The Comet, the Devil, and the Hedgehog -- 13
Oil Ocean Refinery
September 21, UC 0079
1133 Hours (PDT)
The stranger was only about thirty feet away from Beauregard. First his hood came off and then the rest of his purloined robe.
"Sapper," said Beau. "I'm not completely surprised that you woulda been able to put this place into a frenzy. Francis told me about you years ago."
"Your brother taught me well," said the intruder. "The fires, the bombs, the jailbreak, just a bunch of distractions."
"So you could kill me?" the Baron asked, knowingly.
"Nothing personal, it's just a job."
"A Patriot gone mercenary? If that don't beat all."
"There aren't that many of us Patriots left, Baron," the Mole told him. "Francis swallowed a bomb and blew himself up rather than allow himself to be roboticized. Can't blame him, though."
"I knew Jack was in rough shape," said Beau, "but to think the protégé of my own brother would take a bounty on me. Life's funny that way."
"I'm not going to kill you right here," Sapper told him. "I have a lot of respect for you, Baron. You can bet that Jack would be pissed about what I'm going to do: I'm giving you a chance." He tossed over a laser pistol. "We're going to play a little game. The rules are simple. Neither of us leaves the refinery. One stands, the other falls. You need to find and kill me before I kill you. I have my weapons and wits on my side, you've got your men and your traps."
Beau smirked, but was a bit sullen about the situation. The Patriots were gone, but he as much of one as ever. "Fair deal."
They shook on it.
"Happy hunting, Beauregard." No sooner had Sapper let go did he drop a pair of pill-sized capsules on the ground. They instantly generated a think blanket of smoke upon impact which filled the garage.
Sapper had vanished in the smokescreen, leaving the Grandmaster all alone with the gun. He spoke into his commlink: "Y'all be on the lookout for a Mole on the ground level and first floor basement! He's the intruder!"
Shenandoah Valley, the home to a large stone ring containing a small city within it as of three days ago.
Reports of such anomalies had been circulating among the numerous sectors under Zeon occupation: the lake of oil in the American southwest, this walled city, and a large crater in Australia, some two hundred kilometers north of the scar from Operation British. One small task force was now given the job of looking into one of these.
Three Wappa hoverbikes were parked on an overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway, with a clear view of the city. "I wonder how they manage," said Lieutenant Carlos Bella. "It doesn't appear that the town has a connection to any road." He whipped the pair of electrobinoculars he'd brought with him and zoomed in on the structure. Some kind of dome covered it: transparent and azure. Behind the bluish field, the officer could make out a large concentration of trees and some structures beyond them. The architecture was not of human origin.
One underling, a lanky corporal, spoke. "Should we risk moving in closer?"
"We'll need to be careful if we do, Sheheen," said Bella. "Whoever lives there might be hostile."
"Lieutenant Bella, look at this!" A wide-eyed private called out from the edge of the ridge. He came running toward his two comrades holding, of all things, an unsheathed broadsword. "Look what I found, a souvenir," he said triumphantly. "Probably an old Indian relic."
"Really?" Bella asked skeptically. "I've never heard of North American Indians who used swords, let alone steel."
"I found it right over here," said the private, leading them toward the edge.
The way down was a bit steep, and rocky as well. What Bella didn't understand was how an "Indian" sword could have been so close to a major road and remain in such pristine condition without being found sooner. Amid the team's inspection, something none of them saw coming occurred.
A short outburst followed by something short with brown fur tumble downhill from behind a dead tree trunk. It appeared to be the size of a child, but it had traits like some kind of cat and had something in its hand.
"What the hell's that?" said the lieutenant. "Sheheen! Grant! Keep your distance, that thing's got some kind of gun!" He fired a few rounds from his SMG in an attempt to get the thing to stop.
The creature panicked. Instinctively, it didn't even try to fight, but run away. In doing so, he tripped over a rock and was nabbed by Bella.
A struggle ensued, one which was broken when an arrow zipped by and got lodged in the lieutenant's lower back. His grip was broken and he fell on his stomach. He was still alive, but struggling to move. "Help!" he cried "Grant! Sheheen!" Neither got to him first and the last thing he would see would be a pink-furred enemy with long brown hair aiming a strange model of handgun in his face.
Sheheen fired a shot into the woods at another one of the attacking creatures, this one taking cover behind some brush. Something with red hair and a bushy tail. Whatever it was, he couldn't get a clear shot.
It wouldn't matter. A shout of "Hey, over here!" grabbed the corporal's attention. He only laid eyes on a metallic figure in the air on his two. No sooner had his attention shifted did his right arm get blasted off at the shoulder by the distractor's hand-mounted laser. One more shot and it would be over for him.
Battered and weak, Private Grant scrambled back to the Wappas. Even though he was trying to high-tail it out of the area, the fact that the engine somehow wasn't turning over (despite running like clockwork less than an hour ago) wrote off any attempt of escape. With who knows how many of those things were hiding downhill, there was no guarantee he could get to one of the others in time.
Instead, he radioed a distress. "Private Arthur Grant, Christiansburg Base. Operation Recon O747 has failed. Bella… dead. Ambush by… furred… aliens. Shenandoah Anomaly is…" The grunt froze when, at the corner of his eye, a short brown-furred humanoid with red hair was poised less than ten feet away on his right. He wore a black jumpsuit and had a crossbow, whose arrow was aimed right at his face. Oh, God help me.
Bunnie could only watch and listen as alarms blared and silver saucers took to the air. Her uncle had just issued a code red to everyone one the premises. For the better half of the last hour, she was doing good on the Baron's wishes in regard to staying out of the fight, but with everything disintegrating all about her, it was getting more difficult.
The same could be said for Sonic. Beau had told him to keep out as well, despite him wanting to help.
"We need to get out of here," said Sally.
"But I can't let that guy kill Uncle Beau," Bunnie told her. "I don't care if he's an enemy, he's all I got left."
"I'm no fan of just sitting around," said Sonic "but I've gotta agree with Beau and Sal. You're too weak to do anything right now and you letting that assassin kill you's not... THAT'S IT!"
The outburst spooked Sally. "W-What?"
"Listen, Sal," Sonic explained, "the guy out there blasting the crap out of everything is a hired gun. He's not part of the Sand Blasters. If I try to stop him, I won't necessarily be aiding the DEL. Beau lives, Jack gets pissed, and the party crasher goes to the emergency room. I can't believe I didn't think of it sooner."
"That… actually makes sense," Sally said, piecing everything together.
"You girls get outta here," he told them. "Evacuation should still be going on." Out the door he went.
Two silver Legion saucers patrolled the skyline of the refinery. Now that the intruder was identified as a Mole, they knew what to look for. What the crew of neither of the expected was for one of them to be struck from six o'clock and blasted out of the sky. Luckily, it crashed into the desert and not the oil.
The surviving craft turned about. The remains of a vapor trail pointed to the blast's source at the top of Administrative Building 2: a lone figure just ducking into the stairwell as it started firing off a laser.
Stowing away his grenade launcher, Sapper hurried down the stairs until he reached the top floor. Nobody was in the hallway, allowing him to reach the elevator unmolested.
Pressing "down", he hugged the wall, handblaster at the ready for any Legion grunts that may come out.
The door opened. Nobody was in the elevator.
He slipped in and pressed "1". As if on instinct, when the cab started moving, pushed open the emergency hatch in the ceiling.
Down, down, down went the elevator. Several Legion mooks had taken the bait, thinking Sapper was still inside. They were ready to lock and load.
As the door closed behind them, the hitman slipped a little present through the hatch. He could hear at least one or two laser blasts fruitlessly trying to hit him, followed by a chorus of agonizing groans and screams that quickly went quiet.
Soon, the elevator came to a complete stop. Time for the gas mask.
Dropping through the hatch, Sapper landed inside the cab. Toxic vapor had enveloped the elevator and was now wafting outside. The Legionnaire within were all strewn about, faces permanently frozen in panic and pain. He left the bodies behind, not even giving them a passing glance.
Adrenaline was surging through old Beauregard. The cat-and-mouse game between him and Sapper had been going on for the better portion of an hour, but with his life at stake now, every second was a gift.
Warehouse No. 3 was the current theater for the aging Grandmaster. He stood flush against a steel crate, gun in hand, hoping to not be caught off guard. Nobody, to his knowledge, was in there,
Beau's attention was caught by the approaching Hedgehog. He quickly shushed the boy. "Be quiet, he could be in here right now. Why are you still here? You need to get!"
"I didn't stay to help you," said Sonic. "I'm trying to find that hitman, too."
"Boy, that fella's dangerous," Beau told him. "He used to be a Patriot."
"Patriot? You don't mean those guerilla fighters from Robotnik War I? I thought they died."
"Damn straight," Beau whispered. "He's one of the last ones. After what all he did to this place are you willing to doubt me? I just hope Buns and the princess got outta here."
"Don't worry," said Sonic. "I told them. If they aren't already gone, they should be high tailing it right—."
Sonic stopped talking. Near-total silence followed, emphasis on "near". There was a soft thumping coming from the other side of the wall of metal boxes.
The two hugged the side of the wall, stealthily trying to get to the other side undetected.
Beau found the source: the feet of a Legionnaire probing the same warehouse for Sapper. Peaking a little more, he found something else: a cardboard box where it wasn't supposed to be. If that didn't give it away, one of the flaps on the underside was sticking out. You lose, boy! Three bolts blazed from the barrel of the blaster, hitting the box.
The occupant groaned.
With a swift kick, the Baron revealed the person inside: one of his underlings, a Mouse with a metal plate over his right eye. Clint! But if that's not Sapper then—!
The bolt from the shooter's gun hit Beau in his right side. He fell against the metal container, sliding down as whatever remained of his balance dissipated.
"You bastard!" Seething with anger, Sonic charged at the robed assassin at full tilt, pinning him up against a container.
"Sonic the Hedgehog," the Mole said, thoroughly amused. "I would have preferred meeting the renowned Freedom Fighter in a more peaceful situation, but I really didn't see this coming."
The young hero freed up a hand and balled it up, ready to pound the merc with all the coldness that was just shown to the Baron. A puff of smoke emerged from the ground, forcing Sonic to cough and lose his grip on the shooter. "You dick! Where… are you!?"
"Nothing personal," said the killer, now invisible amid the smokescreen. "It was just a job Jack Rabbit hired me to do. I iced an Eggman toady, you and that princess of yours ought to be grateful."
Sonic couldn't believe his ears. "Grateful?!" he said in disbelief. "Sal and I finally got to see Bunnie again after all this time, and now I have to tell her that her uncle's been shot!"
"Ah, that's right... the Baron's little niece. I, however, am grateful to you for being here. Killing the Hero of Mobius by itself is a guaranteed triple to the hiring fee. Throw murderous rage into the equation? Quadruple, easy!"
A twinge of fear vibrated deep within Sonic. He couldn't see the guy at all, but he talked as if he could find him. "I'll show you what good your worthless money will do when I drag you back to Jack by the scruff of your neck!"
"Unfortunately, you're the one who will have your head brought back to Jack... gonna need some evidence, after all. Nothing personal."
"I've heard enough of this garbage!" Sonic growled. After trying, and failing, to find the intruder before he got to Beau, he wasn't going to take it another minute. "If you won't put up or shut up, I'll stomp you flat right now!"
"Sorry, Blue," said the hitman, "but brute force isn't my style. You have to find me."
Something hit Sonic across the temple, banging against a container as it fell. After all that happened, it didn't take long for him to figure out what it was. Oh, shit! On instinct, he looked over to where Beau had slumped down at and lifted him onto his shoulders quickly.
In true Sonic fashion, the two were out of the warehouse. A powerful firestorm mushroomed within shortly thereafter.
A pillar of smoke billowed from the storage block of the refinery, safely away from the oil lake.
Sonic stopped for a second to look back at the once-proud DEL stronghold. He and Bunnie had messed it up something good in the past, but this time is was a one-man show. But now, they couldn't pin the blame on him for the damage like last time. One hired gun for the Sand-Blasters managed all that. If Eggman found out about this, he would have been furious, yet he was still MIA.
Beau groaned as Sonic eased him onto the ground. "Just leave me here, son," he told him. "This ain't your battle to win or lose."
"And let the only family my friend has left die?" said Sonic. "I ain't running a charity here, gramps. You're going back to be with Bunnie whether you like it or not."
Ailing cyborg chuckled weakly. "You sure got a hard head, boy."
Amid the rush, Sonic was quick to realize something. Beau was missing his left ear. The only explanation he had was that the Mole severed during his smokescreen trash-talkfest. "Who the hell was that?" Sonic wondered. "Nobody could find him."
"Sapper," said Beau, his voice a bit hoarse. "Buns' pa made him what he is now. You ain't gonna beat him head on."
"Pa? Bunnie's Dad was a Patriot, too?"
"My reckless kid brother, and his wife... both of them defected to the Overlanders, and got themselves killed. Lulumae and I looked after poor Buns while she was growing up. When we thought she was old enough to learn the truth, we told her... but she refused to believe her parents were traitors. So she done run off on her own, got captured by some SwatBots, and the rest is history," the Grandmaster rasped.
"We saved her… kinda," said Sonic. It all went back to that cartoonish little time, before Fiona, Mina, Naugus, NICOLE, or even Knuckles! They weren't even aware of Scourge's existence at that point! He'd reminisced about that part of his life a few nights ago, but the Baron had brought it up again. It was as if the universe was aware that it had changed and desperately wanted to go back to then.
"Life's silly," said Beau. "I remember telling Buns that she'd have to fight me again as a Freedom Fighter. I guess I was wrong there."
"Don't die on me, Beau!"
"When you see Buns again, Sonic," the Baron said in a whisper, "you tell her that I said she's become a damn fine woman… and that boy she married… Heh! Now maybe I'm finally starting to understand why my brother made the choice he did. Our philosophies may differ from the D'Coolettes', but if he makes my little Buns happy... they can't be all bad."
"Beau… Beau? BEAU!"
Tears filled Sonic's eyes and with a frustrated snarl, he punched the ground.
The refinery was now deserted. Perhaps it was divine intervention that a stray spark in the madness didn't set off the oil.
Only one person remained at the facility. Jack Rabbit's hired gun, Sapper the Mole.
After taking down Beauregard and killing somewhere in the neighborhood of one-third to half of the personnel stationed there, he needed a break. Taking a cigarette out of a pack of Regals and lighting it, he gazed out into the early afternoon sky. Sonic escaped my bomb. The tales of his speed aren't hearsay after all.
Cigs weren't the only thing the merc had. On the ground before him lay a severed rabbit's ear; gold-furred, limp, and cold. It was his evidence that the Grandmaster of the Great Desert Chapter was no more. Sonic carried him off the site, too. He could have followed and finished him, but kicking a man when he was down was about as much his style as attacking from twelve o'clock at full tilt.
He took a puff. Even if the gunshot didn't kill the Baron instantly, it's not likely that he survived. I've been a soldier since I was thirteen, killing scores of run-of-the-mill schmoes doesn't faze me.
Another trinket from today, one much less grizzly that Beau's ear, was a long cobalt quill, plucked from Sonic as the smokescreen took effect.
Sapper smiled, with a hint of melancholy about him as he stared at the strand. I'll tell Jack about Sonic. Perhaps I can squeeze a few extra Mobiums out of him if I embellish the details a little. Regardless, when he finds out, it's his problem.
Red Rock: a town of adobe some twenty miles southwest of Oil Ocean that often had to double as a substitute headquarters for the Great Desert Chapter. The surviving Legionnaires and two ex-Freedom Fighters had fallen back to the town hours ago.
The last light of the day was fading as a lone Hedgehog approached the trench surrounding the town—a depression so wide that any unlucky Sand-Blaster tank (or any vehicle for that matter) that got close enough to fall in and struggle to escape. For him, though, it wasn't much of a problem. After the hectic day at the refinery, he pretty much dragged his feet getting there.
The retractable bridge had been extended. Sonic didn't mind it; he could have easily jumped the gap with a good running start, but he just wasn't in the mood for speed right now.
A throng of personnel, including young Matilda, had come out to meet him. Bunnie and Sally were among them.
Not a single word was uttered. If the look of defeat across Sonic's face didn't say enough, the ownerless hat in his hand did enough.
The surviving Rabbot took the hat and stared at it with eyes as wide as the sky for what felt like forever. Shock gave way to sorrow. Bunnie melted down, dropping to her knees and violently sobbing as she buried her face in the crown.
Sonic couldn't say anything. All he could do was wrap his arms around her.
Sally joined him without a thought.
Finally, Tilly, too. As if a miracle of biology, tears flowed from her eyes.