Stardust Highway [circa 2012, unfinished]
Eggman Industries was hardly a glowing welt in the distance. The last of his pursuers had been left in the dust miles ago, but he didn't stop. Dark wild grasses flew past under a darker sky. The tang of rain was in the air, and he would need shelter.
Sonic chastised himself. If he had been faster, he could have been miles ahead of the looming storm, but he had wasted too much time at the terminals. He'd have to let the kid know that his codes hadn't worked quite as well as he had promised. Nonetheless, he had what he'd come for; and once again, the fat man hadn't been able to stop him. It almost felt easy now, slipping past the same guards, foiling the same sentries. He thought the "genius" would have at least upgraded his minions' software by now. He guessed the man's purse wasn't so deep, maybe the Eggman was finally under pressure from authorities for his less-than-legal monopolies and was probably busy buying their silence.
The roar of the rain rose behind him as the storm finally caught up. Within seconds he was completely soaked. Aug, nasty! There was nothing worse than being wet. He needed to find somewhere to take cover while the storm passed.
His original path was out of the question; with rain this heavy, the marshes would be flooded in less than a half-hour, and he wouldn't be able to cross in even double that time. If he wanted to stay dry he'd have to make a detour and head for higher, less covert ground. It was a bad idea to tarry so close to Eggman's territory, but Mother Nature wasn't exactly giving him a choice. The marshes would be too dangerous in such weather, but at least the rain would limit the performance of any robots that could possibly still be after him. He doubted he was still being followed however, as he'd never seen any of the bolt-buckets follow him for greater than a spare few miles at most - they could never keep up.
The incline of the grassy plains grew steeper, the slightest outlines of concrete poking out from the distance. There had been a themed resort here at one point. It still stood but only just. It had been a profitable oasis of parks, shops, and luxury hotels, unreachable but for the single highway that arched over the marshes to connect to civilisation beyond. He'd been there once, when he had been a lot smaller. He had managed to get to the gates of one of the many amusement parks - the roller coasters had looked so awesome - before being chased away by the automated security. It was bust and ruined now, not a soul had passed through it in eleven years. Sonic could only guess what had made the place close up shop so suddenly.
The chain link fence bordering the resort was still standing, for the most part. With his bag of spoils slung over his shoulder, he clambered over and headed for the nearest buildings. Everything was grey, the bright paint that he remembered long gone. Most of the walls were still intact, and with the rain still pounding down, would provide excellent shelter until the showers stopped. He dove towards the nearest hotel. The rusted revolving glass door proved to be a bit of a problem, but nothing a stray hunk of concrete couldn't fix. Inside, the interior was all but entirely empty. Bare tile dominated everything, there wasn't a carpet or throw rug in sight. Not a single piece of furniture occupied the gloomy corners. Sockets that should have been festooned with bulbs and chandeliers had been stripped to nothing but wire. He could only assume the place had been a lot better-looking when it was still in business.
Not really liking the look of the lobby, Sonic made for the stairs. The heavy door to the steps was just as stubborn as the revolving portal before it, but concrete stones weren't really a viable solution this time. A few hard shoves forced the slab open just enough for him to squeeze though. Debris littered the stairwell; concrete, metal, and what was left of a pack of cardboard packing boxes. What little illumination the moon had to offer filtered through a sizeable hole high in the wall, shedding just enough light to navigate by.
Getting to the second floor was easy enough, entry to the hallway was thankfully unobscured. The walls and floor were just as naked as the lobby downstairs. He gravitated to the first room with an open doorway. The hotel must have been expensive to stay at, the rooms were admirably large. The carpet was, amazingly, still intact - stained a full range of unflattering colours. Pocks in the floor marked where the bed frame and other pieces of luxury had stood once-upon-a-time. Still quite wet, he tossed his pack into a corner and threw off his shoes to dry. The room would do. A window gave a rainy view of the abandoned streets below. He kept away from it, he didn't need to see more rain, he'd had enough rain to last him forever.
Sonic sat himself down against the wall kitty-corner to the window. Everything was a drab grey-blue.
What a depressing place! He hoped the rain would pass on soon. The sooner he could leave, the better. Bright lances curved through the sky beyond his window, briefly painting the hovel white. A low boom and rumble followed a moment after. Great. Looked like he was going to be stuck here for a while. Huffing disappointedly to himself he crossed his arms and leaned back against the corner.
His aching neck brought him back to the world of the living with little ceremony. Aug, he'd be feeling this for a few days. He checked the window. It was drizzling lightly; lightning was still darting in the distance, but much further out than before. How long had he been asleep? Probably not that long. He stretched, earning a light chorus of pops from his back; perhaps now would be a good time to get going.
A tinkling of glass filtered briefly through the quiet rain. Sonic stopped moving. The sound did not repeat.
Getting to his feet he padded to the door of his temporary shelter, stopping before the open doorway to listen to the hallway beyond. Nothing. He chanced a peek, staying as close to the wall as possible. The hall of the second floor was dark and empty.
He knew he hadn't been hearing things, that sound had come from the lobby, he was sure of it. Had he been followed after all? No, that was impossible, there was no invention of the fat man that could keep up with him. He had however, left a very conspicuous sign of entry into the hotel. Figuring he had the advantage of surprise over his possible pursuer, he made for the stairwell's door, leaving his shoes and spoils behind.
Hardly a stride from his hiding place he heard a soft knock. Someone was trying to open the stairwell door on the floor below. There was a more forceful ‘thunk’ as they tried a second time. He slid up against the wall, peering down into the gloom of the stairwell. He couldn't see much. The slab to the lobby one floor below moved back hardly an inch before it shattered with a loud bang as whatever stood behind it smashed it against the piles of debris blocking the way. Sonic only needed to see the glint of metal. He darted back to his room.
Grabbing his shoes, Sonic weighed the options currently available. The lobby was one level below; the entry to the stairwell was three doors away; the stairwell had 20 steps; it would take 17 seconds to climb them all and an additional 8 to cross directly to where he was hiding. In under seven seconds his shoes were on and his spoils were slung over his shoulder, he still had a ten-second head start...
Turning to leave, he found that his head start was anything but. Standing in the doorway, blocking his escape, was the machine.
"HALT," said the thing in the doorway.
Sonic felt a cold shiver crawl up his neck. Red LED eyes glared at him from a figure shaped just like his own.
His mind was whirling. The machine had climbed both the stairs and gotten to the door of his shelter in significantly less time it would take any other machination he had previously encountered. This must be the robo-herder's new toy.
The machine held out a sharp, silver hand. "RETURN THE BELONGINGS OF MY MASTER."
He had no immediate escape. "Can't say I know who your master is, guy," he replied. There was the window behind him but he couldn't trust the possibility of it being able to open or not. In the time it would take to even check, the thing would easily catch him.
"MY MASTER IS MY BUILDER, PROFESSOR IVO ROBOTNIK," it answered with the grace of a scrap yard.
Keep it talking. "Is that so? 'Fraid you're barking up the wrong tree, pal, don't now the guy." The walls were likely made from drywall and plaster. He could easily punch a hole through them to get out, but he didn't have enough running room to gain the speed he would need.
"INCORRECT," said the thing, its monotone never faltering. "INTRUSION DETECTED AT 20:37:04. INTRUDER IDENTIFIED AS SPECIES E. EROPAEUS SAPIENS, HEIGHT 5 FOOT 00 INCHES, WEIGHT 120 POUNDS, COLOURATION COBALT, EYES GREEN, ANSWERS TO TITLE 'SONIC THE HEDGEHOG'. INTRUDER RATED AS REPEAT OFFENDER WITH CRIMES OF BREAK-AND-ENTER, THEFT, DEFACING OF PRIVATE PROPERTY, BATTERY, AND ATTEMPTED MURDER."
Sonic snorted to himself. "Attempted murder" was a little heavy; it wasn't his fault the bald dude shot those explosive barrels and demolished his own foyer, but he wasn't about to try to argue the fine print with a machine. "You seem to know an awful lot about me, bro," he said steadily, "but I don't know you. Care to share? It's only fair."
The thing still had its hand outstretched. "FAIR?"
He tightened his grip on his small bag. "Yeah, dude, fair. It's not fair to know everything about me when I don't know anything about you. It's creepy, see?" He was stalling for as much time as he could manage. He needed to figure a plan to get out and away from this new contraption as quickly as possible. He had to assume it was built specifically to deal with him, and he wasn't prepared for such a prospect.
The mechanical copy seemed to consider this, tilting its streamlined head ever so slightly.
"C'mon guy, it's impolite to barge in on somebody without introducing yourself." His best escape was still through the door behind the machine. If he dashed quickly enough and feigned to the left, he could probably squeeze by it and get into the hall, and then the only option would be to try to outrun or somehow out-maneuver it. Considering how quickly it got to the door of his room, its speed was at least several times that of Eggman's standard minions.
It retracted its hand a little. "I AM METALLIX, VERSION 0.0."
Sonic couldn't make total sense of the thing's design. Cords of what he could only guess to be some kind of steel thread hybrid or alloy were knotted all over the chassis, mimicking the layout of muscles. Combined with the oddly skeletal shape of the head, the visual effect was disturbing. "Version 0.0, huh?" He wondered if he could get any more information out of it before things turned ugly. "What's your software?"
The machine regarded him with evident confusion. It clearly hadn't been prepared for a conversation about itself.
"Hey, pal, you know my weight, and you probably know what I ate for lunch today; it's only fair."
It was obvious the robot wasn't taking a liking the concept of "fair". Its answer had a grit of irritation to it. "SOFTWARE FREESYPHUN VERSION 1.02." Metallix re-extended its hand. "RETURN THE BELONGINGS OF MY MASTER."
Time's up. "Sorry, bro, not gonna happen!" Sonic threw himself at the empty space between the left wall and the talking pop dispenser. He slid into the hall, the pointed fingers of the robot whizzing just behind his bag. Wasting nothing, he pushed as hard as possible into a full run.
The rhythmic thunk of metal feet told him Metallix had given chase. He didn't dare look behind him.
He easily took the empty hall's first sharp turn to the right. He needed a plan. He had mere seconds to figure something out before he hit the opposite stairwell, and the chances of it being clear were not high enough to afford the risk of getting stuck and caught by the machine.
Six. Staying in such close quarters was a terrible idea. With the way it had completely destroyed even just the door in the lobby, Metallix could probably easily snap him in two.
Five. The sound of its heavy footsteps hadn't changed, it was neither gaining or losing ground behind him. Geeze, it could keep up with him!
Four. If it could move as quickly as he could, how on earth was he going to get rid of it?
Three. Another sharp turn to the right. The stairwell was ahead, partially blocked by a collapsed ceiling, creating a dead end.
Two. Were there any elevator shafts? No. Was the collapsed ceiling open? Also no.
One. Crap crap crap cra-wait! One of the hotel rooms was open, there was light filtering in from outside - a window!
Zero. Sharp turn left and jump!
Trusting his instincts generally resulted in Sonic flying through the air in one way or another. Glass and bits of the rotted window frame sailed after him in a glittering trail of debris. He hit the ground in a roll, back on his feet in less than a heartbeat, charging down the road. The explosive boom coming from the concrete just behind him let him know that his new friend had unfortunately landed safely.
Metallix wasn't about to give up. Its target had a slow start getting up from the road, and that was all it needed to close the distance and get its builder's property back. With its hydraulics singing it launched from its crater with all the efficiency of a bullet. Six strides and it was close enough. Putting out a hand it grabbed the left arm of its quarry and gave a slight pull to get them to halt and return what they had stolen. The noise that exploded out of the blue thing surprised the machine, making it let go. The thief tumbled to the ground, rolled once, and stopped face to the ground in a shivering heap.
Sonic wasn't ignorant of injury, the number of times he'd bashed, cut, or otherwise skid-burned himself in some way was astronomical. This was, however, the first time he'd had his arm yanked out of its socket by a robot. He'd heard dislocations were painful, but had never experienced it himself. It felt as though his arm was on fire and submerged in sub-zero ice at the same time. The thin coat of rain covering the pavement wasn't really helping.
Its target was on the ground. Maybe now it would give back what belonged to its master. Its audio sensors were still ringing from the sound it had made. "RETURN THE BELONGINGS OF MY MASTER," it requested. The thief didn't reply or comply, making an odd shuffling motion on the ground in no particular direction. Its software concluding that the lack of response and the steady movement in a random direction denoted a second attempt at escape, Metallix stepped forward to halt it again. Perhaps if it made its request while the thief was facing it, they would comply. It reached for the material arching out from the target's back.
"AUGK!" Writhing like a worm stuck in the sun he rolled over and kicked his feet, shoving himself away from the antagonising machine a small ways. Metallix had a fistful of his quills in its silver hand, looking at them in bewilderment. "The heck was that for?" he shouted at it.
This was proving to be rather difficult. The thief was still on the ground. It had wanted to put it onto its feet so it could request it to return what didn't belong to it more directly, but it came apart. The long, curved objects that came off of its back were curious. They were all blue except for the very bottom, which was red.
Metallix was entirely distracted by the quills, poking at them. The red colouring came away on its pointed fingers. Odd. Why was it doing that? Its blank "mind" buzzed at this discovery, its unused stores of data coming to life to answer its question.
RED - ADJECTIVE --> COLOUR [LIQUID, TRANSFERABLE]
COLOUR [LIQUID, TRANSFERABLE] --> PIGMENT [MINERAL, CHEMICAL], ORAGNISM [BIOLOGY], BLOOD [BIOLOGY]
PIGMENT [MINERAL] --> IRON 3 COMPOSIT = ROCK = PAINT [COSMETIC, NOT APPLICABLE]
PIGMENT [CHEMICAL] --> OXIDATION = RUST [MECHANICAL, NOT APPLICABLE]
ORGANISM [BIOLOGY] --> DIVISION RHODOPHYTA = SEAWEED [NOT APPLICABLE]
BLOOD [BIOLOGY] --> BODILY FLUID, INVERTEBRATE [NOT APPLICABLE], VERTEBRATE = CELLS, HEMOGLOBIN --> VASCULAR SYSTEM = VEINS --> PULSE = LIFE
Sonic was trying to force his arm back into its socket. He was in deep trouble now, this bucket of bolts was actually dangerous. It nearly broke his arm and now it was pulling his spines apart. He needed to get away from it or get it to go away. With a fuzzy scraping sensation in his shoulder some feeling returned to his arm. Good enough, he could see a doctor about it later.
BLOOD - NOUN, ADJECTIVE --> BLEEDING, TO BLEED = INJURY
INJURY, ADJECTIVE --> DAMAGE = TISSUE --> BRUISING, TEAR, BREAK --> CRUELTY, HARM, PAIN [PHYSICAL, MENTAL]
He struggled to his feet, being careful to leave his injured arm largely alone. He turned to face his enemy. It caught him once already, the chances of him outrunning it were decidedly slim - he needed a plan. He didn't have a weapon. He doubted concrete rocks would do much against a chassis like that. He wouldn't give up what he grabbed out of Eggman's factory, either. Chances were the machine wouldn't let him go either way.
PAIN, NOUN --> PHYSICAL SUFFERING OR DISTRESS DUE TO INJURY OR ILLNESS
PAIN, NOUN --> MENTAL OR EMOTIONAL SUFFERING OR TORMENT
Think! Was there anything he could take advantage of?
Wait, Metallix mentioned it was a version; 0.0? It was a prototype. Prototypes were imperfect. What about the software... Freesyphun? He'd heard of it before... Tails was all excited about it a while back for some reason.
SUFFERING, NOUN --> UNDERGO OR FEEL PAIN OR DISTRESS --> SUSTAIN INJURY --> ENDURE PAIN, DISABILITY --> UNDERGO PENALTY OR PUNISHMENT
PUNISHMENT, NOUN --> ACT OF BEING PUNISHED FOR AN OFFENSE OR FAULT
He remembered now! Freesyphun was a free-thinking software designed to replicate the phenomenon of random thought, encouraging individualised critical thinking processes in machines. Could he take advantage of this?
OFFENSE --> CRIME = ASSAULT, THEFT
PENALTY = PUNISHMENT = SUFFERING --> PAIN, HARM, DEATH
DEATH, NOUN --> CEASE LIFE = CEASE OPERATION = STOP
When the machine had finished studying what it had in its grip, it froze for a moment, staring at the ground. Then in a slow, calculated motion it took the bundle of quills in both hands and proceeded to shatter them into countless pieces. Metallix reduced the objects to splinters, letting the pieces rain to the watery road.
When it looked back up at him, something had changed. Nothing outward was any different, but there was the slightest shift in the light of the electric eyes. "Oh, boy..." [...]
Head Games [circa 2013, unfinished]
This entire operation was proving to be a detriment to his health. They had discovered the answer behind the dock's vanishing electrical equipment, and it was one he was wishing had remained buried.
He'd need a doctor. His left arm was badly broken and he was sure a few ribs had been cracked as well or worse. The pain in his chest made breathing somewhat difficult; he couldn't reach full-speed. Rounding a corner he found himself facing a dead-end of immense cargo crates. No! Blast this maze! He wouldn't be able to double-back--
"NOWHERE TO RUN."
Sonic spun around, clutching his injured arm. He threw a hideous scowl at his antagonist, noticing with considerable worry that they still had the lead pipe firmly in hand. With the weapon's added reach, he wouldn't able to dart around the machine to get back into the open, and knowing the bastard as well as he did, it'd go for the legs instead of the other arm.
Metallix looked pleased with itself having herded him into a corner. "YOU SHOULD HAVE TAKEN A LEFT TWO-HUNDRED PACES PRIOR," it said to him.
Sonic's scowl deepened. "Learning the art of taunting, I take it?" His surroundings were dismal, the sheet-metal crates reached twelve feet into the air each, stacked in sets of two high. There was perhaps thirty feet of open floor between him and the dead end, and only ten separating himself and his malicious copy.
"FROM THE BEST," replied the machine, its monotone shedding a grit of distaste. "THIS WAS EASIER THAN EXPECTED." It drew a metal nail over the pipe with an etching noise. "YOU REACT SO ERRATICALLY TO PAIN. AS IF YOUR PROCESSES--" it lunged with the pipe, aiming for the knee. Sonic leapt backwards, losing another five feet between himself and the wall of crates. "--HAVE CEASED TO FUNCTION OPTIMALLY."
His injuries weren't taking kindly to the sudden movement, the pain was making it difficult to think. Metallix was trying to get him to do something stupid. He'd trapped himself already, and he had only so much room to keep himself out of the robot's reach. It wouldn't leap for him just yet, there was too much space for him to get away; in the time it would take for it to recover he'd be either gone or hiding. With the entire warehouse filled with obstacles, the bastard wouldn't be able to find him if he had a good head start. Three seconds would be all he'd need.
"AND WHAT OF YOUR COMPATRIOTS? DO YOU KNOW WHERE THEY ARE?"
"Like hell I'd tell you," he spat.
"WHO IS TO SAY I DO NOT ALREADY KNOW?" It cut an arc in the air in front of it with the pipe. "THE SMALL ONE. SUCH AN EASY TARGET."
Immediately Sonic's mind was afire with the possibilities. He had no idea where Tails or Knuckles could be, they had split up to search the docks quickly. Knuckles could have at least been able to give the robot a run for its money strength-wise, but his little bro--
The lead pipe landed squarely between his left shoulder and neck with a loud cracking noise. He staggered backwards in surprise until he lost his footing and tumbled.
"CAREFUL," cautioned the machine, holding the weapon up. "YOU SHOULD KEEP YOUR HEAD CLEAR."
He shoved himself into a standing position with his good arm. Almost his entire left side was now engulfed in agony. Chances were his collarbone was as broken as his arm. He had lost another ten feet of space, leaving only fifteen between himself and the immense crates. Metallix was playing with his emotions, the monster knew enough about him to know how he would react to the prospect of his friends being injured, and used it against him. Seemed the robot had learned a few new tricks since last he'd run into it. Luckily for him, the machine wasn't the only one here who knew how manipulation worked. Metallix had the upper hand. Unless Sonic could force the machine to take a mis-step the same way it was trying to influence him to, he was going to be reduced to a lifeless pile. He took a gamble. "Well, Metal, aren't you smart," he wheezed; "playing head-games and all of that." The lights of the robot's optical display brightened for a quarter-second. "What other tricks do you have in that cold piece of hardware crammed between your ears?"
A sneer crawled over Metallix's face. "MY NAME IS METALLIX," it corrected him. "MY MENTAL PROCESSORS ARE NOT HARDWARE. THEY ARE A MIND."
He laughed painfully. "Nuh-uh, bro. A 'mind' is what non-robots have. You've got a CPU."
"THE FUNCTION IS THE SAME."
"You really think that? Well, I guess a machine needs something to delude itself wi--" Sonic was against the crates in what felt like a split second. The area under his left ear was numb and his eye felt strangely fuzzy. It took a moment to register that Metallix had struck him in the temple with the pipe. The look on the mechination's face was comparable to stone, but the twitching in the fingers and a rising stink of grease told him that his gamble was working. A blow to the head had not been a part of the plan, he was sure he had a concussion with the strength the robot could pull, or worse. He felt incredibly off-kilter and his vision was dull around the edges. All he could see out of his left eye was a watery, blurred mess of grey and faint smears of colour.
"THERE IS NO DIFFERENCE," repeated the machine.
He had to make the thing falter. There was an equal chance however, that he'd be struck again with the pipe. Another blow would be the end of him in this state, he could hardly see straight as it was. "Yeah, there is a difference," he challenged. "A living mind is everything you're not." This was a vague point and he knew it, but it wasn't one that Metallix would be able to argue against.
"MY MIND IS LIVING," it insisted. "I AM NO MERE MACHINE." It flexed its empty hand. "I AM LIVING."
Something was pooling between his teeth. He spat a glob of red onto the floor between himself and the copy. "Living things bleed," he said. He couldn't really see the robot, it fluctuated between a shadow and a vague shape. Sonic found himself wondering if the crates had somehow expanded by another thirty feet.
Metallix was peering at the cords that composed the exoskeletal armour of its arms. [...]