Operation: Missing

1996 Operation: Missing By Derek J. Barbee

Any resemblance to actual characters are not coincidental. ; )

Joseph, Bahb, and all other independent creations of Joseph DeLaCroix are the copyrighted property of JoCo Inc. Commander Packbell, Bookshire Draftwood, and Sandra Nightweaver are the copyrighted property of David Pistone. All rights reserved. Pause for bourgeois legalities: This story is copyright 1996 by the author, who grants permission to reproduce and distribute it, so long as A) you don't screw around with it and leave the text as it is, and B) you don't try and make some cash off of it. If you're serious about the latter, drop me a line barbees@sonic.net and we'll discuss my cut. All the normal provisions of Title 17 (the U.S. Copyright Law) still apply.

Based on characters and situations created by Sega Corporation, Archie Comics and/or DiC Productions. Bookshire Draftwood appears in this story courtesy of David Pistone Talent Associates.

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Time Line: A week after "Liquid Metal."

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Sandra Nightweaver gazed out at the Lake of Rings, deep in thought. Just a week ago, Packbell had tried once again to inflict pain by death and by feeling. He had created two clones of Joseph and Sandra made out of liquid metal. Joseph had come up with a plan and had made the clones solid instead of liquid, freezing them in place. Now he was in his lab, tinkering away with the two statues, seeing what he could do.

Sandra sighed. When he got like this he usually didn't do much else for quite a while. That meant less time with her. She loved him, and he loved her. She just wished that he would spend more time with her. He had been in the lab almost every day since the liquid metal episode.

She stood up. "Maybe," she thought, "if he won't spend very much time with me, I'll just go spend some time with him."

Sandra walked off toward Joseph's dome house, intent on putting her plan into action. She watched and shook her head as Tails ran past, laughing, with Nina hot on his heels.

"Kits," she thought, "it wouldn't be so bad to have them."

A nearby splash of water brought her out of her daydreams and into reality. Antoine was sitting in a tree laughing, obviously in one of his mischievous moods, with Bunnie standing underneath the tree sopping wet. Sandra didn't even have to look to know that there was a bucket of water balloons next to him. Out of the corner of her eye, Sandra saw Antoine look in her direction with an evil grin on his face. She abruptly changed her course, heading towards a deeper part of the Great Forest with no houses or roads nearby. She knew that she was Antoine's next target, and she intended to outfox him (Author's note: No pun intended). Sandra ducked behind a tree and watched as Antoine stalked her cautiously, the grin never leaving his face. Although he couldn't see her, Sandra smiled back.

Sandra picked up a rock, tested it's weight and then threw it. Antoine whirled in the direction the rock landed, thinking that that was were Sandra was. He hid himself behind a tree and picked up a water balloon from the basket.

"Now," thought Sandra, "now is my moment of truth. Let's see if I can still sneak around as well as I could before I settled in this sleepy little town."

Sandra stepped quietly toward Antoine, never making a sound. Antoine was feeling very smart at that moment, which was abruptly changed in three seconds time. Sandra tapped him on the shoulder, and when Antoine turned she pushed the hand that held the water balloon into his face, breaking the water balloon and soaking Antoine.

Sandra laughed at Antoine's stricken expression and grabbed the water balloon bucket. She ran off, leaving Antoine jumping up and down, screaming.

"I am beeing ambusheled! Ambusheled by ze very persen I am meening to get!"

"I think you mean ambushed, Antoine," Sandra called back at him.

She ran through the Great Forest, her spirit renewed by the wonderful feeling of mischief. Eventually she slowed her pace to an easy walk, still smiling. It was at that point she noticed a bush walking along next to her. She jumped. The bush jumped with her. She put her hands on her hips and stared at the bush. The bush seemed to stare back.

"Halt!" snapped Sandra," Who goes there? Friend of foliage?"

The bush shimmered and morphed into an orange, smiling fox. " A bit of both, I guess," replied the fox.

Sandra looked back in the direction of Antoine. "Catch my little ambush?"

"Rather hard to miss."

Sandra held up the bucket. "I got something aside from pleasure out of it, too."

"May I see?"

"Sure," grinned Sandra, "Take a good look at one."

She reached into the bucket, pulled out a water balloon and threw it at Joseph. Joseph stared at her, water dripping from his nose.

"And what, may I ask, was that for?"

Sandra shrugged. "You wanted to see them. So I gave you a good look!" She ran off, laughing.

Joseph smiled. "I suppose you know this means war?" he asked the fleeing figure.

"Yep!" Sandra called over her shoulder.

Joseph raised his hands. "Good!"

A water balloon appeared above his hands. Joseph sighted at the running Sandra and motioned his hand forward. The water balloon hurled forward, narrowly missing Sandra, who threw a water balloon back.

Sally was walking past that part of the Great Forest when she heard the sounds of water splashing not to far from her. She took cover behind one of the trees and looked around. A flying water balloon made her dive into a bush. Slowly she stuck her head out and once more looked out. This time she saw Joseph and Sandra throwing water balloons at each other. She smiled and sat down to watch.

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Packbell stared dismally at the monitor. He was bored. There had been no one around to hurt or to roboticize lately. That depressed him. He thrived on causing pain and fear, and when he couldn't do that he was bored, like he was now. A bleep from a nearby monitor dragged him away from his thoughts.

The face of a SWATBot appeared on the screen. "SWATBOT XY-456 REPORTING FROM THE ROBOT SHOP," it droned.

"Shut up and give me a report ," snapped Packbell.

<"PHASE ONE OF OPERATION: MISSING IS FINISHED.">

Packbell jumped. "You mean my new Super Bots are done?" he asked.

<"AFFIRMATIVE,"> replied the SWATBot.

Packbell grinned. "Waste no time!" he said, "begin Phase Two immediately!"

<"YES, SIR.">

Packbell turned away from the monitor. "Finally," he thought, "finally to get to stop that blasted hedgehog _and_ that magical fox, too."

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The west side of Robotropolis was quiet. Any innocent bystander would have thought that it was strange that there were no SWATBots guards around. With a whirr and a click, the door to an odd factory opened. At first nothing happened. Then, two red eyes glowed in the darkness. They seemed to slide up and down, as if whatever they were attached to was moving. Suddenly, something large emerged from the hole. It was of immense size, and the clatter of metal scraping against metal echoed throughout Robotropolis. The ominous black shape seemed to slither along, moving from side to side. It was large and metal, that was clear. But what it was was another matter. Suddenly, the large thing reared up into the moonlight.

It was a snake!

A large metal snake that seemed to tower over everything around it, dwarfing the trees and hills. It slowly turned around and stopped when it was aiming directly at the Great Forest. It lowered it's leviathan sized body and resumed it's course.

It's course toward the Great Forest.

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It was nighttime, and Sandra watched the ripples in the Lake of Rings. She dipped her foot in, continuing the ripples. The breeze rippled through the trees lightly, and Sandra glanced at them. She got up, stretching, realizing that she should be getting home now. As she zipped up her overcoat, she wondered how Joseph would surprise her tonight. A little romantic music, some interesting treat that he cooked up? She smiled at the thought.

A slight rustle in the bushes made he turn her head slightly. She continued walking, convinced that it was nothing. Another rustle made her stop in her tracks. This time she took a good look.

Nothing.

Nothing at all.

She began walking again, this time watching to see if she could catch a glimpse of what was making the rustling. Now she saw something move in the darkness. It seemed to gleam in the darkness and seemed very large. The thought of what that might be made her walk quicker.

The shape in the shadows moved quicker, too. Sandra began running. With a clatter of metal scales, the snake moved in quick pursuit. Sandra took one look at the abomination that followed her and redoubled her efforts. She saw Joseph's white dome house up ahead and began screaming to Joseph.

"Joseph! Joseph can you hear me? Joooseepphh!"

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Joseph saw the Sandra coming and wondered what the rush was.

Then he saw it.

Joseph jumped. He snapped himself out of it when he heard Sandra screaming. He immediately hit a button on the wall and screamed into the monitor.

"Bahb! Transport me _immediately_ outside with a plasma cannon!"

Bahb attempted to interject. <<"Joseph, I can see what is happening and I strongly suggest against risking your own life-">>

"Don't argue, Bahb! Just do it!"

With a shimmer of light, Joseph disappeared from the control room. A moment later he appeared outside. Joseph cocked the plasma cannon he held in his hands and aimed it at the snake.

A bolt of raw energy flew through the air, striking the snake with such force that it flipped the snake over. Although the shot seemed to have no lasting effect, Joseph kept firing. Sandra ran over to Joseph and embraced him.

But now people had heard the noise and lights were flooding the area with light. But when the citizens saw what Joseph was fighting, they immediately ran back inside the huts.

Joseph stopped firing, convinced that the snake was dead. He turned away with Sandra and they began walking back to his house. Someone called out a feeble warning, but it was too late. Sandra disappeared in a flash of light and a gasp. Joseph whirled around. The snake stood there, moving from side to side, grinning an evil grin. Joseph screamed in anger and frustration and threw the Plasma Cannon up in the air. The Plasma Cannon hovered in the air for a moment, and with a swing of his fist, Joseph sent the Plasma Cannon hurtling toward the snake. The snake let out a surprised hiss and disappeared in the rapid explosions from the Plasma Cannon when it hit the snake head on.

The flames rose high into the night and people cheered. But Joseph kept silent. Suddenly, the snake's head rose from the flames!

People gasped. The snake ascended into the air and looked at the pestering flames that licked it's body. It dove into the Lake of Rings and steam radiated from the water.

By now, Sonic and had shown up. Sonic looked at the fire, then at Joseph, who was standing in silent resentment. Sonic came up to him and put a hand on Joseph's shoulder.

"Hey, Joe! What just happened here?"

At that moment the snake rose from the Lake of Rings with something in it's mouth. Sonic jumped. He pointed in stunned acknowledgement.

"What the . . .? That thing has the Power Ring Generator in it's mouth!"

The snake seemed to swallow the Power Ring Generator in one large gulp. A panel in it's stomach opened and inside you could see Sandra and the Power Ring Generator. Joseph could hear Sandra call to him before the snake blasted off with some odd rockets in it's tail.

"Joseph!"

Joseph's eyes opened wide as he saw his one love flying away in a monstrous apparition of metal. He fell to his knees and cried out into the night.

"Sandra!"

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Packbell looked eagerly at the monitor, watching for movement. He wasn't usually this excited, but he was wondering how the mission went. When he saw the metallic snake emerging from the underbrush, he smiled. He pressed the talk button on the monitor and spoke into it.

"Super 'Bot XL-23! May I presume that your mission was successful?"

There was a satisfied hiss from the monitor and the snake's voice seemed to slither out of the speakerphone.

"You may, Commander Packbell."

Packbell raised an eyebrow. "That's _Emperor_ Packbell. Because your mission was successful, I will spare your punishment."

"Thank you, oh merssssiful one."

"Don't call me merciful, you slithering swine! If there is one word that doesn't describe me, it's merciful!"

"Ssssorry, Emperor Packbell," hissed the snake, avoiding an argument.

The metal snake, carrying it's cargo of a fox and a Power Ring Generator, continued toward Robotropolis. Packbell turned away from the monitor.

"Now we begin Phase Three," he smiled.

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Joseph stared off into space where the snake had blasted off, ignoring all else. Everything was quiet, even the people. Suddenly, something within Joseph snapped. His eyes seemed to light up and he tried to shoot off in pursuit of the snake. But something held him back. Joseph looked down, eyes glowing. Sonic held on to his foot, keeping him from flying away.

"Get off of me," hissed Joseph, his words as hard as steel.

Sonic shook his head. "No way, bro. You ain't goin' nowhere, nohow, until we get a plan. You ain't gonna' just fly off and try to get that stupid snake by yourself."

"I said . . . _get off of me!_"

A blast of fire exploded in Sonic's face, sending him flying away from Joseph and landing ten feet away. With that, Joseph shot off into the night like a comet. A few citizens of Knothole rushed over to help him up, some grinning ear to ear, some looking quite scared as if Joseph would come back and fry all of them.

Sonic sat up, rubbing his head.

"Ooog," he mumbled, "anybody get the number of that cosmic truck that hit me?"

Sally took this moment to enter the fray. She knelt down and put a hand on Sonic's shoulder. "Sonic, what happened here?"

"I thought that females were the only people that got hot flashes, but noooo! I had to be wrong!" muttered Sonic.

Sally whacked him slightly on the head. "Don't be crude. And what is that supposed to mean, anyway?"

"Some weird robot snake just came and stole Sandra and the Power Ring Generator," he sighed, "leaving me practically powerless. Joseph tried to save Sandra, put the snake captured her and flew off. Joseph tried to go after it, and I tried to stop him. Then, he blew me at least ten feet over here with a fireball and took off like a bird."

Sally's expression turned serious. "This could be a problem." She unstrapped Nicole from her boot and turned her on. "Nicole," she said, "can you find Joseph?"

Nicole bleeped. <"AFFIRMATIVE. JOSEPH IS NOW FLYING ABOVE THE OUTSKIRTS OF THE GREAT FOREST AND NEARING ROBOTROPOLIS.">

Nicole displayed a picture of Joseph, soaring above the trees, eyes alight, heading towards the ominous pollution cloud of Robotropolis ahead.

Sally stood up. "That's it. We're going after him."

Sonic put a hand on her shoulder. "Not 'we', Sal. Me."

Sally turned around, a expression displaying question on her face.

"And why is that?"

Sonic looked toward Robotropolis. He sighed. "I've been thinking about what life would be like for me if I didn't have my power rings to get me my speed anymore." He looked away. "I couldn't live with that. I appreciate your concern, but this is something I have to do alone."

Sally began to ask about Joseph, but Sonic cut her off.

"Joseph is going because, well . . ." Sonic smiled. "Number one: I think he's almost already there, and Number Two: the snake took Sandra, too."

Sally nodded. "I understand."

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When Sandra woke up, she felt odd. She looked around. The place she was in seemed unreal. It was so realistic, but it felt so dreamlike at the same time. She was in a dark place, that echoed with strange sounds. A hiss came from the shadows and Sandra felt her fur stand on end.

The snake emerged from a dark corner of the dark room she was in.

"Do you like it?" hissed the snake, "it'sss called the cave of horrorssss." It smiled. "Your friendssss will find that out ssssoon."

"My-y friends?" stammered Sandra.

"Yesss, indeed." The snake turned to a control panel that seemed to appear out of nowhere and pressed some buttons with it's long, slender tail. A picture displaying Sonic and Joseph heading towards Robotropolis came on the screen. Sonic was running, his feet a blur, with Joseph flying low to the ground with his eyes blazing.

"Thossse friendssss," hissed the snake, jutting it's tail at the screen.

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Sonic and Joseph raced toward Robotropolis, both determined to get the snkae, but for different reasons. Sonic glanced at Joseph as they were just a few minutes away from Robotropolis.

"This doesn't strike you as just a tad reckless, does it?"

Joseph slowly turned his head to face Sonic, and his eyes seemed to smoke. Sonic put his hands up in front of his face. "Alright, alright! Just asking!"

Joseph turned back towards Robotropolis. "I'm going to get Sandra back, whatever it takes."

Sonic scratched his head. "I'm not arguing with you on that, I just think that Packbell would have set up some sort of trap. Something like . . . something like . . ."

The ground seemed to rumble under them and two robotic hands shot out of the dirt and grabbed Sonic and Joseph.

". . . something like that!" finished Sonic.

An enormous Super "Bot emerged from the ground. It had an odd shape, but it looked powerful. Joseph growled and with one stroke, he tore off the robotic arm that held him. When Joseph was angry, he was a force to be reckoned with.

Sonic then destroyed the remains of the Super 'Bot by throwing it into a tree with a double kick flip. Sonic grinned at Joseph.

"Sally taught me that one."

Suddenly, another Super 'Bot blasted itself out of the ground and began firing rapidly at Sonic and Joseph.

"I can't place the face, but the intent is all too familiar!" exclaimed Sonic.

With lightening quick speed, the Super 'Bot grabbed both Sonic and Joseph and began spinning them around. Joseph tried to knock it away from them with a fireball, but some sort of electricity rippled around the 'Bot and deflected the fireball.

"This thing's got some powers, too!" said Joseph.

Sonic was being held by the ankle and spun around in circles in such a way that it made his stomach turn.

"More like it's got my leg!" cried Sonic, "Leggo, man!"

Suddenly, the Super 'Bot let go of both of them and sent them flying. Sonic looked at a rapidly approaching tree. "Not quite what I had in mind," he gulped.

But seconds before he and Joseph hit the tree, an electric force field shot up. Sonic and Joseph bounced off it with a thud. A panel in the ground opened and they fell into it. Sonic and Joseph found themselves sliding down a long winding tunnel that seemed to go on forever.

"Oh joy!" said Sonic sarcastically, "Now we're pinballs!"

With a yell, both Sonic and Joseph flew out of the tunnel and landed in something that looked and smelled like a toxic lake. Sonic came up spitting out some water.

"Eyuck! Someone has seriously disregarded the "No Dumping" policy around here!" Sonic looked around for Joseph.

Joseph erupted from the water shaking himself, annoyed at the stench of the water. Joseph waved a hand and Sonic floated out of the water, much to Sonic's relief.

"Ahhhh, it feels good to be out of that stuff." Sonic looked around. "Mega weird place though. Something tells me that icky water isn't going to be the largest of our troubles."

They were in some sort of underground cavern, filled with odd carvings and runes. A dim light flickered from torches that were embedded in the walls. When Joseph set Sonic down on dry land, Sonic went over to one of the rune patterns. He slowly traced his hand over the ancient sigla and stopped on one especially large and dark rune. Sonic looked oddly at Joseph.

"I don't remember much of Rosie's teachings of runes, but I always remembered this one." He looked back at the wall. "This one means danger."

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In a dark hallway, quite a ways away from where Joseph and Sonic were, something moved in the torchlight. Two blue eyes glowed in the darkness. A shape that seemed to be one with the shadows, never parting with them, moved down the hallway. It stopped and blinked at one particularly large and bright torch. A hiss sounded in the air and the torch fell from its spot on the wall, transfixed by a long slender knife. The shadow seemed to hesitate momentarily with a smug smile, but then continued on.

The figure accidentally turned a corner without looking. Its eyes widened and it jumped back into the shadows with a curse. After a moment, it poked its head out from the shadows and glanced at the cyborg guard that had caught a glimpse of him and was searching around for signs of him. The shadow waited for the exact time when the cyborg walked in front of him before he struck.

The cyborg fell with a clank and the buzzing of electricity. Its life force was wiped out instantly. A thin rippling laugh cut though the icy black darkness. The shadow continued on its path to the door. When it reached it, instead of opening it, it kicked it with one solid blow. The door fell with a bang, and the shadow stepped in.

Packbell was sitting at a computer staring at the screen, typing. He didn't even look up when the shadow made its entrance.

"Hello, Mulgar," said Packbell. "How many cyborgs did you destroy?"

Mulgar smiled and stepped out of the shadows. Mulgar was a full grown ferret with slick black fur and a belt that bristled with knives.

"Only one," replied Mulgar. He grinned. "I was merciful today."

Mulgar's bright blue eyes twinkled in the darkness. Mulgar always smiled, but never joked. His smiles could mean death.

Packbell stared at the ferret oddly. "Are all the . . . 'props' in place," he asked.

Mulgar nodded. "Yes. All my traps and surprises are in place, as well as your cyblorgs."

"That's cyborgs."

"Same difference."

Mulgar turned on his heel and walked out of the control room. Packbell watched him go, a faint smile flickering on his lips. He turned back to the monitors, muttering under his breath.

"Now normally, I'd say that he was a man after my own heart, only he is not a man, and I have no heart."

Packbell's evil laughter echoed throughout the intricate pattern on tunnels and mazes. The twinkling of Mulgar's eyes matched the laughter, and two evils became happy, anticipating the moment when they would get to strike.

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Joseph looked around, and the glow in his eyes faded. "Something tells me that my rage won't do me much good right now, at least not in here," he said.

Sonic nodded. "Amen to that. I don't think we could have gotten anywhere with you all steamin' like that.'

Joseph walked toward a wall by the polluted lake and looked at a panel in the wall. He turned to Sonic.

"Now something like that was put there for a purpose." Joseph glanced back at the panel. "I think that this place is going to have a heck of a lot of surprises waiting for us."

In the seconds that followed, four things happened. The panel opened with immense speed and a large battering ram shot out of the hole. Joseph tried to push Sonic out of the way, but it was too late. Sonic and Joseph flew through the air, pummeled by the ram. They landed back in the lake with a splash, much to their displeasure. Sonic came up and yelled.

"God! Back in sludge city! That bites!"

Joseph looked at numerous ripples moving toward them with deadly accuracy. He did a double take and looked at Sonic.

"This may not bite, but that probably will!" he said, pointing at the numerous fins that were now protruding from the water.

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The snake laughed softly at the struggles of Sonic and Joseph against impossible odds, and turned to the horrified Sandra.

"You sssee? Ssssimple assss that!" It grinned.

Sandra growled at the snake and thrashed against the binds that strapped her down. The snake came over and looked her in the face.

"Hah! That will do you no good!" said the snake smugly.

Sandra glared at the snake the fury in her rising. The snake put on a pitying face.

"Awwww. And what are you going to do to little old me?"

Sandra spat in his face.

The snake reared back, hissing. It glared back at her with equal intensity.

"That's what you'll get if you put that ugly excuse for a face near me again!"

The snake turned back to the monitor, glowering. 'We'll see, fox. We'll see."

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Sonic thrashed wildly in the water, desperately trying to fight off the meat-eating fish that attacked him. "Joseph!" he yelled, "I can't keep this up much longer!"

Joseph swatted a fish that was nipping at his tail. "Neither can I," he called back, "and I can't get in position to perform magic without a fish biting me and making me jerk!"

"Try!" yelled Sonic. "It's our only chance!"

Joseph tried to concentrate, but every time he began to feel the magical powers start forming, a fish would bite him hard, making him lose the magic. He gritted his teeth and tried to ignore the sharp pains that racked his body and concentrate on the magic instead. A fish bit him, but he ignored it. Suddenly, both Sonic and Joseph rose out of the water, away from the snapping jaws of the fish. Sonic gave one last sigh and went limp in the air.

Joseph attempted to concentrate once again and succeeded, he and Sonic were bathed in a yellow light that began to heal the wounds that riddled their bodies. Sonic, however, didn't move. Joseph knelt beside him, an expression of concern on his face. Joseph shook Sonic roughly, but Sonic still didn't move. Joseph raised his hands and an large amount of water appeared over Sonic. With a motion of Joseph's hand, the water fell on Sonic, making him leap back into consciousness.

"Wha? Who? Are we back in the water?"

Joseph stood and helped Sonic up.

"Oooog," said Sonic, staggering, "I feel dizzy, confused . . ."

Joseph smiled. "Good. You're back to normal."

It was as if Sonic had been slapped in the face. Sonic jumped, back to his normal state. He glared at Joseph. "How did I know that you would try to revive me with an insult?"

Joseph shrugged. "You set yourself wide open for that one."

Sonic sighed. "I guess I did." He clapped his hands and rubbed them together. "Well, let's get moving! We have a fox and a Power Ring Generator to find!"

"How true," muttered Joseph as they floated over to the shore and landed. "And there's a whole cave full of surprises waiting to stop us, so we had better be careful."

They walked along the wall, making a point not to press any buttons. Finally they came to a door. Sonic tugged at the handle with all his might. It didn't budge. He kicked it and gained nothing more than an aching toe. Joseph sighed.

Sonic hopped up and down holding his toe. He stopped and glared at Joseph. "I don't see you helping any."

Joseph rolled his eyes and pointed at three sets of runes beside the door. "One of those three will open the door. The other two, well, you can only guess what they do."

Sonic gulped. "Ye-hah."

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The snake snickered. "You see? Every decision they make is a life and death decision." It turned back to the monitor. "Sooner or later they're bound to slip up."

Sandra glowered at the snake, radiating hate and anger. She tried to move once more, but felt something poke her in her pocket. Sandra looked down, surprised.

Her knife!

Joseph had given her a new knife because her old one had broken, and Sandra still had her new knife in her pocket! Sandra looked up at the snake. It's head was turned to the monitor, not paying any attention to her whatsoever. She let the knife slide out of her pocket and onto the table next to her. Now, how to cut the bonds?

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Sonic regarded the three sets of runes carefully. One chance, and one chance only. He once again recalled Rosie's teachings of runes. He traced his finger along one of the sets and stopped on the third. Sonic glanced back at Joseph and nodded.

Joseph slammed his foot into the set of runes and stepped back, watching as the runes seemed to glow and expand. With a blast of light, the wall exploded. Sonic and Joseph were hurled backward by the force of the blast and landed hard on the ground.

It was a while before anyone moved. Sonic rolled his head over and faced Joseph. "You alright?"

Joseph sat up and winced. "Yeah, but I don't think I'm gonna be able to sit down for a week." He looked over at where the wall had been. "Maybe that wasn't such a good idea, kicking that wall."

Sonic pointed. "Hey, but it worked!"

Sure enough, a long winding tunnel could be seen where the wall had been. Joseph stood up. He shook his head. "I think that this isn't going to be the last of those things."

Sonic rolled his eyes. "Well, duh, Joe. Someone went through quite a bit of trouble to make all this. The snake, the tunnels, and such. Do you actually think that they would just let us waltz right in and out?"

Joseph waved a hand and a small pebble bounced off Sonic's head, making him jump. Sonic looked up, annoyed.

"Ouch! That hurt! Where did _that_ come from?"

Joseph looked away. "I have no idea," he said sarcastically.

Sonic grumbled something unintelligible but continued on. They seemed to walk through endless corridors, not getting anywhere, not even making a footprint. Sonic stopped and scratched his head.

"Eeesh!" he exclaimed. "Deja Vu, times two!"

Joseph nodded in acknowledgement. "I know what you mean. We don't exactly seem to be getting anywhere."

A spark of light made Sonic turn, eyes wide. "Joe, look! An exit!"

Sure enough, the tunnel branched out into two tunnels, each going opposite directions. The left tunnel headed upwards and daylight could be seen.

Sonic looked over at Joseph. "Let's get back to Knothole and get some others and then come back." He started toward the opening, still talking. "Yeah, this is _too_ good!"

Joseph stopped him. He pointed at the tunnel. "Yes, it is too good. Too good to be true!"

Sonic looked confused. "Are you saying that that's not really there? Look, its there! I can see it!"

Joseph shook his head and picked up a rock. He threw it with all his might towards the opening. It hurtled toward the opening, undisturbed for about ten feet. Suddenly, with a blast of electricity, the rock came flying back, on fire.

Sonic and Joseph ducked as the flaming missile flew over their heads. Sonic stared, goggle-eyed at the rock that now lay on the ground. Wordlessly, Joseph began walking down the other tunnel. Sonic shook his head and ran after Joseph, muttering.

"Whew! Thanks, Joe. A few more steps and I would have been Kentucky Fried Hedgehog, there!"

Joseph nodded. "Just watch what you're doing or we might not make it out of here."

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The snake slammed it's tail on the ground shaking the room that it and Sandra were in.

"Blassst it!" growled the snake, "They got passst another one!"

Sandra smirked. "Not as easy as you think, to kill my lover," she thought.

Sandra was working the knife up alongside her body, using her heavily brushed tail to move it. With one final brush, she got it into her hand. She paused for a moment, debating what to do. After a moment of thought, Sandra leaned as far as she could in the direction of the hand that held the knife, thus allowing her to touch the bond that held her foot. After a bit of sawing, the bond came loose with a snap.

Sandra froze.

The snake turned around, suspicious. "What wasss that sssound?" it asked.

Sandra pasted an annoyed glare on her face and looked up at the ceiling. "Some darn little pebbles keep falling on me! It's annoying!"

The snake, satisfied that it was torturing her even further turned back to the monitor. "Hah! Later I'll count how many bruises you have! Enjoying my little hideaway, vixen?"

Sandra growled. "I'm ecstatic."

The snake, chuckling softly to itself turned it's attention away from her. Sandra smiled behind it's back. "It's true what they say," she thought to herself, "there's a sucker born every minute."

Silently, she began to cut the other bonds that held her down, this time careful not to let on of the bonds snap again.

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Sonic walked along the cavern, careful to watch for any unpleasant surprises. he turned a corner and jumped. "Jeez!" he exclaimed. "Look at all these doors!"

The hallway was riddled with thousands of metal doors, all identical. Joseph looked over at a small sign that lay at the side of the hallway, covered by thousands of years of dust. Joseph picked it up and rubbed the dust of it. He raised an eyebrow curiously.

"Hey, Sonic!" he called, "Look at this!"

Sonic came over and examined the sign, reading it carefully, repeating the words out loud.

"The doors you see before you are gambles. Some hide away treasures of the unknown, things that you may find of use. The others: a certain doom. Horrors of unseen things. Only one door leads to the objects you desire." Sonic shuddered. "I don't think I wanna' meet the guy who wrote this. Talk about Doctor Doom!"

Joseph walked over to one of the doors and studied it. "It's a pity we can't find out what's inside these doors by looking at the outside," he said. He sighed. "There's only one way to find out what's in them."

With a quick movement, Joseph opened the door, unsure of what he was to find. At first, there was nothing. Joseph peered into the darkness, trying to find anything of use to them. A pair of glowing eyes peered back. Joseph did a double take when he saw the eyes. He began slowly backing away from the door.

"Uh, Sonic? I don't think there's anything pleasant in there, lets keep moving!"

Sonic looked quickly inside the room they had opened. He looked back at Joseph. "I don't see anything," he stated matter-of-factly.

Joseph shrugged and started toward the door. "Maybe there was nothing there. Maybe it was just-"

His eyes went wide and he made a leap for the door. Sonic had to dive out of the way to avoid being hit by the flying Joseph. Joseph slammed the door shut with a clang. A second clang sounded, making Sonic look up questioningly.

"What was the second clang?" he asked. "And why did you jump at the door like that?"

Joseph stepped out of Sonic's view of the door, revealing an enormous indentation in the solid metal door. Sonic jumped. "Whooaaa, Nellie! What was made _that_?"

Joseph shook his head. "Do you really want to know that?"

"You're right, I don't."

Joseph waved a hand. "Then let's continue on!"

"Which brings us to the _next_ door," sighed Sonic.

Joseph stood still for a moment. Sonic began to ask what he was doing, but then stopped. Joseph started to glow brightly. Suddenly, the door flew off it's hinges and inside the room. Sonic cautiously stepped inside and looked around. After a moment of futile searching, he called back to Joseph.

"Hey, Joe! Could I have a little light here?"

A glowing orb appeared over Sonic's head.

"Thank you!"

Sonic now had a chance to look around clearly. He smiled and stooped down to pick something up. Joseph raised an eyebrow as Sonic came out carrying a plasma cannon.

"One of the good doors, I presume?" he smiled.

Sonic cocked the gun. "Ahhh, yeah. That was a good one."

"Good. We could use some luck right now."

"And we just got some!" cried Sonic, heading over to to next door and flinging it open carelessly.

There was an explosion of black soot and both Sonic and Joseph shielded their eyes. Sonic looked down at himself.

"Oh, yuck!"

Sonic was covered head to toe in black soot. Joseph laughed. "You look like you had a close encounter with a bonfire!" he laughed.

"Oh, shut up," muttered Sonic, shaking the soot off himself. he glared over at the door. "More important, what caused the soot to explode like that?"

As if on cue, several black forms floated out of the open doorway. Sonic gaped.

"They're. . . they're ghosts!"

Joseph stared. These things were transparent, faintly black, and had remotely human features. Probably the oddest thing about them was that they could float in the air and had no feet at all.

"Smoke Beings!" breathed Joseph.

With a cackle, the Smoke Beings flew off in different directions. Joseph leaped into pursuit.

"After them!" he yelled at Sonic.

Sonic shrugged and raised the plasma cannon. A blast of energy hit one of the Smoke Beings and slammed it into the wall. It slid to the floor and disintegrated into soot. The second Smoke Being flew over to it and looked down at it. It whirled on Sonic chittering madly.

Sonic appeared bored. He yawned and looked off in a different direction. The Smoke Being screeched and threw a bolt of fire at Sonic. It hit him face on, throwing him at least five yards.

Joseph was sending fireballs at an ever dodging Smoke Being when Sonic came flying past him. Joseph stared as Sonic landed with a bounce and an oof. Seconds later, the Smoke Being that had shot Sonic flew past Joseph, sending another bolt of fire hurtling at Sonic.

"Yo, Joe!" screamed Sonic. "A little help would be appreciated here!"

Joseph threw a fireball at the Smoke Being that was attacking Sonic, making it fall into ashes. Satisfied, Joseph turned back to the Smoke Being he was fighting, only to be hit a by a bolt of fire.

Joseph cursed and sat up. "Never turn your back on your enemy!" he said, reciting the old lesson he had been taught so many times.

The Smoke Being satisfied that it had Joseph right where it wanted him, floated over confidently. A blast of fire destroyed it instantly.

"I see you forgot that lesson, too," smirked Joseph.

Sonic stood up, fuming. "ALL RIGHT!" he roared, "WHO ELSE WANTS A PIECE OF ME?"

Joseph had to duck when a rapid fire of energy shots flew through the air, disintegrating the last of the Smoke Beings. Joseph walked over to the still yelling and steaming Sonic and laid a hand on his shoulder.

"Sonic-" he began.

Sonic, not paying any attention, whatsoever, was yelling at one of the piles of ash.

"YEAH! THAT'S WHAT YOU GET! C'MON! YOU AREN'T SO TOUGH!"

Joseph tried again. "Sonic-"

"WELL? I'M WAITING! I'LL FIGHT A WHOLE ARMY OF YOU!"

"Sonic!" snapped Joseph, You're talking to a pile of soot!"

Sonic stopped. "Oh, yeah."

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"Hhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!" hissed the snake, fuming. "How is it possible that they survived that? No one could!"

Sandra had cut all the bonds with the small knife and was now slipping towards the door. "So long, snakie boy!" thought Sandra.

Suddenly, she stepped on a loose stone tile. A creak echoed throughout the room. Sandra cursed and ran behind the Power Ring Generator, which was sitting in the corner. The snake looked around, confused. Not noticing that Sandra was missing, it went back to the controls.

Sandra ran.

After a while, she stopped running, convinced that the snake had no chance of catching her. She stopped for a moment to catch her breath. There was a noise from the shadows, making Sandra jerk up and become alert again.

"Who's there?" asked Sandra cautiously, holding the knife out threateningly. "I'm not going to stand for any little games. I've got a knife!"

There was a hissing sound and the knife Sandra held was knocked out of her hand. Sandra saw a flash of metal as her knife was pinned against the wall by a slightly larger and sharper knife. Sandra gasped.

Mulgar stepped out of the shadows, holding a knife in each hand. He smiled evilly. "That makes two of us, I guess," he said. He looked down at his knives. "Oh." He smirked. "Make that _knives_."

Sandra began to back away from the ferret, desperately looking for some means of escape. There was none.

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Joseph stepped up to the next door. He sighed. "I really hate this."

Sonic shrugged. "Same here. But what choice do we have?" Joseph sighed again and reached for the door handle. Sonic held out a hand, restraining him.

"Wait a minute." Sonic listened hard for a moment, as if trying to hear some far off sound. "Do you hear something?"

Joseph listened for a moment, then nodded. "Yep. Something like pounding and yelling."

Sonic put his ear to the door. "It's coming from in there."

Joseph went up to the door and called out. "Hey in there! Who are you?"

More thumping.

Now a voice replied. "We're th' Ferret Claw Patrol. Who 'r' you?

Joseph answered back. "I'm called Joseph and my traveling companion here is called Sonic."

There was much murmuring and then the same voice replied. "Not Sonic th' Hedgehog?"

"The very same."

There were a few yells of triumph behind the door and then the voice spoke again. "I say, can y 'elp a few mates who's down on their luck?"

"What did you have in mind?"

"Open th' door. We c'n 'elp you get out o' this blinkin lab'rinth if you'll just let us out. Th' door c'n only be opened from the outside."

Sonic looked over at Joseph. "It's a risky deal, this."

Joseph nodded. "Personally, I don't care."

Joseph flung open the door and looked inside. The first thing he saw was hordes of ferrets, crowded around in the room all staring at him. Joseph was momentarily lost for words.

"Uh. . . hi?"

There were many sighs of relief and cheers as the ferrets swarmed to meet their saviors. One particular ferret came up to Joseph and smiled.

"G'day, mates!" it said with a slight Australian accent. "Stuck in th' blinkin maze, eh? Well, don' worry! We know th' way out!"

It turned to the others. "C'mon, mates! Let's go 'elp these chaps find their way out!"

With a roar, the ferrets rushed out of the room. The main ferret stuck out a paw. "Th' names Skipper," he said. "Been stuck in this stinkin' maze for so long, waitin' for some blighta' to come 'n' 'elp us out!"

Skipper pointed down the hallway. "About forty-eight doors down's the door that'll get us to th' main c'ntrol room. We c'n get out from there."

Sonic shook his head. "We can only hope that it can get us out."

Skipper waved a hand as if to remove any doubt that he would be wrong. "Pah! There's a lil' beam transporter thing in there that'll beam us out."

Sonic nodded. "I hope you're right."

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"Blassst it!" hissed the snake. "They're recruited those wretched ferrets that I exiled into that chamber!"

"So send out the Gists!" said a voice from the hallway, "don't waste time with them!"

The snake started, then looked into the shadows. It immediately bowed as low as its snake form would allow it to. "Lord Mulgar!" it gasped. "You are here!"

Mulgar glared at the snake. "I've been here for a while, you idiot! Oh, and by the way. . ." Mulgar held up Sandra by the scruff of her neck. "Your little captured fox had escaped."

The snake, surprised, looked over at where Sandra had been strapped down. It gulped when it saw the cut straps. "N-n-now, Lord Mulgar!"

Mulgar's glare turned to ice. "You stupid fool! If it weren't for me, this fox would have escaped!" He gestured toward the Power Ring Generator. "And it wouldn't have been long until the fox brought some others and took back the Power Ring Generator, ruining my plan!" said the ferret, its voice rising to a roar.

The snake was backing away, pleading, when a knife flew, whistling, through the air. The snake lay writhing on the ground, wrapping around it's head.

After a moment, it lay still.

Mulgar turned to the monitor. "Why tolerate a disobedient employee when you don't have to?" he asked himself out loud.

He smiled, an evil smile. "Now, to finish off that blasted Sonic and his compatriot, the fox."

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Sonic, Joseph, Skipper and the rest of the ferrets were walking down the corridors, trying to reach the forty-eighth door, when one of the ferrets in back stopped. It waved to the others. "Go on ahead," it said, "I'll catch up to you." It looked down. "Cursed rock," it muttered, taking off a shoe.

Skipper shrugged. "Whatever, Kivora. Just make sure you catch up quickly enough."

The horde of the ferrets continued on their journey to the forty-eighth door. Joseph noticed that Sonic was looking around uneasily. When Joseph cornered him, he raised an eyebrow.

Sonic sighed. "It's just that I'm worried," he said. "Don't you think something should have happened by now? Something bad?"

Skipper, listening in on the conversation, nodded. "Aye, I 'gree with Sonic. Somethin' should've happened by now. It's too quiet."

Suddenly, there was a cry from the back of the rows of ferrets.

"Hey! Kivora's gone!"

Skipper growled. "Well, hedgehog, there's your little 'something.' Kivora's gone."

Skipper walked to the back rows were the ferret had cried out. "What's all this?" he asked.

A particular ferret named Hisk was looking around nervously. He looked up at Skipper. "Kivora ain't nowhere to be found, chief! He's just. . . gone!"

Skipper sighed. "Take six others with you and go see if you can find him. We'll wait until you return."

Hisk organized a group of six other ferrets and set off. Joseph watched them go. "What do you suppose they'll find?" he asked Sonic.

Sonic grimaced. "You really don't want to know that."

The ferrets just sat around, waiting and talking, while Skipper, Sonic and Joseph waited anxiously for a result to the missing Kivora.

Suddenly, there was an earsplitting scream and Hisk came running down the hall, his shoulder cut open. He made it to Skipper and collapsed at his feet, gasping.

"What?" asked Skipper, "What happened?"

Hisk was panting madly, suffering from extreme fear and from running too hard. he looked up at Skipper with wild, shaking eyes. "Going . . . got to find Kivora. Shrieks fill the air. . . _things_ dropping . . . down out of nowhere. . . attacking us! Monsters! Killed me whole crew!"

Hisk grasped Skipper's hand, frightened beyond belief. "Don't let them. . . get me!" Hisk screamed, his last scream ever. He died of fear, an expression of horror on his face.

Skipper stood up. For a moment he was silent. Then, something inside him snapped. "Arm y'selves, men! We got a fight on our hands!"

It was now that Joseph and Sonic noticed that the Ferret Claw Patrol lived up to it's name. Each ferret was equipped with metal gloves with long, sharp claws. Skipper tested his claws, clacking them together. He got in a fighting stance, the other ferrets following his example.

Seconds slipped past, no one as much as moving a muscle. Suddenly, screeching cries echoed throughout the tunnel, sending fear coursing throughout the heart of every creature present.

Then . . . they attacked.

Thousands of creatures seemed to swarm through the tunnel toward the Claw Army. But these creatures were like nothing any of them had ever seen. At least, that not most of them had seen.

"Gists!" breathed Skipper.

The Gists were scaly creatures with sharp teeth and long tails. They had smooth scales and no eyes visible. They ran on all fours, their claws scraping against the ground, adding even more noise to the wild shrieks of these creatures. They were red in color, and looked like some sort of alien.

Battle was joined.

The Claw Ferret Patrol greeted the challenge with a charge of slashing metal claws. Skipper flung himself about demolishing one group of Gists after the other. When he had destroyed one group, he set off to help destroy another. Sonic was whirling and slamming into Gist after Gist with Sonic Spin, oblivious to anything other than the heat of battle. Joseph was sending fireballs in every direction possible, burning Gists to a crisp instantly.

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"Drat!" exclaimed Mulgar. "Those wretched rodents are defeating my Gists!" He turned away from the grisly sight. "What else can I throw at them?"

"Nothing," said a voice from the doorway, "Unless you're planning on blowing yourself up, too."

Mulgar whirled to face the unknown foe. Sonic and Joseph stood in the doorway, backed by Skipper and the Claw Patrol.

Mulgar gasped. "How did you do that?" He pointed to the screen that showed Joseph, Sonic and Skipper with the rest of the Claw Patrol still fighting the Gists.

Joseph smiled. "That was merely an image made by my magic. We had already defeated your Gists."

Suddenly, there was a voice from the mass of ferrets.

"Hey, look! It's Mulgar!"

Skipper roughly pushed his way to the front. His eyes widened in surprise. He grinned. "Well, Mulgar! Who's got th' advant'ge now?"

Sonic raised an eyebrow. "You _know_ this ferret?"

Skipper spat on his paws and rubbed them together. "Shore do. He betrayed us a few years 'go 'n' trapped us 'n that room that you found us in."

Joseph leaned against the wall. "And guess what?" he asked Mulgar, "They've had a few years to plan their revenge against you."

Sonic almost smiled. "This oughta be interesting."

Skipper turned to the transporter that lay in the center of the room. "There's our ticket out'a this place. But first. . . ." he grinned at Mulgar. "I hava use for it."

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Mulgar ran desperately back and forth along the never ending corridor that was filled with doors, breathing hard. He opened door after door, each revealing a brick wall.

"One more door," he panted, "just one more door and I'm home free!"

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There was a flash of light on the surface of the earth and Sonic, Joseph, Skipper and the Claw Patrol appeared outside. The Claw Patrol was carrying the Power Ring Generator and Sandra was walking next to Joseph. Skipper took in a deep breath. "Ahhh. Fresh air. Been a while since I tasted that."

Joseph turned to Skipper. "Say, you see that city over there on the horizon?" he asked, pointing to Robotropolis, "That city is called Robotropolis. It is ruled by an evil android that constantly attacks us."

Joseph was going to continue, but he was interrupted when the ground started shaking. A hovercraft emerged from the earth, showing Packbell at the helm. It flew off to Robotropolis, ignoring the ferrets.

"Another plan foiled," murmured Sonic.

"That was Packbell," said Joseph. "My guess was that he set up that whole scenario. Anyway, some of my friends have set up a rebel colony called Knothole in the Great Forest. We'd like you to join."

Skipper turned to the ferrets. "What d'you say, mates?" he asked.

A cheer rose from the ferrets. Joseph smiled. "To Knothole it is, then!"

And so it was.

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