaos emerald Sonic had ever seen, and he could boast to have seen them all. While its cut and size was exactly the same, it was imbued with every colour of the rainbow. Its vibrant pigments swam and glowed inside, shining coolly out of the sharp and perfect faces of the stone.
“Nickel…” said Sonic, taking the emerald and holding it up for better inspection. Strangely, as soon as the emerald left Nickel’s hand its colours dulled considerably, as if a light inside it had gone out.
“What do you think?” said Nickel, worriedly, in the sort of tone one asks a doctor about a concerning lump.
“If this is what I think it is I think you just became a very wanted man,” said Sonic, still looking at the emerald at every angle.
Nickel gave a little peep of fright, making Sonic smile in amusement.
“Relax, I’m not gonna let anything happen.”
There was a promise and warmth in his eyes that visibly calmed Nickel. “What is it?”
Sonic replied, “Some sorta Chaos emerald, but not one I’ve ever seen.”
“Chaos emerald?” asked Nickel, clearly with no idea what Sonic was talking about.
“It’s gotta be an emerald,” said Sonic, “nothin’s this big – it’s like some sort of… Rainbow emerald.”
Sonic resumed walking.
“Hey, what was that stuff you hit me with, back at the base?” said Sonic, “Does that jog your memory?”
Nickel stared dumbly at his hands.
“Psychokinesis,” he said, slowly, “I’ve always had it…” he looked up at Sonic, “Don’t you use Kinetics?”
“Ah… no, is that normal where you come from?”
Nickel started to answer, then cringed. “But this is crazy where do I come from?” wailed Nickel, clutching his head, “I don’t understand.”
“I want to go back to the place we just left,” he said, forcing an adamant tone into his voice.
“You know what, I think you’re right Nickel,” said Sonic, then he waved the Rainbow Emerald under his nose, “I think this does have something to do with whatever’s happened to you, and you really don’t want it falling into the hands of Eggman, the guy I’m 100% sure is behind this in one way or another.”
“Egg- what were you doing at that place anyway!?” shot Nickel. His moods swung like a pendulum – not that Sonic expected them not to. The kid was panicked. In response to his question, Sonic shrugged.
“I got a tip-off that the base wasn’t quite what it seemed. I was investigating when you showed up.
Nickel now looked awed.
“Are you some kind of spy?”
Sonic chuckled, “Nah…” he silently debated for a moment, “more like a superhero.”
Nickel clearly didn’t know whether he was being made fun of or not.
“Alright, let’s get you and your psychokinesis and your crazy emerald back to Robotnik and ask the doc himself what the heck’s goin’ on. Should be simple, I broke in ten minutes ago!”
He spun on his heel, making quite a show of it, and briskly set off in the opposite direction once more. After a few paces he realised Nickel was not following.
“Well, are you coming?” he said, loving the disbelief on Nickel’s face. “Here.” He tossed the emerald back to Nickel, who caught it after a few fumbles, “Hold onto it, it’s gotta mean something to you.”
A few seconds later, Sonic had rushed the two of them back to the base. There was no sneaking around – instead they just marched straight in. The place was like a ghost town, no sign of robots this time, and for that matter or any sign of life. Now that Sonic noticed though, the hills surrounding the base looked slightly odd. There was a strange impression in the way the treeline ran, and if he looked hard enough even a discolouration of the trees – maybe that was to be expected if their roots ran near anything Robotnik. Whenever he became involved, the environment was the first to go.
Still, it was harder to see. Due to the dark storm clouds there was less light than when he had arrived.
“I say we head in to where you first appeared,” said Sonic, leading the way in and through the small building, heading for the tunnel entrance, “we can gather clues from there.”
“It’s so weird,” murmured Nickel, massaging his head, “It’s like I know I should know something, but when I go to look for it it’s not there…” he groaned loudly, “but I know it’s important!”
“Just take it easy,” said Sonic, “I know you’ve known me for all of ten minutes, but trust me on this, I get into these sort of situations a lot.”
“Who exactly are you, and what sort of name is ‘Sonic’?” said Nickel, a little ostentatiously.
“‘Sonic’s’ a cool name,” said Sonic, smoothly.
They reached the clearing in which Nickel had appeared. Ominously, the robots had disappeared. There was no sign at all that something out of the ordinary had occurred. Now that Sonic could survey it calmly, he noticed another exit directly opposite their entrance
“Okay, so, here’s where I found you, what do you remember before that?”
“Nothing,” said Nickel, blankly, “Absolutely nothing.”
Sonic had to suppress a groan, “This amnesia stuff is so cheap…”
“Nothin’, c’mon, let’s go deeper inside this place and draw Eggman outta his hole.”
Nickel followed close on Sonic’s heels as he lead them further in, across the clearing and through the next tunnel. This one was darker, and as they marched further in and further down a definite smell of oil and petrol slowly grew stronger.
“Who’s ‘Eggman’?” asked Nickel, unconsciously whispering. Sonic made no such attempts at stealth – if Robotnik wanted to attack he would have done it already. All it took was looking out for a trap.
“Would-be dictator, I kicked him off his throne years ago. Well I had help…” Sonic trailed off for a second with a strange look in his eye that somehow did not, Nickel though, quite suit him, then he continued as if nothing had stopped him, “Now that he hasn’t got the resources or the patience to wage a proper war, he’s holdin’ on as tight to the places he still does out-right control and taking get-power-quick trips every weekend. In an eggshell, he’s not a nice guy.”
Eventually they reached another room, this one completely enclosed… and metal. Sonic gave a low whistle at the sight of the place and the familiar design.
“What is this?” said Nickel, startled at the sudden change in environment. Purple metal plates bordered the entire room, the corners rounded to give a futuristic look. Doors that looked as if they opened via motion sensor lead even further in to whatever underground base this was – the room they were in now had to be some kind of antechamber.
“This is definitely Robotnik,” said Sonic, scanning the room briefly.
Then, the entire place shuddered. A great, deep vibration that seemed far too big even for the area they had so far traversed.
“And he knows we’re here,” said Sonic, quietly, then a little chirpily, “Nickel, wave hello!”
Sonic nodded in the direction of a far corner at ceiling level. At first Nickel had no idea what he was talking about, but then he could just distinguish a tiny black dot – a lens.
“How did you even see that?” said Nickel in disbelief.
The entire place shuddered again but this time the shaking did not cease, instead it only increased in intensity. At first slowly, and then rapidly, soon joined by a steadily growing roar; the sound of an engine.
“I think we should get going!” shouted Nickel, fighting to maintain balance, “This was a bad idea!”
“But wasn’t this what you wanted?” cried back Sonic. He did not look as alarmed as Nickel, indeed, it was quite the opposite; he looked as if he were having the time of his life.
The entire room shook as if by an intense earthquake, the noise now burning to the ears. Frustrated and scared, Nickel uttered a cry of fright, then did the most extraordinary thing.
A gaseous cyan glow flew over his fur, completely coating him, before raising him into the air.
Surprised enough to forget he was supposed to be looking like he had it all under control, Sonic cried, “You can fly!?”
Nickel had to lip-read more than listen, such was the tooth-rattling noise around them, “Not as well as my brother,” Nickel gasped suddenly, then said very quickly, “Sonic! I had a brother! Whoa!?” –
The entire world seemed to jerk and rip itself from its bearings. Sonic fell flat on his back and, laughing, held on for dear life as a strong but invisible force pushed down on him. Nickel seemed immune to it, but not to the shifting of the room. His place at the centre soon became the floor, and he collided with it heavily. The impact shocked him from his psychokinetic coat and rendered him semi-conscious. Sonic snatched a hold of his wrist to keep the younger hedgehog anchored.
‘It’s gravity,’ he realised, ‘We’re not being pushed down, the floor’s just going up – we’re rising!’