Flare stood to leave. “Sonic” he said gravely “I really don’t understand what is going on here any more than you do. I wish I could answer your questions but I can’t.”

“I know my duty is to the safety of Mobius” Sonic replied “And something tells me that you are no threat to it, so for now I am happy to call you friend.” Flare smiled and looked across at the fox who was closing his toolbox and tidying his new found treasures.

“How about you Miles?” Flare asked “Allies?”

“S-sure Flare, whatever Sonic says is good by me” Tails shot a watery half smile in the two hedgehogs direction, but deep inside he wondered how on Mobius Flare knew his real name.

The arrival of the medic had been a heart-stopping moment, but Robotnik soon regained his usual impatient composure. The thing had various arms with numerous sharp things attached to them. It trundled into the room, deftly negotiating around the debris that had resulted in the brief few moments that the doll was active. The medic was not quite agile enough to manoeuvre around the awkwardly positioned doll, and one of its tracks ran over the doll’s left hand, through the toughened glass Robotnik swore he heard a metallic scream.

“Sir” the medic bot addressed him in its cheery bedside manner. “Please open the door, I cannot help you unless I can get to you, now I know you are scared and in pain…” Robotnik went purple and smashed an already bleeding fist on the door release button, the computer would have put its fingers in its ears. If it had fingers. Or ears.

There was a strange atmosphere back at The Ranch and Sonic didn’t like it. “Look little buddy I’m sorry I ate all that food, its just what with Flare appearing and…”

“It’s fine Sonic, I’m really not hungry”

“Tails, that’s the sixth time you have repacked your toolbox, you only do that when you are really worried or upset about something. Come on buddy ‘fess up, what’s bothering you?”

Tails had his back to Sonic, and Sonic watched his best friend’s shoulders droop as he turned to answer him.

“It’s Flare” Tails looked sorrowfully at Sonic, and Sonic saw fear and bewilderment in his large blue eyes. “He frightens me Sonic. I know you think he is OK and normally that’s good enough for me, but there is something wrong. How did he know my real name? Why have we never seen him before? Is he something to do with Eggman, or worse? I don’t know Sonic, I hate doubting you but I’m just not sure”

Sonic smiled at his friend “Tails” he said kindly “Its good that you doubt me, you have your own mind and opinions. You are vital in our struggle here on Mobius, but I really think Flare is on our side; well, at least not on Eggman’s side that’s for sure”

“What about knowing my name? How did he know, Sonic?

“Maybe I called you and he overheard, I dunno…” Sonic trailed off.

Tails said nothing, and started repacking his toolbox for the seventh time.

The door to the panic room slid open and the medicbot rumbled inside. The doctor wisely kept back from the open door and made sure the medic was between the still body of the doll and himself. The bot hummed and clucked over the Doctors injuries, spraying cooling vapours onto his wounds, and injecting him with pain relief and stimulants and all the while cooing and chirping in a soothing manner, desperate to make his patient comfortable.

The Doctor, for his part was not a good patient. He squirmed and complained as the robot did his best to help him, and as the last of the plasters were being applied, he looked at the large clock on the lab wall and tutted.

“Yes yes, that’s enough I am fine now”, the Doctor mumbled “Don’ fuss any more.”

With an armful of stimulants Robotnik found that his courage and conviction were returning in waves, he pushed past the Medic and strode up to the still inert doll laying discarded on the floor. Sweeping up a long pair of tongs, Robotnik carefully extended them towards it as if dealing with a deadly snake, and grabbing the crushed leg, picked it up.

The doll hung limply from its damaged leg, looking forlorn and helpless but still managing to emit enough menace to make Robitnik nervous enough to keep a very firm grip on the tongs.

“Computer!” Robotnik barked “Two buzzbombers in here now!”

“Yes Sir, they are on their way” the computer replied almost smugly, as if the events of the past few minutes had somehow changed its opinion of its maker.

Holding the doll over the examination table, Robotnik lowered it not to gently and released the tongs, half expecting a new barrage from his psychotic creation, but it just clattered to the metal platter of the table and lay still.

The Entity had made its way into the heart of the castle, it found that too its utter amusement it could merge with the copper wires that were strung all around the place and move at will in any direction without expending any of its precious energy. The mechanical creatures that seemed to inhabit this place were of no threat to it at all, infact it found it could even use these soulless contraptions as a vessel to hold itself in and even more energy was saved. It still hungered for the source of the darkness it had felt earlier, but all these new wonders were so distracting. It vaguely followed the pull of the darkness, flitting from cable to robot and back again as its fancy took it, its wanderings took it through darkened corridors, filthy with neglect into wide open halls that would have been magnificent if not for the layers of dirt and oil, but all of it was lost on the entity, it was getting closer to the blackness, and it wanted to feed.

The Entity reached the castle gates without incident and surveyed the building. It sensed great power within its walls and a malevolence so thick and rich it could gorge itself until full. Passing through the open gate and into the courtyard, it felt strange that there were no other empathies that it could detect, a castle this big from its experience, should be teeming with life. Even if abandoned, life existed in some form or another but it couldn’t even sense the single minded determination of a rat. There was simply nothing.

“Summon a Cleanerbot to get rid of this mess!” ordered Robotnik to the still silent computer.

“Sir, all Cleanerbots are currently and very permanently offline.” The computer chirped.

“Bah..!” Robotnik turned and went back into the lab, attempting to slam the door in his usual, theatrical way but finding the arm of the welder that had probably saved his life, caught between the door and the frame, preventing it from shutting. Robotnik looked down and for a second seemed to remember something, his scowl receded and  a tiny shine came to his eye. This caught the attention of the Entity, that was still skulking around the courtyard, and like an arrow, headed for the lab.
A swift kick and the arm was removed, enabling satisfying noise that a slammed door made to be heard over half of Mobius.  In the gloom of the lab, Robotnik was encouraged to see that his new creation appeared to be sitting on the edge of the bed. Like a child, Robotnik giggled to himself and darted forward for a better look “Oh Dolly!” he burbled “how good you look! Now lets see what you have got!” He reached out to grab it, but the doll slapped his hand away. “How DARE you!” Robotnik bellowed, “You dare strike the hand of your creator!” The Tails Doll fixed Robotnik with its two round, red eyes.  Its head tilted slightly to one side, as if it was puzzled or inquisitive. There was a whirr and a click from inside, and it sprang at Robotnik, plunging the tips of its needle sharp fingers into his chest “ARRRGG!” Robotnik screamed and pulled out the device with the button on it, stabbing it hard with his thumb.

Nothing happened.

The Doll continued to thrash at Robotnik, drawing more of the scientists blood, soon the Dolls fur was splashed red. Despite all Robotnik’s strength, its sharp fingers and needle teeth found their mark. Robotnik realised that he was fighting for his life, the deactivation button hadn’t worked and this thing was out of control. He also realised he wasn’t yet badly hurt and  fear was beginning to be taken over by rage, but despite all of this, he was loosing.“COMPUTER, SAFE ROOM, NOW!” Behind him, a door slid open and the room was bathed in a soft light. Using all his anger and strength, Robotnik managed to disengage from the crazed creation and fling it too the floor, giving him just enough time to scuttle backwards and seal the door. It was made from reinforced steel and glass, designed to keep back the most dangerous of his creations. Even so, the doll flung itself at it a few times, its talon like fingers leaving deep scratches in the glass viewing window. But just as suddenly as the frenzied attack had started, the Doll stopped, and dropped to the floor. Robotnik peeked through the clear but damaged panel, it was lying inert as if it had been a puppet that had lost its strings. For a full five minutes, Robotnik continued to stare at it, but it just lay there.

Summoning a medical unit, Robotnik looked at his injuries, they were light, no more than cat scratches but there were many of them and his tunic was wet with blood. “What did I miss?” he mused “The shutdown should have killed it.” Robotnik realised that the problem lie in what the Doll was made from. Clockwork did not use electrical signals, only springs and cogs, this made it impossible to control and therefore useless. The realisation was almost too much for him “Nyyyaaaagggh!” he banged his fist on the glass leaving a bloody handprint “All that work for NOTHING!” The lab door opened, just out of view from the safe room. Robotnik, surprised at his nervousness, strained to see what had opened the door. He jumped a full three feet in the air when the computer loudly announced the arrival of the medical unit.

The entity viewed the castle with a dismissive eye. The rain was a nice touch and the castle was dark enough to be foreboding, but there was no real malice. It didn’t give the observer the feeling of dread it deserved. Being released by those metal creatures had been luck, having that blue creature turn up and create such a disturbance that its presence was forgotten, well that was pure fate. This world needed a little dread and the entity was looking for a way to feed. A perfect harmonious relationship, now what could be better? The sensors and cameras meant nothing to it, it saw them as branches on a tree, nothing to be concerned with. It was more interested in the growing aura coming from deep under the castle, there was almost a blending of three empathies, one pure lust for power and a selfish disregard of anything, the next a twisted and spasmodic feeling of injustice coupled with a longing to do the right thing. This aura was strange, like that of an infant. The entity disregarded this one, it was far to soft and unpalatable. The third was more to its liking. If viewed, this aura would be darker than black, it wouldn’t be a colour, more an absence of it. A deep velvet darkness that consumed everything that touched it, and right now it was growing with a tempering of rage that made even the entity slow its pace for a second. “Oh yes” it thought to itself “I must meet with this fellow.”

“Cleanerbots!” Shrieked Robotnik “Return to your duties immediately!” One by one the Cleaners began to click to each other, the lead bot keeping time, and slowly they began to inch forward.

Sonic had finished the last of the food when Tails arrived. Tails rolled his eyes but said nothing, he knew there would be something for him later, right now he was more interested in sorting through his bag of salvage. Sonic’s place was small, and comfortable with a place for everything including a corner for Tails to ’tinker’.

“Hey Tails, you hungry?” Sonic asked “I kind of got carried away…”

“Its ok Sonic” replied Tails “I need to check this stuff” Tails continued sorting through the broken pieces and caught snatches of the conversation between his dear friend and the newcomer. It seemed that Flare had been on Mobius longer than Sonic, and was quite a bit older but for all his advanced years he didn’t show it. Sonic and Flare were virtually identical except for colour and the strange bracelets that  he wore on his arm. When questioned about them or anything of his past, Flare was very evasive, but Sonic seemed to trust him, whatever Flare had said on that first meeting earlier that day it had won his trust and confidence, which was odd as Sonic took a very long time to trust anyone. Sonic and Flare had been discussing the temple and the reason for Eggman’s attack. Flare seemed unconcerned about the loss of the essence, more worried about the physical damage to the temple structure as if damaging it would cause harm to Mobius. When pressed on why this could be, Flare was at a loss to give an answer.

“I’m sorry Sonic, I just don’t know. I feel the answers are there but just out of my reach. Its been like it for so long I have stopped questioning it and just live peacefully out of everyone’s way at the temple. Repairing it as necessary, gently warning off people that get too close. Nothing physical, just a gentle push.”

“Are you psychic then Flare?” Sonic asked with a smirk, thinking about another Hedgehog he knew.

“No, I don’t think so, it just a knack I have”

“Hmm a very handy knack that…”

“I do think it strange we have never seen you though Flare, Sonic and I go to that place a lot” Tails blurted out. Flare shot him an odd look.

“Strange indeed I have never laid eyes on you either Tails” Tails dropped his gaze and continued rummaging in his bag.

The Cleanerbots began to close ranks and continued to advance on the Doctor. One by one they raised their manipulators and extended their fingers.“What is the MEANING of this?!” Robotnik was purple with rage, but stood his ground as they began encircling him. “I DEMAND that you return to work!” The clicking stopped.

“Sir” Came the voice of the computer “There is an unidentified energy source approaching the castle, intentions unkno…”

“I am a little BUSY!” Robotnik hissed through gritted teeth “There is a malfunction with the Cleanerbots, a malfunction that should have been spotted by YOU” The computer fell silent. The lead Cleaner raised its manipulator in an almost apologetic way, and simultaneously the others followed. Robotnick was now totally surrounded, his escape blocked and more than twenty pairs of very hard and some very sharp manipulators pointed at him.

“This is your very last warning Cleaners, return to duty right now” Robotnik’s voice had dropped to a low and menacing whisper. The lead Cleaner knew what to do, it remembered the smashed Badnik valiantly trying to complete its mission, it remembered how cruel Robotnik was, to him machines were just tools, but this Cleaner had seen the light and the light stripped away the dark cruelty of his creator. This had to stop. Time seemed to slow for the Cleaner, It was issuing the order to the others to lunge, pierce the flabby soft flesh of the evil creator so his fluid leaked on the floor, when it saw the old welder, his first recruit, standing next to him. As the command to lunge was issued, the welder put its body between Robotnik and the nearest manipulators, saving him but dooming the welder to be impaled by his fellow bots. This gave Robotnik time to pull a control device from his pocket, it was a simple box with a button on top.

“Stupid robots” Muttered the Doctor pushing the button “Did you think it would be that easy?” There were twenty or so muted explosions, and all across the castle, every Cleanerbot dropped to the ground.

Back at the temple, with the two Hedgehogs gone, Tails felt very alone. For one panic filled moment, he span round, convinced he was being watched but found nothing. It probably was the aftershock from the battle, and the sudden appearance Flare. The fox dismissed it as nerves and continued to gather up interesting parts from the fallen Badniks. He wanted more than anything to put a stop the hurt and unhappiness that Eggman was unleashing on Mobius. He believed that the answer could lie in understanding the technology that was the tool Eggman used to terrorise Mobians and forward his evil cause. Tails had a secret respect for the Doctor, the speed and level of skill that the robots were produced were true tributes to his amazing ability, the designs were complex and if it wasn’t for Sonic, they would have overrun Mobius years ago. If this genius could only have been applied for good rather than selfish reasons, Mobius would be a very different place indeed. Tails sighed heavily, that would never happen, the Doctor needed to be stopped permanently, and that probably meant his destruction. Gathering up the last few bits that interested him, Tails moved off to meet up with Sonic and Flare, he hoped there was some food left.

The entity watched the strange orange creature as it moved here and there, picking up bits from the floor, and felt nothing but distain for it. The thing had an interesting aura, but nothing special. Now that the guardian had left with that other blue creature, it could make good its escape, a dark ripple moved through its mist like body, it was as close as it could get to laughter. Foolish guardian, it had no idea what it was really guarding, hidden away here under the noses of the people. It looked where the robot had dragged away the sphere of essence, the trail was like a beacon to it, and it could sense a delicious aura, far away, but juicy with violence and black hatred. Following the trail, the entity would finally eat well.
With the final turn of the key, Robotnik carefully pulled the scrap of cloth across and closed the chest cavity. He took out a rusted needle that was threaded with a rough thread and began to sew it up. He could feel the computer watching him. “What is it now?!” He turned his attention away, just in time to jab the needle into his finger, the rusty point pierced his flesh and drew a spot of very dark blood. “Arrrrrrggg!!!” Bellowed Robotnik, “See? See what you made me do?” The computer wisely remained silent. A large  drop of blood splashed onto the chest of the doll, soaking through the thin fabric and into the clockwork workings. Robotnik hurriedly finished sewing, making a tatty job look worse as he left bloody fingerprints here and there. With a final knot, it was done and Robotnik sat back and looked at its creation. It lay there not moving, a feint whirring coming from it was the only sign of life. “Come on then” he murmured irritably “Lets go…” The doll remained motionless.

Getting into Central Processing had been easy. Cleanerbots had almost unlimited access clearance to every part of the castle. The hard part was getting to use the computers and communication equipment that the newly enlightened bot believed he needed to spread his word of revolution. There was no plan, its processing limitations didn’t allow for it, so in a way it was acting on some form of basic instinct. Rolling up to the terminal that governed all of the Cleanerbots, it reached out its manipulator and began to type. Amazingly the central computer ignored its interference and unauthorised commands, its attention was split between the new creation in the lab, and the outside sensor reports of an approaching threat of undetermined origin. The Supercomputer was torn between telling its master of the danger, and disturbing him at a seemingly crucial step in the development of a new life.

The Cleanerbot was encouraged with its progress. Using the monitors, it could see other Cleanerbots stopping their work and trundling toward the chamber outside the lab, soon there would be twenty or more strong, willing manipulators to put down the evil and free the others. Never again would another robot be damaged or broken at the hand of the sadistic Doctor, never again would bots be forced to do the dangerous fetching and carrying while he sat in comfort and reaped the benefits. The Cleaner began to click excitedly as more and more cleaners moved to the antechamber, just a few more minutes of this and there would be nothing to stop it, it was time to join the others. The Cleaner turned from the terminal, and moved toward the door, in its path was the bot he had freed from the welding job earlier, it made no move to get out of the way so the Cleaner tried to go around it. The welder reached out a scarred and pitted manipulator, a few fingers had been replaced and there were patches on the hydraulic lines. It clicked as it took hold of the smaller manipulator of the Cleaner, and for a second, the Cleaner caught a glimpse of gratitude, but not for him, for the Doctor. The welder clicked again in rapid stuccato, and another image flashed into the Cleaners mind, the welder was an old model Cleanerbot, one of Robotnik’s first, and back then had been caught in an accident when a superheated pipe had exploded, blowing half its body away, the welder had still been able to fix the blasted hole and seal the leak, but at the expense of his remaining power. The younger Robotnik had found the smashed and half melted welder, frozen in its final pose and had personally repaired it. Feelings may have been omitted, but the impression of this event had burned into its deep programming. The Cleaner clicked loudly at the welder and pushed it aside, this had to stop, right now.

“Sir” The computer said “There is a large collection of Cleaner class robots gathering in the antechamber outside the laboratory. I have also to report there is a presence approaching the castle, species and threat level unknown.”“Hmm?” The Doctor was distracted “Cleaners outside? What now!” He covered the doll and moved to the lab door, yanking it aside in his customary way he was met with a room packed with Cleanerbots, the one he had modified that very day at the head.“Cleanerbots, disperse and return to duty at once!” He yelled “I have no time for this!” More than twenty optical receivers that served as the vision systems of the assembled Cleanerbots focused on their master, and for the second time in twenty four hours, Robotnik felt apprehensive.

It had all been too much for the poor Cleanerbot’s primitive processor, the ideas and images that kept flashing through its tiny mind were coming at such a rate it couldn’t cope. Thoughts and images began crashing together, swirling and solidifying into a single, but still out of focus, purpose. Clicking rapidly to himself he ran into another of his kind, a fellow Cleaner that was busily welding a broken panel back on a power conduit. It had been damaged earlier in the week when Robotnik, unhappy at something or an other, had hurled a hammer at a Medical bot, smashing its head and damaging the panel. The Cleanerbot reached up with its manipulator, still covered in the goop from the sphere, and again for a brief second felt the impact of the heavy and cold metal hammer slam through the bot and into the wall. This had the effect of crystallising the purpose that was forming in its mind. It was as if everything fell into focus. One thought, one purpose, one mind. Doctor Ivo Robotnik was evil, and must be stopped. An underlying image of what evil was grew like a shadow underneath the sharp purpose, giving it depth and meaning. The Cleanerbot knew what to do, it needed allies to do it. Stabbing forward with its manipulator, it smashed through the back of the still welding Cleanerbot, and allowed its fingers to wander over the circuitry it found there. The welder jumped, shuddered, and relaxed. It turned to the bot that had freed it, and clicked a quizzical thank you. Now they needed to get to central processing.

Robotnik rummaged in a drawer for a syringe. It wasn’t a tool he normally used but this was no ordinary creation. Robots just didn’t work on Sonic, his speed and skill couldn’t be matched with modern technology, so Robotnik had sat and thought and raged until an idea came to him. If modern technology failed, then maybe ancient technology was the answer. Most of Robotnik’s creations came spontaneously from his own genius, so research was almost unknown to him, but his obsession with the downfall and destruction of Sonic the Hedgehog had now reached a point where anything was fair game, so he had hit the books and for months had found nothing. As usual with these things he was almost at breaking point with exasperation when he found a slim, battered book tucked sideways on a shelf in a forgotten part of the castle. It spoke of motion using springs and cogs, life from life, concentrated liquid happiness and all sorts of mumbo jumbo, but it seemed to make sense to the frazzled Robotnik mind. Life essence was almost impossible to find on Mobius, it came from the contented minds of the inhabitants, flowing and collecting in places of spiritual importance. To get it required contented people, and there hadn’t been any of those for a long time. The cogs and springs had confounded him too, robots moved with gears and hydraulics, powerful pistons and electricity, not delicately wrought cogwheels, governors and springs. There were skills to learn that stretched his intellect and dexterity to the limit, but several months, and numerous failed attempts later, he had a working power system that he nicknamed ‘Clockwork’.

The next stage was to find some essence, and learn how to manipulate it to give life. The book was vague on this and he had to fill in a lot of the gaps himself. Bots were sent on countless recon missions and new bots were created to obtain and recover it, but finally a source was found and a plan was forming. Capture of Tails was risky, but as Sonic was brave and courageous, Tails was inquisitive and practical. He couldn’t resist an opportunity to study and tinker with some new mechanical device, and to make it in the shape of Tails himself was a stroke of pure genius. The fox would not be able to stem his curiosity to study it, and Sonic would be hesitant to destroy it, so it would be perfect for getting close to both of them, then the sky was the limit! A concealed bomb? A rampage with a chainsaw? Oh the fun the old Doctor would have!

Chuckling to himself the Doctor filled the syringe with the remaining goop from the sphere, and moving to the table whipped off the cover. Lying on the table was an abomination. The thing that lay there was a very loose approximation of the fox known as Tails. It was a hastily stitched together bag of dirty orange fur, its limbs loosely hung by its sides, its eyes open, staring blankly. Its mouth, a dark hole framed with rows of needle sharp teeth had fallen open to reveal a dark red stitched tongue, lolling to one side. Its chest was open, the fabric not yet sewn up, and in the cavity, a mass of cogs, springs and wire lay still, waiting for the turn of a key. There was a small glass bottle, where the heart should be, its cork held in place with a brass clip. With one hand, Robotnik opened the clip and removed the cork, and using the syringe squirted the contents and filled the bottle. He rooted around in his pocket and produced a tiny silver key. Inserting it into a slot next to the bottle, he began to wind.

“Hello Dolly” smiled the Doc, “It’s Playtime…”

Robotnik was at a loss to explain what had just happened, so he did what he always did when something upset him, he ignored it. The subject under the cloth was exactly as he had left it, so he put it all down to a trick of the light. Returning to the cabinet full of cutting gear, he unlocked the door and selected a fine and accurate laser cutter, capable of slicing through metal fingers like a spoon through porridge. With a quick glance at the table he stomped out of the lab and back to the Cleanerbot in the other room.

Typically the room was empty of robots. Robotnik was slightly irritated that the Cleanerbot had returned to duty without being dismissed, he was also annoyed that the broken badnik had been dumped on the floor in a puddle of goo. He swept it up and stamped back into the lab, slamming the door behind him.

There was a clicking from the other side of the room that the Doctor had just left, and the Cleanerbot, who had witnessed the removal of the badnik rolled toward the lab door, its clicks getting more and more frequent as more and more ideas and images flooded, and ran over its over worked and over heating processor.

Robotnik threw the shattered robot casually on the bench and tried once more to remove the sphere from its grasp. A weak light emitted from the camera that served as its vision and for a moment, the badnik registered it was in the presence of its creator. It couldn’t move as all its fluid had now escaped, and its power source was too weak to move any actuators. Programming took over, and using the very last of its backup, it tried to release the sphere from its hand, and complete the mission. There was a feeble spark from deep in its broken body as the last remaining drop of power arced for the last time, still the sphere remained tightly in its grip.

All of this was missed by Robotnik, he was busy warming up the cutter. He glanced down when he heard the spark, but with one fluid movement, brought the cutting laser down and severed the hand from the badniks wrist.

“Cleanerbot entering lab, sir” The computer was eager not to miss anything else. “Access granted.”

“Dismissed, Cleanerbot. I have no further need for you, return to duty” The Doctor didn’t look up from examining the sphere, he was carefully prising the fingers from the prize and had no interest in being disturbed. The Cleanerbot didn’t move.

“I said dismissed!” Still, the bot did nothing other than emit a click, Robotnik now looked up “Get out!” he screeched, “I’m very busy!” The bot hesitantly rolled backwards and stopped as if confused or in conflict with something, then headed out the door.

“Stupid things, I need to update them” He thought to himself as he turned back to the sphere. It was a plain thing, about the size of a tennis ball, dull grey in colour and covered in one side is a reddish goo, that leaked from a small crack. “Gahh! Stupid, heavy handed morons!” Robotnik dropped the sphere into a container to catch the rest of the substance. “This stuff is unique! Lucky I only need a few drops, wahahahaha!” Glancing over to the table, he said with a menacing grin, “A few drops will do just nicely…”

Tails covered his face and began to shake. He hadn’t heard Sonic shout like that with such an edge of fear to his voice before. Sonic was utterly fearless and Tails idolised him for it. Many times Sonic had been there for him, rescuing him sometimes, comforting other times. Sonic was his world and his saviour. No one had really cared for him since that fateful day and if Sonic was frightened then it had to be bad.

He lay as still as he could, sensing the hedgehog standing over him, for what seemed like an age. After a while he became aware that Sonic was talking in a cool and calm voice, and soon felt the gentle nudge of Sonic’s red and white striped shoe, poking him in the side.

“Yo, Tails, get up buddy” Sonic said “Its safe now” Slowly Tails got to his feet, and rubbing the dirt from his eyes stood dumbstruck at the sight before him. Standing next to Sonic was another hedgehog.

He was the same height and build as Sonic, and had a kind, gentle smile.

“Sorry to scare you Tails” The strangers voice was gentle, but had an underlying strength “I have been here so long I am suspicious of everyone. Allow me to introduce myself” The new hedgehog stepped forward, into the light, “My name is Flare, Flare the Hedgehog.” Flare indeed was almost identical to Sonic, except for his colouring, he was a light blue, and he wore bracelets on his right arm but he still had the same dark green eyes that shone with a deep kindness.

“Umm…” Tails looked at his feet “Are you related to Sonic?”

Flare laughed “I don’t think so Tails, we just seem to share the same values. I watched you and Sonic fighting those monsters that stole the Essence, I waited to see what you would do after it was taken. I have been watching you for some time”

“Hmm that explains my gut feeling…” Sonic began “Hang on, what? What was stolen? We got all of those Badniks…”

“Not all” said Flare “I watched as one escaped but I was duty bound to stay and watch over the temple”

“Why did you not help us, or at least stop the one getting away with your Essence?” asked Tails

“The Temple holds more treasure than you know, and besides, the Essence can only ever be used for good, if evil is applied to it it just turns to water, so it is quite safe”

“Flare, you have been locked in the Temple way too long!” Sonic said “If Eggman wanted it, then he has a way to use it”

“Sonic” Flare said gently “Please don’t worry, Essence is created all the time and gathers in the Temple, the small drop this ‘Eggman’ got is nothing to fear. I am more concerned for the Temple itself, I don’t think it would take much to flatten what remains!”

“So, what now?” Sonic asked “I am not surprised to meet another Hedgehog, they seem to spring up all the time, still its always nice to meet someone new. Lets go get some food.”

“Ill stay” Tails said “I want to make sure I have all the data of these new Badniks”

“Ok, be careful lil buddy, see you back at the ranch” Sonic winked. As the two hedgehogs walked, then broke into a run, a single red speck in the darkness by the Temple entrance appeared, its attention seemed focused on the lone fox.

Robotnik yanked the door open, allowing it to crash dramatically against the wall with a satisfying bang.“Good Evening Sir, the subject has not moved since…” The computer began.

“Shut up” he snarled, and began rummaging in a large toolbox marked ‘Hammers, Various, Large.’ Finding one that pleased him, Robotnik strode across the room toward a cabinet with a workbench underneath. Various cutting tools lay strewn about but the Doctor ignored them all and reached up to unlock the cabinet. A crash split the hushed quiet of the lab, Robotnik span around, searching for the source of the noise, expecting to see one of the half witted Cleanerbots to be standing there, staring at the mess it had caused. But there was nothing, except for the tray of surgical tools that had been balanced on the edge of the lit table in the center of the room were now all over the floor. The good Doctor also noticed a gloved hand had slipped from under the cloth and was hanging limply over the edge of the table.

“Gahhhh! What’s this? What’s this?” yelled Robotnik “Who’s there? Come on show yourself!” There was no answer, just the humming of machinery “COMPUTER! WHATS GOING ON?!” His voice broke with rage, the computer remained silent.

Moving to the terminal, Doctor Robotnik began punching buttons on the keyboard “Gah, what’s wrong with this thing?” his eyes moved unconsciously from the screen to the table, the gloved hand was still there, unmoving. Robotnik stared at it for almost a minute, as if entranced.

“You told me to shut up, Sir. I was following orders” The computers sarcastic voice boomed loudly, breaking the spell and making the old man jump out of his seat.

“I!” he began “You!” he continued “Arrrgggg!” he concluded, “What happened? Who was in here other than me?”

“No one Sir”

“So, the subject moved? Why didn’t you inform me?”

“Well, apart from the order to ‘shut up’ the subject didn’t move”

“WHAT! So how do you explain that? He pointed a trembling finger in the direction of the table

“Explain what sir?”

“THAT you sarcastic soon to be re booted half wit!”

“I fail to see what has excited you sir, perhaps I should call for medical?”

“The mess on the floor you idiot, the subjects moved from under the cover”

“Sir, please verify”

Robotnik was speechless with rage, he looked where he was pointing, poised to deactivate the stupid, blind computer that was supposed to be monitoring all aspects of activity in the lab, he looked past the end of his finger to the spot on the floor where the instruments were strewn, and found they were not there. Aghast, he moved closer to find that they were where they had originally been, neatly spaced on the metal tray, perched on the edge of the bed, the gloved hand was also where it had been, tucked under the cover. Absolutely flummoxed, and for the first time in his life a little apprehensive, Robotnik lifted the cloth covering the bed.

The area around the temple was littered with broken metal. Sparks and crackles of electricity emitted from smashed circuit boards and destroyed computer chips were the only sounds. Miles ‘Tails’ Prowler, a fox of mechanical leanings was running here and there, gathering parts and examining the wreckage.

“These are different from the normal Badniks, Sonic” he yelled “New designs, new power packs, even uprated weapons”

“Big deal!” came the reply “No matter what Eggman throws up, I can handle it, no sweat” Sonic the Hedgehog jumped down from the stone pillar he had been standing on, surveying the damage “Just what were those bozos after anyway? This temple is just a pile of old rocks”

“I dunno Sonic, but it doesn’t matter, we got em all.”

“Hmm… I wonder…” mused Sonic, “There has to be a reason Eggman is interested in this place lil’ buddy, and if he is interested, then I am too.”

The temple had been abandoned for many years, it was more a clearing in the forest with a circle of stone pillars and fallen stones littering the place. Even the reason for it existence, the gods or goddesses it was dedicated to were lost from memory. Mobians used it for a quiet spot to read or have picnics, it was one of those unchanging, peaceful places that everyone knew of, but no one knew why. Sonic himself had been relaxing there just hours before the badniks had arrived, Eggman had been quiet and there was not much to do so it was a good opportunity to catch up with some sleep. Strangely though, Sonic hadn’t been able settle down. For the first time he felt uneasy, as if something were watching him, something just out of sight at the edge of his vision. Sonic was the fastest on Mobius, there was no doubt, and sneaking up on him was very difficult, his natural awareness and speed gave him almost a sixth sense to danger, but this feeling was different, there was definitely a threat there, but he could feel no malice. Sonic did what he always did, and went with his gut feelings, waited it out and sure enough a few hours later the badniks turned up.

But now, after the battle had long finished, his heart returned to normal and the excitement gone, there was that feeling again, danger but no malice. Sonic was confused. “Hey Tails!” he called “you have that movement sensor thing you made? The one that detects people?”

“Sure Sonic, but why? I’m sure we got em all, and Eggman makes so much noise we would hear a second wave coming.”

“Call it a hunch, but I have a funny feeling”

“You hungry Sonic?

“I’m always hungry lil’ buddy but not this time, fire it up will you?”

Tails reached into a small leather bag and withdrew a plastic box which comprised of a screen and a few buttons. Pushing the buttons and waving it in the air, Tails reported “Not a thing except me, you know its not sensitive enough to pick you up, but us normal folk it can!”

“Hmm…” Said Sonic again “Keep trying buddy, I’m going for a look around.” In one leap, Sonic was back up on the stone pillar, jumping from one to the next, getting faster and faster, searching the ground from his high vantage point.

“Hey!” Yelled Tails “I think my machine is getting better! It read movement over by where you are, just for a second! It can’t read ghosts and I know its only you up there, right Sonic?” Sonic stopped,

“Yeah just me, there’s nothing up here, and I cant see anything down on the ground” Sonic looked down at Tails, and for a second saw the flash of a shadow behind him.

“TAILS!” Sonic yelled “RUN!” Panicked by Sonics sudden shout Tails ran forward, but his bag tangled in his feet and he fell, Sonic was at his side in an instant, ready to protect his friend.

It’s sight failing, the forlorn robot used its one good arm to pull itself along. It could feel no pain, but it knew it was only a matter of time before its systems would shut down and fail. Programming dictated its purpose, it had watched dozens of its fellows fall, a blue blur of death smashing them aside like toys, while it had moved with determination toward the goal. The castle was now in sight and as usual a fine mist of rain began to fall, something to do with the masters experiments in weather control. The water wasn’t going to help, it was seeping through its broken shell and beginning to short out vital electronics. Its programming became hazy but the purpose remained clear, get the goal item back to the castle at all costs.

Doctor Ivo Robotnik eyed the monitor with distain. Of the hundred newly designed ‘badniks’ (he hated the term, coined by the peasants he now ruled with an iron fist, he knew his creations were masterpieces) only one had survived, and that was smashed and about to fail. Its feeble efforts at pulling itself along the ground, with no regard for is own survival was lost on him, what’s more the robot appeared to be allowing the precious item to drag along the ground! This incensed the old Doctor so much that he decided to spend even more resources, and send a rescue party to retrieve it and destroy the failed and useless thing.

Its progress now slowed to a few inches as the manipulators that were its fingers began to seize, the hydraulic fluid that provided the movement was slowly leaking from many ruptures and the water from the rain began to short the power source. Its vision picked up movement ahead, and perceived it as friendly. Rescue party, was probably the wrong term to use as the robots chosen were designed to collect and destroy garbage. A little tweek in their program, and an addition of a lighter manipulator to handle the delicate item without damage was no trouble at all for the Doctors genius, as soon as those mindless drones returned he could turn his attention to more pressing matters, namely the latest idea to crush the Blue Menace that tormented him for so long. Chuckling to himself he stood up, and moving away from the bank of monitors, walked over to the heavy iron door that was the entry to the lab.”Good Evening Sir, the subject has not moved since your last visit, 58 minutes ago” The computers voice had an edge of sarcasm Robotnik thought, but that was impossible, the computer was a machine programmed and built by him, why on earth would he make a sarcastic super-computer? The room was dimly lit, banks of machinery lined the walls, cogs, gears and rods littered the floor. A surgical table, covered in a cloth was in the centre, at the touch of a switch it was bathed in a brilliant bluish white light revealing a tuft of orange fur from the side of the cloth where it just didn’t cover the lumpy object beneath.”This is sure to work, that blue idiot has a soft spot for his pathetic side kick!” Robotnik pulled the cloth back a little and inspected what was underneath.

What it revealed was very unpleasant indeed.

The first of the Cleanerbots reached out with its redesigned manipulator, and flipped the seemingly dead robot over, its case was smashed, both its legs were useless, where it had dragged itself along the ground mud and filth had accumulated, adding to its sad and desperate look. No pity or feeling was shown as the Cleaner attempted to rip the item from the still hand of the bot whose frozen fingers were clamped tightly around it. Whether it was the smaller manipulator, or some stubborn part of the smashed bots program, the Cleaner could not free the object from its grasp. Clicking with frustration, it reasoned the best way to complete its mission was to bring the whole robot back to Robotnik, lest he damage the precious item.

On their return to the castle, they found the Doctor waiting impatiently for them. The Cleaner offered the stricken robot to him, clumsily holding it by the remaining good wrist, letting the damp and mud encrusted body dangle like a broken puppet. Robotnik grabbed at the spherical object still clutched in the damaged hand. It was covered in ooze and slime from the road that had mingled with the leaking fluids of the stricken robot. “Let go you moron!” bellowed the Doctor. The arm raised and jiggled in his grasp, but refused to give up its prize “Arrrrgh!” Robotnik screamed in infantile rage as he realised that there would be more delays as he now needed to gather tools and cutting gear to free it. The Cleaners shot each other a sideways glance, and Clicked in silent laughter.

Robotnik was a genius, no doubt about that. He viewed the world around him as his laboratory, its inhabitants as guinea pigs and the results good or bad, triumphs of his abilities. His world was also marred with unfathomable failures, most of which were interferences by an inhabitant of Mobius, a self styled Peoples Champion’ known as Sonic. A resident of Mobius, this creature possessed astonishing abilities and even more astonishing luck. Worse of all Robotnik, despite his genius and almost unlimited funds and materials, could only stand and watch as machine after machine, robot after robot, scheme after scheme was smashed with almost laughable ease by this thing who’s weapons were no more than a courageous heart and raw talent. This new venture would succeed where the others had failed. Sonic had a heart, he had feelings and a sense of loyalty and duty. All of these things so far had been ignored by Robotnik, feelings and decency had no place in his life and considered them a pointless weakness. How could he have been so foolish? Strike at the heart and the body dies! He couldn’t build a machine to match Sonic’s speed and power but he could construct something that would tug hard on the values that damn hedgehog held so dear, dragging him ultimately to his doom.

Watching the egg shaped body stamp off toward the lab, the first Cleanerbot glanced at the pathetic mess in its manipulator. A small pool of hydraulic fluid had formed on the floor below it, and it struck the drone that the thing appeared to be bleeding to death. The shock of this thought was like a thunderbolt to its primitave processor, thoughts had not been an issue when its main task was to collect and process garbage. Perhaps  the good Doctor had made an error when reprogramming it for this special task, perhaps he had been a little slack, desperate to retrieve the precious item that now also seemed to be seeping a reddish, treacle like substance over its manipulator. Cleanerbots , like other bots did not feel anything. They just followed orders until dismantled or destroyed. The Cleaner stared at the goop that was running from the now obviously cracked sphere in the smaller bots tiny hand, and for a second, a split second, just a splinter of time in an endless sea of nothing, the Cleanerbot felt warmth in its manipulator, that split second was all that was needed to plant the seed of an idea, in a very barren mind.