Snively

After the Doomsday

 

 

 

            The doomsday device exploded with the sound of a million rounds of laser fire, shaking the very earth as it collapsed. Grasping the railing inside his subterranean elevator, Snively struggled to stay on his feet. As much as he’d longed for this day, he trembled in fear as his elevator-car rumbled and bounced. Had he made it strong enough?  Would he have prepared for this day for nothing?

            No. The rumbling faded away, and the ground stilled. He had survived…and Robotnik hadn’t. He couldn’t have. He was in a hovercraft, flimsy thing, it would have been crushed and destroyed in the explosion.

            Snively returned the elevator to the surface and pushed the button that opened the doors. They slid aside, revealing the sight Snively had expected to see: the doomsday device was no more than a pile of rubble, and Robotnik was nowhere to be found.

            For eleven years, Snively had strived toward two dreams: to get rid of his uncle and to take his revenge on the Freedom Fighters. Now that Robotnik, his uncle, was gone, he had only one goal to focus on: getting back at the Freedom Fighters, and,  in doing so, taking over the world.

            But he knew he couldn’t do it on his own. Luckily, Snively had a plan. Somewhere in the void dwelled Ixis Nagus, the sorcerer, who Robotnik had betrayed and trapped there more than a decade ago. Surely, if Snively set him free, Nagus would be willing to help him take his revenge. What did he want revenge for? First, he credited the leader of the Freedom Fighters with making him lose his hair. He might have been able to live with that, but, over the years, it was his own inability to keep them from sabotaging Robotnik’s plans that led to most of his suffering.

            Before Robotnik took over Mobius, he had been known as Julian, and that’s what Snively had called him. His uncle Julian had become the minister of war for King Acorn, and had successfully brought all war to an end on Mobius. He seemed like a righteous, good-hearted man, but in reality, he only ended war to leave the entire planet vulnerable and defenseless. He had appealed to both Snively’s thirst for power and his respect-pushing-on-fear for his uncle, who was more than twice his height and at least four times as wide. Julian may have been an intelligent man, but Snively was smarter. He had the know-how that Julian needed to conquer the world, and he easily obtained it.

            Then, when Julian made the final preparations to unleash his power over the world, he betrayed his nephew, barring him from command and forcing him to do everything he said, including calling him “Sir” instead of “Uncle Julian.”

            So, even though it was Snively’s intelligence and ingenuity that allowed Robotnik to conquer Mobius, he was treated as a lackey and an idiot from that day on. Over the years, his initial sadness turned to resentment, which turned into anger and hate.

            How he had longed for his uncle to meet an untimely demise. How he had suffered at his uncle’s hands, forced to endure his constant threats and insults, to take the blame for everything that went wrong and being punished for it, being kicked around like a useless fool. He didn’t know how much more he could stand.

            And now Robotnik was dead. With a real but sinister smile, Snively surveyed the rubble smoking all around him. Finally, he was in charge. He had the opportunity to do what he wanted.

            All he needed to do was free Nagus.

 

            Snively traveled to the void portal located in the Great Unknown, riding on  a badly damaged but still-functional hovercraft, and began construction.

            His one regret about the dramatic cause of his uncle’s death was that all of the swat-bots were destroyed as well, so he had to do all of the work himself. He didn’t want to risk bringing any of the worker-bots, the roboticized Mobians, with him. They might not obey him, and they would certainly be tempting targets for the Freedom Fighters. Snively wasn’t ready to face them yet.

            He needed to free Nagus, and to do that, he needed to build a gateway to open the void portal. He had all of the tools and materials he needed to build it, and he certainly had the knowledge. He’d helped Robotnik build the first one, the one Robotnik had used to trap Nagus in the void.

            Snively worked for hours on the gateway, not stopping for food or rest. At last, he completed the device and turned it on. The swirling, pink portal appeared, and a dark shape spiraled out of it, like water going down a drain backwards. Was it…Could it be Nagus?

            The figure focused into view, and Snively screamed.

            It was Robotnik.

 “Well, well, well,” Robotnik rumbled as he stepped down from the portal and advanced on his shaking nephew. “So, you’re the one who opened the void. What’s that you’re wearing?”

            Snively gulped, the collar of his high-collared cape feeling too tight all of a sudden. He had put it on when he was sure that Robotnik was dead as a way of breaking free from the drab, lackey’s uniform he had been forced to wear for years.

            “W-well, Sir,” Snively trembled, starting to back away. “It’s—”

            Snively let out a terrified shriek as his enormous uncle reached down and hauled him into the air by his cape.

            “This doesn’t suit your station, Snively,” Robotnik growled, giving the cape a rough jerk that snapped the buttons and sent his nephew crashing to the ground, wearing only his humble uniform once again.

            “Ow…” Snively whimpered, getting painfully to his feet and brushing the dust from his shirt.

            “So, Snively,” Robotnik glared down at him, menace in his red eyes. “You thought I was dead, did you? Thought you could go running to Nagus?”

            “Oh, no, Sir,” Snively protested in a dutiful whine. “I wouldn’t dream of—”

            “Shut up!” Robotnik’s harsh command stung Snively, a needle of fear in his stomach.

            “Robotnik?” hissed a voice from within the void. “Did it work?”

            “Oh, yes, Sir,” Robotnik groveled into the portal. “It’s perfectly safe, Sir.”

            Only then did Snively notice that Robotnik wasn’t wearing a cape either. Another figure swirled our of the void, one wearing a black cape with a high collar over his mutated form: Ixis Nagus the sorcerer.

            “Excellent,” he grinned in a voice like escaping steam. “Good work, Robotnik.”

            “Thank you, Sir,” Robotnik sniveled in a way Snively hadn’t believed possible. It gave him hope.

            “Nagus, Sir,” he said, gazing up at the sorcerer with his best expression of respect. “I have freed you from the void, Sir. I have—”

            “Liar!” Robotnik snarled, knocking Snively to the ground with a heavy blow from the back of his hand.

            Snively’s hand rushed to his face, covering his throbbing right eye as he cringed, whimpering in pain.

            “I apologize for my nephew, Sir,” Robotnik appealed to Nagus. “He is very stupid and doesn’t know his place.”

            “Please, Sir,” Snively half raised his gaze to Nagus. “I—”

            “Be quiet, or I’ll hit you with my other hand!” Robotnik warned, clenching his one metal fist threateningly.

            Snively, frightened into silence, listened in horror as Robotnik explained the situation to Nagus in such a way that it seemed that he had rescued them from the void, and that Snively had been trying to seal them inside.

            “Your story seems very unlikely, Robotnik,” Nagus wheezed. “Are you certain you have your facts straight?” He raised his more normal hand, which began to glow with an eerie, magical light.

            “I’m certain, Sir,” Robotnik assured him with a trace of fear. “Snively was just about to trap us both in the void when you so kindly released me and told me to test the portal. I stopped him just in time. Look what he was wearing when I caught him. He was clearly planning to take over the world once he knew that we were trapped forever. Besides, you know he was the one who got you stuck in the void in the first place. He disabled the retrieval programs.”

            “That may be true,” Nagus hissed. “But why would he open the void again?”

            “He was going to kill us by contaminating the void,” Robotnik explained. “He’s a sneaky, little traitor, Sir. You can’t trust him at all.”

            Nagus thought this over, and Robotnik gave him a fawning, sycophantic look while Snively stared up at both of them with his one good eye, shivering in dread. The right side of his face burned with pain, a dark bruise already forming around his eye.

            “Very well,” Nagus said at last. “Let us return to Robotropolis, Robotnik. You can show me how everything works, and we can put that—what did you call him?—that sneaky, little traitor in his place.”

            Robotnik grinned as he stooped and grabbed Snively by the back of his shirt and carried him to the hovercraft, trailing behind Nagus like an obedient dog. Snively squirmed futilely in his uncle’s grasp, facing backward, the only one to witness the third form emerging from the void. Before he could see who or what it was, the hovercraft doors closed, and he was thrown into a holding cell in the back of the vehicle.

            When they arrived back at Robotropolis, Robotnik locked Snively in the dungeon. A few hours later, he returned and dragged the frightened, exhausted Snively to the main chamber.

            “Here he is, Sir,” Robotnik told Nagus, who had taken his seat at the city’s main controls.

“Good,” Nagus hissed. “Put him on the table.”

“What’s going on?” Snively whimpered as Robotnik carried him across the room.

            “Nagus has decided to be merciful,” Robotnik chuckled with a hint of sarcasm in his voice. “You’re going to be the test subject in our—his newest experiment. If you survive, you can serve us—I mean him.”

Snively saw the table, the diabolic devices, with their wires and needles, arranged around it, the gleeful anticipation in his uncle’s eyes. Snively panicked.

“No!” he cried, flailing frantically.

He managed to wriggle out of Robotnik’s clutches but fell several feet to the floor and couldn’t recover in time to get away.

He yelped as Robotnik’s boot collided with his ribs. Winded and in considerable pain, Snively made no further protest as Robotnik strapped him to the table. The cold metal chilled his back, even through his shirt. With his arms and legs locked to the tabletop, Snively could only lie there helplessly as Robotnik stuck monitoring devices on his temple and wrist. Lines appeared on the screens, the nervous zigzags of Snively’s pulse and brain waves.

“This had better work, Robotnik,” Nagus hissed as he approached the table. “Otherwise I’ll have no choice but to use you to replace him if he dies.”

“Please don’t do this, Sir,” Snively begged, feeling smaller than he ever had before.

Robotnik pressed a gas mask over Snively’s nose and mouth and pulled the strap over his head, tightening it painfully. He turned and switched on the machine connected to it, which pumped an invisible gas into the mask. Snively shook his head, trying to free his face. He inhaled and felt a pain in his lungs that spread throughout his body.

“Please, Uncle Julian,” he whimpered, his voice muffled by the mask.

He inhaled again, and all of his body started aching and burning. Gasping in pain, Snively writhed and twitched, held in place by the iron bands.

“That’s enough,” Nagus ordered. “Let’s see if it worked.”

Robotnik shut off the pump and yanked the mask from Snively’s face. The fire surged through Snively’s system, and the monitors went berserk.

“It’s working!” Robotnik crowed. “It’s working! The Power Ring’s power!”

The pain racking Snively’s body changed suddenly into energy. He relaxed and realized that he felt strong. Narrowing his eyes, he flexed his arms and broke free of the table. Pulling his legs free as well, Snively jumped down from the table and ripped away the wires connected to his head and arm. Robotnik gasped and backed away in sudden fear.

“You fool,” Snively sneered. “You gave me power. You gave me strength and speed.”

He picked up the table and slammed it down on the machines surrounding it.

“Now I am in control,” Snively declared, advancing on Robotnik.

“Are you?” Nagus wheezed and shot a beam of magic at him.

Snively screamed as the solid light seared across his back, but he did not fall. Nagus has surprised him from behind that time. Ready now, Snively tried out his new speed and zoomed from the room.

“Get back here!” Nagus commanded, shooting at Snively.

Another shot took Snively in the shoulder, and he stumbled and fell with a cry of pain, more than a hundred feet away. He got up again before Nagus could fire and took off at super sonic speed.

Just as he reached the forest, about three minutes later, his speed and power dissipated, and he collapsed among the fallen leaves.

What had just happened? It was as though he had lost his mind for a few minutes, reacting without thinking.

Snively’s legs ached and burned. He had just run more than three miles in three minutes. He lay on his stomach, sobbing for breath, his whole body in agony. Snively wanted nothing more than a drink of water, and he heard some flowing nearby. Dragging himself along on all fours, he inched toward the sound.

Suddenly, the world seemed to do a somersault, and Snively found himself suspended from a tree, entwined in a large net. He was caught in a Freedom Fighter trap! An electronic beacon buzzed from a sensor located near the bottom of the tree. They would come for him, soon. Until then, he had to endure the nearby trickling of a stream tormenting his raging thirst. If he was captured by the Freedom Fighters, what would they do to him?

“I hate my life,” Snively moaned.

Sonic the Hedgehog streaked into the vicinity. He came to a halt underneath the net where Snively hung miserably.

“Well, what do you know?” Sonic smirked. “It’s ole Snoodly. What’re you doing here?”

Snively couldn’t think of anything to say, too tired to make even his own brain do his bidding.

“So, you’re your usual, cheerful self,” Sonic remarked sarcastically. “I’m taking you to Sally. She’ll have a lot of questions for you, Snidely.”

“That’s Snively,” he managed to whisper before he passed out.

 

“I don’t know, Sonic,” a female voice brought Snively back to consciousness. “He’s hurt.”

“I don’t trust him, Sal,” he heard Sonic counter. “He’s been with Robuttnik since the beginning.”

“But he couldn’t be spying on us. He doesn’t have any equipment, no way to communicate. There isn’t even anyone for him to spy for, except himself, I guess.”

“What should we do, Sal?”

“Well…We’ll question him. See what he knows. After we help him.”

Snively opened his eyes. He was still tangled in the net, but he was inside somewhere with wooden walls.

The memory of the experiment performed on him surfaced in his mind, the fear, the pain, the sense of utter helplessness, all returned to him. He struggled weakly against the net with a pathetic moan.

“Help me get him on the bed,” Sally told Sonic.

“Come on, Sal,” Sonic complained. “He’s slime; Robuttnik’s little helper. We don’t have to—”

“He may be slime, but we’re not like Robotnik, and we aren’t going to leave him like this. He’s hurt, and we can help him. It would be wrong if we didn’t do anything.”

“Yeah, guess you’re right, Sal. Even Snively’s a person, sort of.”

They lifted him onto some flat, soft surface and disentangled the net from his head, arms, and legs. Though his vision was blurry, Snively saw the hedgehog and the chipmunk looking down at him. Sally produced a hand-held computer and spoke to it.

“Complete body scan, NICOLE,” she gave the voice command. “Indicate all non-trivial injuries.”

Scanning, Sally,” the computer responded. A warm, blue ray of light swept Snively from head to foot; he closed his eyes against the glare.

Surface damage on right side of face, first and second degree burns on shoulders and back, several bruised ribs, severe muscle exhaustion in legs, extreme dehydration, general fatigue,” the computer reported.

“So…What’s wrong with him?” Sonic asked, not comprehending the computer’s phrasing.

He’s had one rough day,” the computer explained.

“Oh.”

Snively couldn’t remember the last time he’d been in so much pain. Perhaps he never had before. Either way, one desire gave him the strength to speak.

“Water…” he wheezed.

Someone helped him into a sitting position and help a cup of water to his mouth. Snively gulped at the water, still too weak to lift his own arms.

“Man, NICOLE wasn’t kidding,” Sonic remarked from behind him. “How’d he get burned like that?”

Wearily, Snively turned his head away from the glass, growing dizzier every second. He fell into an exhausted sleep devoid of dreams.

 

Snively awoke a long time later, still aching and sore, but feeling a lot better. Someone had bandaged the burns on his back, and he had recovered somewhat from his impossible sprint. He lay on the smooth, metal floor of a small, semi-circular cell, barred on one side with bands of electrical energy. Snively knew better than to touch them. Robotnik had used a similar device to imprison his captives when the stronger, more permanent, iron cells were unavailable.

Still, he was much more comfortable here than in Robotnik’s dungeons. Snively sat up and leaned against the solid, metal wall behind him, gently touching his bruised eye. It wasn’t the first time his uncle had struck him, but it felt like the hardest. Robotnik certainly knew the value of claiming to speak the truth first, especially when one needed to tell a lie. He wasn’t about to give Snively the benefit of speaking first. He flinched as a wave of pain blazed through his face at his touch. Snively stretched and gritted his teeth as his ribcage seared with his movement. It wasn’t the first time him uncle had kicked him either.

The door of the building his small cell was in opened, startling him. Snively’s eyes grew wide in fright as Sally, Sonic, and a very familiar-looking coyote approached him. Who was that?

“Well, Antoine?” Sally prompted the coyote.

“Oui, he is the one,” Antoine accused in a heavy French accent.

Of course! Antoine, the French spy! Snively had captured that coyote not three days ago and tortured him for information, exploiting his weakness: he could not stand to see food incorrectly prepared. Who could understand the French?

“My Princess,” Antoine said, bowing to Sally. “I would be liking very much to, how do you say, take my revengance on this terriblé fiend.”

“Not yet, Antoine. Let’s see if he’ll cooperate first.”

“As you wish, My Princess.”

“All right, Snively,” Sally turned and glared into the cell. “What were you doing in the Great Forest?”

 Snively hesitated, unsure whether he hated the Freedom Fighters more than he feared them. Years of memories flickered through his mind, all of the times the Freedom Fighters had ruined Robotnik’s plans, all of the times he had been blamed and punished for their acts of destruction and their amazing escapes. Though it was Robotnik who had hurt him, Snively found himself longing to attack the Freedom Fighters. Deep down, he knew the could never confront his uncle, both for reasons of his nonexistent courage and the overwhelming differences in their sizes and strengths. No, he sought vengeance upon the Freedom Fighters, who he knew were mortal. How many of them had he seen roboticized? And hadn’t he already crushed one of them on his own?

            “You…fools,” he muttered, his hatred overpowering his fear. “You miserable little rebels. I’m not telling you a thing!”

            “That’s gratitude for you,” Sonic grumbled. “I say we turn him over to Ant.”

            “Oui,” Antoine nodded, balling his hands into fists. “He will be paying for what he did to moi.”

            Sonic turned off the electrical barrier and pulled Snively out of the cell. Snively struggled for a few seconds, but Sonic gave him a painful shake every time he tried to break his grasp. Sonic was too strong, and Snively stopped fighting as the hedgehog pushed him into a chair and tied him to it. Snively pulled against the tough ropes to no avail.

            “I hate you!” he screamed, frustrated and terrified. “I hate all of you!”

            “He’s all yours, Ant,” Sonic sighed. He and Sally stood at the back of the room as Antoine turned on a bright lamps and shined it in Snively’s face. The realization of what was about to happened stole Snively’s hate-fueled courage, and he fell silent.

            “All right, Monsieur Snively,” Antoine growled, blinding Snively with the lamp. “Let us see how you are liking to be torturéd, for I am knowing your very weakness.”

            Sweat formed on Snively’s forehead as he squinted through the glare at the angry-faced coyote. Antoine reached toward Snively’s head. Heart pounding, Snively clamped his eyes shut.

            “Ow!” he cried.

            Antoine flourished one of Snively’s hairs triumphantly.

            “You!” Snively howled. “I hate you!” He hauled on his bonds and succeeded in rocking his chair a little bit.

            “Ha!” Antoine laughed. “Have I stricken your nerves, you terriblé toad? You are not having many of these left up there, non?”

            “You…you…you…!” Snively couldn’t find an insult awful enough to sting him with.

            Sonic’s and Sally’s laughter did nothing to improve his mood.

            “Ow!” he cried again as Antoine yanked another one of his few remaining hairs.

            “He is nothing but a shiny-headed baldy-boy!” Antoine taunted, letting the hair float to the floor.

            “Stop it!” Snively wailed, the anger leaving his voice.

            Antoine reached for another hair.

            “No!” Snively cried. “All right! All right! I’ll talk! I’ll talk…” He hung his head to hide his tears.

            “Why were you in the Great Forest?” Sally asked, taking over the interrogation.

            “I was running away,” Snively whispered.

            “From?” Sally prompted.

            “Robotnik…and Nagus.”

            “Robotnik is dead, and Nagus is trapped in the void.”

            “No,” Snively shook his head sadly. “Robotnik never died, he was only cast into the void with Nagus.”

            “Well, how did they get out?”

            “I…” Snively gulped, afraid of answering but more afraid of staying silent. “I opened the void.”

            “You idiot!” Sonic snarled. “I ought to—”

            “Be quiet, Sonic,” Sally said firmly. “Why did you open the void, Snively?”

            “I was only trying to free Nagus. I didn’t even know Robotnik was in there.”

            “Oh, well,” Sonic shrugged. “Nagus can handle Robuttnik any day.”

            “Where are they now?” Sally asked.

            “Robotropolis,” Snively answered.

            “What are they doing there?”

            “I don’t know, but they’re working together. I think…I think they might be planning to…to pick up where Robotnik left off.”

            “You mean…?”

            “They want to rule the world.”

            “Oh, my gosh,” Sally gasped in horror.

            “I should’ve known that Nagus was no good,” Sonic grumbled. “I thought he was on our side, though.”

            “Me, too,” Sally said. “What’s the deal with Nagus?”
            “A long time ago,” Snively explained, “before Robotnik took over, he was partners with him. Nagus discovered the void, and Robotnik invented the gateway that allowed people to enter and exit it.”

            “I think I remember him saying something about that,” Sally agreed. “So, what happened?”

            “Nagus went into the void to explore, and Robotnik trapped him in there.”

            “Why?”

            “Nagus was more powerful than he was. He wanted to be in charge after he took over.”

            “So, that means…Nagus and Robotnik have had the same goals all along!”

            Snively nodded.

            “And you let them out!” Sonic shouted.

            Snively shuddered and swallowed a sob.

            “We need more information,” Sally pressed on. “What’s left of Robotropolis? What resources does Nagus have?”

            “I’m not sure. All of the swat-bots were destroyed in the doomsday explosion, and two of the power plants were knocked out. There are nearly a thousand worker-bots, and I don’t know whether the roboticizor is still operational.”

            “Well, it’s not all bad news, Sal,” Sonic said. “No more swat-butts.”

            “What about the factories?” Sally asked Snively. “Were they destroyed?”

            “I don’t know,” Snively whimpered as a tear dropped from the tip of his nose onto his lap.

            “Ah, My Princess,” Antoine interjected. “If it would not be too much trouble, I would be liking to ask the prisoner a question.”

            “Go ahead, Antoine,” Sally said, stepping aside. “We have all of the information we need for now.”

            The coyote switched off the lamp and met Snively’s pale, blue eyes with his own.

            “I have been wondering, Monsieur Snively, what has been happening to you that your face is, how do you say, black and bleu?”

            Snively whispered his answer in a voice so low that no one could hear him.

            “Pardon?” Antoine cocked an ear toward him.

            “Robotnik hit me,” Snively whispered a little louder.

            Antoine stared nonplussed for a moment before backing away.

            “I…I am finished, My Princess,” he murmured.

            “Sonic, put him back in the cell,” Sally ordered. “Antoine, go get Bunnie and tell her to stand guard outside this hut.”

            “Right away, My Princess,” the coyote bowed before departing.

            Sonic untied Snively, who didn’t struggle at all as he was placed back into the cell with the electric bars. Then, the hedgehog and the chipmunk left the room, leaving him alone with his fear, his frustration, and his misery.

            Snively sat with his back against the cell wall, letting the cool metal soothe his healing burns. Leaning forward on his knees, he buried his face in his arms and sniffled quietly.

            If Robotnik ever found out what he’d done, his life wouldn’t be worth a thing, and his death was sure to come slowly. Those Freedom Fighters were the reason for all of his pain. He hated them, but, as he felt the bandages wrapped around his torso, he was unable to suppress a sense of gratitude. Aside from the humiliating interrogation, they had done him no harm, and had, in fact, been kind to him.

            It was all so confusing. How could he want to hurt them and thank them at the same time?

            The door opened again, and in stepped a female rabbit with robotic legs and one robotic arm. She carried a small tray over to the cell and slid it between the bars.

            “What’s that?” Snively asks, suspicious.

            “Somethin’ to eat,” the rabbit explained in a Southern drawl. “Sally thought that ya’ll might be hungry, so she sent this for ya.”

            “…Thank you…” Snively whispered, not understanding why he felt ashamed.

            “You’re welcome,” the rabbit said, leaving the room with a toss of her long ears.

            Snively attacked the food once she’d gone. He didn’t know if the Freedom Fighters were trying to drug him or poison him, and he didn’t care. He finished eating and lapsed into thought.

            Why did he feel so guilty? He wondered if, perhaps, he had always wanted to believe that the Freedom Fighters were making his life miserable on purpose, that they even enjoyed it. He thought back on his few, brief encounters with them, before his capture and after. He realized that, far from enjoying his misery, the Freedom Fighters knew nothing about it. Their concern was the destruction of Robotnik, who wanted to destroy them, and there was Snively, caught in the middle of all this, not caring if they chose to destroy each other. All he wanted was to feel safe, and, once he had accomplished that, to feel powerful. For more than eleven years he had felt neither for any significant stretch of time.

            Snively returned his thoughts to the Freedom Fighters. Now that he had realized that they weren’t even aware of the fact that all of their successes converted into painful failures on his part, could he still continue to hate them? In their way, he hated to admit, they were much stronger than Robotnik and Nagus. Were they strong enough to protect him?

            Snively sighed, weary from all of the traumatic events of the last few days, and closed his eyes. Even if he wanted to change sides, would the Freedom Fighters let him join them? He tried to stir up his old hatred, but he was too tired. Reclining on the hard floor of the cell, Snively fell asleep.

 

            Snively woke up when the door opened the next morning. Antoine entered and stood in front of the cell, looking down at him with curiosity in his eyes.

            “Now what?” Snively sighed, sitting up and gazing up at him.

            “I have been thinking,” Antoine said, “and I was wondering why you were running away from Robotnik and this Nagus, because you were being very much of a helper to him, non?”

            Snively couldn’t find the words to express his emotions, feelings of fear, of sadness, of hope… So he settled on a pained silence.

            “He…” Antoine murmured, sitting down opposite him. “He has been hitting you very often?”

            “He’s a madman,” Snively covered his face with his hands and shook his head. “He’s completely insane, and he’ll kill me if he ever finds out that I talked.”

            “I am feeling so sorry for you. What has been happening to you that you are so hurted?”

            Antoine’s sympathy unlocked something in Snively; something inside him twisted painfully, uncomfortable with the idea that the people he had hated for years could do anything but make him miserable.

            “You don’t want to know,” Snively shuddered, turning away so that Antoine couldn’t see the tears in his eyes.

            “Please do be telling me,” Antoine urged. “I am very much wanting to know.”

            Snively couldn’t keep it inside anymore. Breaking out sobbing, he told Antoine how Robotnik had hit and kicked him, how he had lied and turned Nagus against him, how they had performed their experiment on him.

            “What were they trying to do?” Antoine asked in horrified fascination.

            “I don’t even know,” Snively cried. “They just stuck me on the table and made me breathe something that burned… I couldn’t even scream… It was like a nightmare.”

            “Then what happened?”

            “That stuff I was breathing made me grow stronger… I think I heard Robotnik say something about Power Rings… Whatever it was, it was incredible. I broke free, but Nagus shot me in the back.”

            “So, that is how you got burnéd like that.”

            “It was so strange, I couldn’t think, I just ran from the lab. Nagus shot me again, but I got away. I was going so fast… Is that what a Power Ring feels like?”

            “I would not be knowing. The Power Rings are working only for Sonic.”

            “Anyway, the power wore off, and I was in the Great Forest. Then I fell into that trap, and… here I am.”

            “I am wondering—”

            The door opened at that moment, and Sally and a robotic hedgehog, Snively recognized Sir Charles, Sonic’s uncle, came in. Antoine got to his feet in guilty haste.

            “What are you doing here, Antoine?” Sally asked.

            “Nossing, My Princess. Just—”

            “Never mind. Uncle Chuck needs to talk to Snively, so could you…?”

            “Oui, right away, My Princess.”

            Antoine made eye contact with Snively in farewell and left the room.

            “Do you know how the roboticizor works?” Uncle Chuck asked Snively.

            “Yes, Sir Charles,” Snively answered, wondering where this conversation was going.

            “Would you know how to reverse the process?”

            “Possibly. I’ve never thought about it before. If I had some time, maybe—”

            “That’s good enough. Show him the numbers, Sally.”

            The chipmunk opened NICOLE and had her display a complicated screen in the air in front of the cell.

            “What’s wrong with these calculations?” Uncle Chuck asked Snively. “If we put these into the deroboticizor, the effects only last for a few hours. Why aren’t they permanent?”

            Snively looked over the numbers, applying his knowledge of the roboticizor and mathematics.

            “You’re using incongruous frequencies,” he said after a while. “You can’t have an input that high for a mechanism that size, and the function third from the bottom is impossible.”

            “How?” Uncle Chuck sounded both curious and insulted.

            “Well, Sir,” Snively gulped, not wanting to irritate his captors. “If you check the binary digits…”

            He went on to explain the complicated math to the robotic hedgehog.

            “What do you know?” Uncle Chuck exclaimed in awe. “He’s right!”

            “So, can you fix it, Uncle Chuck?” Sally asked.

            “I’m afraid not, Sally,” the robotic hedgehog shook his head. “These kinds of problems are too difficult. They might even be impossible. Besides, we don’t have the parts we’d need to enlarge it even if we could do the math.”

            Snively debated with himself whether he should tell them that he knew how to fix it without changing the hardware at all. Uncle Chuck was right; it would be difficult, but he could do it. Still, they didn’t ask him if he knew how to fix it, and why should he tell them if they didn’t ask? He didn’t owe them anything… Or did he? Guilt pricked at his conscience as he reflected on the care they had given him without being requested, the look of sincere sympathy in Antoine’s eyes. Snively tried to drive away these feelings with thoughts of hate and vengeance, but he couldn’t muster the anger, and he found himself speaking.

            “Actually,” he muttered, half to himself. “There is a way to do it without…” He cleared his throat uneasily.

            “What’s that?” Uncle Chuck leaned closer. “Speak up.”

            “I…I think I might know a way to…repair it without rebuilding it.”

            “How?”

            “It’s very complicated. You have to fully understand the roboticizor software Robotnik used to do it.”

            “And do you understand it?”

            “Y-yes, Sir Charles.”

            “What do you think, Sally?” Uncle Chuck murmured.

            “I think it’s worth a try,” the chipmunk said thoughtfully. “But there are two things we need to make sure of. One, we need to make sure he won’t try to sabotage the deroboticizor if we let him work on it, and two, we need to make sure he won’t run away.”

            “I wouldn’t do anything like that, Your Highness,” Snively declared honestly.

            “So you say,” Sally frowned. “But we have to be sure.”

            She and Uncle Chuck left, and she returned a while later with the half-robotic rabbit and a length of chain.

            “All right, Snively,” Sally said. “We’ll let you fix the deroboticizor, but Bunnie will be watching you the whole time to make sure you don’t try to escape.”

            “Um…Okay,” Snively shrugged.

            “And, as an extra precaution, you’ll be wearing this.” She held up the chain, indicating the large circle of metal at the end.

            “Are you out of your mind?” Snively demanded, disgusted at the idea. “I’m not going to wear that thing.”

            Sally deactivated the bars and approached him with the chain.

            “Hold him still, Bunnie,” she called.

            “Sure thing, Sally-girl,” the rabbit responded, grabbing Snively’s arms and pulling them behind his back.

            “This is ridiculous!” Snively shrieked as he squirmed in Bunnie’s literal iron grip. “Oh, come on! This is uncivilized!”

            “No,” Sally growled, fastening the metal collar around his neck. “Turning innocent people into robots is uncivilized.”

            “You’ve got nothin’ to complain about, buster,” Bunnie scolded him, tightening her metal hand over his wrist.

            “Ow…” Snively whimpered.

            “There,” Sally sighed, backing away, holding the chain like a leash.

            Snively shivered and clenched his teeth. He was so humiliated, he could feel himself blushing against his will, and the metal was cold against his neck. He moaned and hung his head.

            “Come on, Snively,” Bunnie said, taking the chain from Sally. “You’ve got a lot of work to do.”

            “You animals,” Snively grumbled to himself, trembling in fear, rage, and embarrassment.

            Bunnie led him outside, and the warm, clear sunlight seemed so alien that he was stunned.

            “What’re ya’ll waitin’ for?” the rabbit asked, tugging on the chain.

            “I…I’d almost forgotten how blue the sky could be,” Snively whispered as he continued walking.

            “I expect ya don’t see much of the sun over in nasty, ole Robotropolis, do ya?” Bunnie sounded genuinely sorry for him.

            “Not really,” Snively sighed. “No.”

            “Well, here we are,” the rabbit opened the door to a hut and lead him inside. A huge glass tube was connected to a large machine on the ceiling, which was connected to an enormous computer terminal lining an entire wall. Uncle Chuck was already there along with a tall walrus wearing a baseball cap.

            “Okay,” the walrus said. “It’s ready.”

            “Do your stuff, Snively,” Bunnie prodded him forward, letting out a few more feet of the reasonably-lightweight chain.

            “This will take a while,” Snively told her as he started typing on the computer.

            “I can wait,” Bunnie responded.

            “I’d like to see this,” Uncle Chuck said, standing behind Snively and looking over his shoulder. The walrus joined him, and Snively began to grow self-conscious. He ran his hand under his collar uncomfortably.

            “Would it be at all possible for you to give me some space?” he asked humbly. “You’re making me nervous.”

            “Oh, all right,” Uncle Chuck obliged. “Come on, Rotor. You can help me reinforce the dome.”

            The robotic hedgehog and the walrus returned to the other side of the room, and Snively exhaled in relief. He began typing again, allowing himself to feel the pleasure of his work, letting the letters and numbers flow from his mind to his hands like music. He worked steadily for over two hours, becoming oblivious to everything around him, even the metal encircling his neck. Bunnie grew bored and sat down, idly watching him out of the corner of her half-closed eyes. Uncle Chuck came by at one point, and he was so absorbed in his work that he didn’t notice until he spoke.

            “You’re fast,” the robotic hedgehog complimented.

            Snively started at the sound of his voice but regained his composure and hung his head.

            “Thank you, Sir Charles,” he mumbled, not stopping his work.

            “Sorry to interrupt, but how did you get so good at that?”

            “I’ve…had a lot of practice…”

            Uncle Chuck watched him type for a few moments longer before returning to his own project.

            “Keep up the good work,” he patted Snively’s uninjured shoulder.

            Finally, Snively finished reprogramming the deroboticizor. Sonic, Sally, and Antoine were summoned to watch them test it.

            “I’ll go first, Charlie,” Bunnie volunteered. “Then if everything’s all right, you can try it.”

            Uncle Chuck agreed and stepped up to the controls alongside Rotor.

            “Hold this for me, would you, Antoine?” Bunnie passed Snively’s chain to the coyote.

            As Sonic and Sally assisted Bunnie into the machine, Antoine turned to Snively and spoke confidentially to him.

            “I am so very sorry you are having to be chained, Monsieur Snively,” he whispered.

            “That’s…all right,” Snively told him in a voice shaking with emotion.

            “Okay, Unc,” Sonic called. “Fire it up!”

            “Let ‘er rip, Sugar!” Bunnie grinned, giving him a thumbs-up.

            Uncle Chuck and Rotor activated the machine, and the glass tube lowered over Bunnie. An intense glow surrounded her, and everyone held their breath. Suddenly, sparks shot out of the ceiling-mounted panels, and smoke billowed from the computer.

            “Shut it off, Rotor!” Uncle Chuck cried over the sounds of the electrical explosion. Sonic and Sally rushed over and forced the glass tube up off of Bunnie, who lay on her back, dazed but seemingly unharmed.

            “Bunnie, are you all right?” Sonic asked.

            “I think so,” Bunnie said. “What the hoo-hah happened?” She strained to sit up and fell back, her face marked with alarm. “I can’t move my legs and arm! My robot parts aren’t respondin’!”

            Sally scanned Bunnie with NICOLE.

            “The circuits have been completely knocked out,” the princess told her. “I’ll have to replace them.”

            Bunnie moaned as Sonic and Sally helped her up and carried her to a chair.

            “You!” she bellowed, pointing straight at Snively. “Ya’ll did this to me! I trusted you!” Tears streamed down her cheeks as she clenched and unclenched her only working hand in frustration.

            An agonizing shot of adrenaline tingled through Snively’s body as everyone in the room—Sonic, Sally, Rotor, Uncle Chuck, and Antoine—stared at him.

            “It wasn’t me!” Snively screamed in terror, trying to back away. The metal collar dug into the back of his neck, and his panic grew. “You have to believe me! My calculations were perfect! I didn’t do it!”

            He looked from face to face in desperation. The look of sheer hatred in Sonic’s eyes reminded him of Robotnik, and he could no longer think for his horror. The blue hedgehog strode up to him until mere inches separated their eyes.

            “You tricked us,” he growled, grabbing Snively by the shirt front and pulling him even closer.

            “No! No!” Snively cried, his knees buckling beneath him. Sonic let him fall, and he started groveling. “Please, I never betrayed you. What kind of fool would I be to betray you like that?”

            “A very smart one, perhaps,” Sally scowled.

            “No, no, no,” Snively wept, longing to die.

            “Take him back, Sonic,” Sally ordered. “We’ll deal with him after we fix Bunnie.”

            “Ya’ll’re a reg’ler slimeball!” Bunnie shouted, shaking her fist at him.

            Sonic grabbed Snively by the back of his shirt and zoomed back to the cell. He tossed Snively inside without removing the collar and chain and switched on the bars. Antoine appeared at the door seconds later.

            “The Princess is wanting your help, Sonic,” he informed the hedgehog.

            “Got it, Ant. You stay here and guard him ‘til Sal gives the word. Okay?”

            “Oui, Sonic.”

            The hedgehog sped from the room.

            “Monsieur Snively?” Antoine called softly.

            Snively sat on his knees on the floor of his cell, sobbing into his hands, the chain trailing down in front of him.

            “I didn’t do it,” he whimpered. “I didn’t, I didn’t.”

            “I am knowing this, Monsieur Snively. I am believing what you are saying.”

            “What will they do to me? Will they kill me?”

            “Non. I have never been seeing a Freedom Fighter killing another living thing. But they will be doing something. They are thinking you, ah, perceived them.”

            “You mean, ‘deceived’?”

            “Oui, that is what I am saying.”

            “I hate my life.”

Antoine brought a chair close to the cell and sat beside Snively without speaking. Snively sat on the floor, lamenting his plight. He had been foolish to try and help the Freedom Fighters. Now they thought he was a saboteur.

            What had gone wrong? Why had the deroboticizor crippled Bunnie? Had he miscalculated? It didn’t seem possible. He had slaved over those numbers, checking them repeatedly, certain he had made no mistakes. The only good thing about the situation was that Bunnie had tried it first. If Uncle Chuck had been in there, it might have shut every part of him down. He might have died. At least they couldn’t call Snively a murderer.

            “I will help you,” Antoine said as Snively’s sobs quieted in weariness. “I will tell the others that I am not thinking you tried to harm Bunnie. It was an accident. I will, how do you say, couch for you.”

            “You’ll vouch for me?” Snively sniffled.

            “But of course. I am not thinking that you are deserving to be punishéd.”

            “Couldn’t you get in trouble?”

            “Pour quoi? I would be only saying what I am thinking. That is not a crime, nes pas?”

            “Not here, it isn’t,” Snively sighed.

            Antoine looked away, and Snively put his head down on his folded arms, tucking his knees up close to his chin. They sat like that in silence for a long time, each lost in his own thoughts.

            The door opened with a loud squeak, and Snively recoiled against the wall of his cell, staring in dread as Sally entered the room.

            “My Princess,” Antoine stood and addressed her urgently. “You must not be blaming Monsieur Snively for what happened to Bunnie. I am knowing that he didn’t—”

            “I know, Antoine,” Sally sounded sad. She gazed down at Snively, looking close to tears.

            Snively feared the worst. Had Bunnie died? Were they going to kill him?

            “We were checking the deroboticizor,” Sally said in a trembling voice. “And Uncle Chuck found a jammed gear in one of the ceiling panels. He looked over the numbers you put into the computer, and they were fine. None of what happened was your fault. I’m sorry we jumped to conclusions.”

            She turned off the bars and took off the collar and chain. Snively rubbed the painful abraded spot on the back of his neck and said nothing, not knowing how guilty the hurt look in his eyes made her feel as they searched hers, still frightened and wary.

            “Um…The deroboticizor was completely burnt out in the explosion, so it’ll be offline for a couple of days…” Sally tried to speak matter-of-factly, but she faltered and sighed. “We’re all really sorry, Snively.”

            “So, you’re…not made at me anymore?” he asked in a cautious whisper.

            “No, we’re not mad,” Sally broke eye contact with him.

            “Thank you, Your Highness.”

            “Will you…” the princess hesitated. “Will you work on the computer again once we’ve repaired the deroboticizor?”

            Snively’s eyes flicked to the chain dangling from Sally’s hand.

            “Um…” he mumbled, tugging at his shirt collar.

            “Oh, forget about this,” Sally said, tossing the chain aside. “You don’t have to wear that again. We…I trust you not to try to escape.”

            “All right,” Snively agreed, still unhappy but far from terrified. “I’ll help you.”

            “Thank you,” Sally said without looking at him and exited the room.

Snively went limp in relief, leaning his head back against the cell wall and taking his first deep breath in a long time. He still trembled, haunted by his fears, but gradually he relaxed.

            “You are all right, Monsieur Snively?” Antoine asked.

            “Yes… I’m fine,” Snively sighed, holding up one hand and watching it shake. He took another deep breath and let his hand drop.

            “I am glad that you are off of the book.”

            “You mean ‘hook,’ ” Snively told him, amused. “It’s ‘off the hook.’ ”

            “Book, hook, it is all of the same.”

            “Where did you learn English?”

            “I was taught in school, but we had to come here when we were five years old, you see, and I was not taking my classes anymore. Besides, I am so very proud of my native language, I am not caring if I muss a word or two in English. As for my accent…it is all I have left of my home.” The coyote sighed. “I shall never be seeing it again. It is destroyed, and that cannot be helped now.”

            Antoine gazed into space for a while, retreating into his memories, which were dim with age but still a source of comfort.

            Snively looked at him and really saw him for the first time, as another person with his own agenda, his own dreams and regrets.

            “I’m sorry,” he told him.

            “Pour quoi?” Antoine asked. “For what?”

            “For the way I treated you…when I captured you in Robotropolis.”

            “Ah. That.”

            “I’m sorry,” Snively repeated, trying not to remember the coyote’s screams when he had tortured him.

            “I am forgiving you,” Antoine said with sanctimonious aloofness.

            Snively saw the anger and pain he was trying to cover with his arrogant attitude and lowered his gaze in shame.

            “I am also sorry,” Antoine said with a regretful sigh. “I was just as cruel to you yesterday, non?”

            “You’re right,” Snively swallowed. “And…I forgive you, too.”

            “We were being enemies before,” Antoine observed. “Let us begin again.” He stood and bowed slightly. “Bonjour. My name is Antoine.”

            “My name is Snively.”

            “I am pleased to be meeting you, Snively.”

            “I’m pleased to be meeting you, too, Antoine,” Snively couldn’t help smiling a little.

            “Bon. Now we are not enemies.”

            The door opened again, and Antoine jerked to attention.

            “Bonjour, Bunnie,” he saluted.

            “Howdy, Antoine,” Bunnie sighed and stepped into the room. “Sally said I’ll be takin’ over for ya for a while.”

            “Ah, thank you, Bunnie,” Antoine sidled toward the doorway. He left with an ambiguously addressed, “Au revoir.”

            Bunnie had been repaired, but she still looked upset as she sat in the chair and gazed at Snively.

            “Aw, I’m just so sorry, Sugar,” she moaned. “I shouln’ta gone accusin’ you like that, but I was just to mad ‘cause I couldn’t move an’ all.”

            “I understand,” Snively whispered, just grateful that she wasn’t angry with him.

            “I feel just plain awful,” Bunnie continued, and stopped as she noticed something. “You been cryin’, Sugar?”

            “No,” Snively lied, looking away.

            “Aw, ya have, too,” Bunnie wailed. “It’s all ‘cause I was such a fool, turnin’ everyone against ya like I did. I’m sorry.”

            “It’s all right,” Snively said, a little amazed at how many apologies were being made back and forth.

            “Thanks, Sugar,” Bunnie smiled.

            Snively managed a tired half-smile.

            “By the way,” Bunnie added, “how’s your back feelin’, Sugar? Is it painin’ ya at all?”

            Snively gave his burned shoulder an experimental stretch and winced.

            “I’ve been trying to ignore it. Why?”

            “I might be able to do somethin’ to ease the pain some.”

            “Really?”

            “Well, sure, Sugar. I’m the one who patched you up in the first place. Now, come on.” She turned off the bars and extended her hand to help him up. “Get yourself comfortable on the bed over there, and I’ll see what I can do.”

            “You don’t have to do anything,” Snively said, still afraid of the half-robotic Freedom Fighter when there weren’t bars between them.

            “Nonsense, it’s the least I can do.”

            Reluctantly, Snively took her hand and got to his feet. His legs still ached from his supersonic sprint as he crossed the room to the plain bunk and sat down on the edge.

            “Lie down on your stomach, Sugar,” Bunnie instructed as she retrieved her medical kit from under the bed. Snively hesitated, and Bunnie smiled and took him by the arm, gently forcing him onto the bed. He didn’t try to get up, but he was still frightened. A familiar feeling of helplessness stole over him as Bunnie pulled up the back of his shirt. He lay still in submission as she eased the bandages off of his burns. Her cold, metal hand made him gasp as she used it to anchor the movements of her normal hand.

            “Why, Darlin’, ya’ll’re just shakin’ like a leaf,” Bunnie sounded concerned. “Don’t worry, Sugar. I won’t hurt you.”

            She laid her warm hand on his head reassuringly.

            “Try to relax, Hon’. I’m gonna help you. Ya’ll know how to relax, don’t ya?”

            Snively lay there, tense and trembling, unable to calm himself while in such a vulnerable state.

            “Take a deep breath, Sugar,” Bunnie said, putting her hand on his unburned left shoulder. “You’re all right.”

            He obeyed as best he could, inhaling in little jerks and breathing out slowly.

            “That’s it,” Bunnie soothed, patting his shoulder. “It’s all right.”

            Snively’s breathing grew easier, and he closed his eyes.

            “There ya go,” Bunnie nodded. “Now, I’m gonna put somethin’ on that burn on your shoulder, ‘kay? It’ll help it heal.”

            “O-okay,” Snively gulped.

            “My stars,” Bunnie murmured as she rummaged through her kit. “What kind’a life have ya’ll had that ya’d be so nervous when some folk’s just tryin’ ta help ya?” She spoke to him more directly, almost in an aside. “Don’t be scared now, Hon’, I’m gonna put this on.”

            Snively felt the painful heat leave his shoulder as Bunnie gently applied some kind of salve to his burn. He relaxed a little more in relief.

            “Ya know,” Bunnie said thoughtfully, “I never really thought about what it would be like livin’ in Robotropolis. I’ve never been there for more than a few hours at a time. It’s always so dark and gloomy, and the air is all cold and full of that nasty smoke, with all’a those swat-bots patrollin’ the place, and that awful Robotnik.” She gasped in realization. “Why, you poor fella, no wonder you’re a reg’ler case’a nerves.” She smoothed a new bandage over his wounds. “You’re used to livin’ with Robotnik. Golly, I hadn’t thought’a what that’d be like.” She lowered her voice, perhaps in fear of being overheard, or maybe in horror. “Is he the one that burned ya’ll like that?”

            “No, that was Nagus.”

            “What happened here?” Bunnie’s gentle fingers ran over Snively’s bruised side.

            “Ro…Robotnik…kicked me…”

            “Land sakes,” Bunnie murmured, still exploring his injured ribs with her normal hand. “Well, at least nothing’s broken.” She eased his shirt back down. “All set, Sugar.”

            Snively pulled himself off of the bed and stood staring down at his feet.

            “Thank you,” he whispered.

            “Sure thing, Sugar.”

            She wordlessly shepherded him back into his cell and was about to turn the bars back on when she paused.

            “Wait a minute,” she said, turning to the bed and picking up a pillow and a blanket. “Here, Hon’. Looks mighty uncomfortable in there. You’ll sleep better if you’re warm enough.”

            “Thank you,” Snively noticed that he had been saying that a lot lately. The Freedom Fighters had done so much for him. Why? Did they want something from him? He already gave them information. If they wanted more, all they had to do was ask. Why were they being so nice to him, the nephew of their sworn enemy?

            “Did Robotnik give ya that black eye, too?” Bunnie asked, definite concern in her voice, in her eyes.

            “Yes,” Snively tugged at the blanket hem uncomfortably.

            Bunnie switched on the bars and reseated herself in front of the cell.

            “Y’know,” she said. “Ya’ll’re nothin’ like I thought ya’d be.”

            “I’m not?” Snively didn’t know how anyone couldn’t see him the way he saw himself. He wasn’t hiding anything.

            “Nope. I always thought you were like Robotnik, all mean and swaggerin’ and hatin’ us Freedom Fighters to death. But I don’t think you’re like that at all. You’re actually very…polite.”

            Snively didn’t answer right away.

            “Somethin’ wrong, Sugar?”

            “Well… To be honest…I did hate you Freedom Fighters. I hated you.”

            “But ya don’t anymore?”

            “No.”

            “What changed?”

            “I don’t know.”

            Snively made himself comfortable on the floor, wrapping himself in the blanket and resting his head on the pillow.

            “You go ahead and get some shuteye, Sugar,” Bunnie yawned. “It’s been a long day.”

            She dimmed the lights until only soft moon-glow illuminated the room with the blue bars.

            “Rest easy, Sugar,” Bunnie smiled through the darkness. “No one’s gonna hurt ya’ll here.”

 

The next day passed for Snively in a series of guards. Every two hours, a different Freedom Fighter stood watch outside his cell. When Snively woke up that morning, he was Uncle Chuck sitting in the chair, quietly reading a book. He noticed as Snively sat up and stared at him questioningly, not knowing what was going on.

            “Good morning,” the robotic hedgehog said levelly, not putting down the open volume in his hands.

            “What’s going on?” Snively asked nervously. “Do you need something from me, Sir Charles?”

            “No, I’m just standing guard for a few hours. Someone else’ll take my place then.”

            “Oh.”

            Uncle Chuck recommenced his reading, but he couldn’t seem to concentrate. Finally, he shut the book and turned so that he was looking into the cell.

            “You must be the fastest, most accurate typist I’ve ever seen,” he told Snively. “And your mathematics were flawless. Which university did you go to? Mobius Tech?”

            “Only for one year, Sir,” Snively answered sadly.

            “Oh,” the robotic hedgehog seemed to understand. “How old were you during the coup?”

            “Eighteen, Sir.”

            “That’s all? You’re so young still. Well, if one year at Mobius Tech did that, imagine what you could have done with four.”

            “Or eleven,” Snively muttered.

            “What?”

            “W-with all due respect, Sir Charles, I didn’t learn my mathematical and typing skills at the university.”

            “Really? Then how did you get so good?”

            Snively scowled in recollection as he explained.

            “I was Robotnik’s assistant. I did all of the computer work. And when Robotnik wants something now you do it now, and you do it right the first time, or else…”

            “Or else what?”

            “Or else he makes you very sorry.”

            “Oh. I see.”

            “But I do love computers,” Snively added. “The one good thing about working for Robotnik was that I always had access to the most advanced technology. I even invented some of it.”

            He and Uncle Chuck discussed the finer points of computation for the remainder of the robotic hedgehog’s shift. Then Sally took his place.

            The princess didn’t speak to Snively at all for the entire time she was there. He suspected that she was trying to lead her people by example, that is was her duty to prove to herself if not to her friends that a prisoner was not someone to converse with. She was loyal to her cause. Snively occupied his mind with the calculations he and Uncle Chuck had talked about.

            Then Tails replaced her. The little two-tailed fox seemed very young for a Freedom Fighter, and he had to argue with Sally to convince her to let him be a guard.

            “This is a big responsibility, Tails,” she warned him. “I don’t know if you should.”

            “But you said I was a real Freedom Fighter now,” the fox protested. I’m big enough to do it. Besides, Sonic promised me that I could.”

            “Sonic…” Sally grumbled. “All right, Tails, but if anything goes wrong you tell me or Sonic. Okay?”

            “Got it, Aunt Sally,” Tails saluted her.

            The two-tailed fox stood stiffly at attention for about two minutes before he got bored and slumped into the chair and started kicking at the piece of wood wedged between the front legs. Suddenly, his formal, serious manner returned, and he glowered at Snively.

            “Don’t you try anything funny, Snotly,” he growled. “I’m watching you.”

            “I won’t,” Snively assured him, a little frightened by his sudden ferocity.

            “’Cause if you try to escape, I’ll smash you into a pancake.”

            “I won’t,” Snively repeated.

            Tails collapsed into the chair again.

            “Aw, you’re no fun,” he moped. “Why can’t you try to escape? Then I could stop you and be a hero like Sonic.”

            Snively didn’t answer, but the little fox didn’t seem to care. He started swinging his legs, watching his red-and-white sneakers in silence.

            “What’s it like being in a cage?” Tails asked in his childish curiosity. “Is it awful? Don’t you want to escape? If I was in a cage, I’d want to get out. I’d want to go home. Do you want to go home?”

            “I don’t have a home,” Snively told him with a sigh.

            “What about Robotropolis?” Tails persisted. “Isn’t that your home? I went there one time with Sonic, but that was a long time ago, so I don’t remember it very good. All I remember is that it was dark and polluted and scary. Robotnik made it that way. Does he like it like that?”

            “Yes.”

            “Why?”

            “I don’t know.”

            “Do you like it?”

            “…No…”

            “I guess you don’t want to go back there, then. But why do you live there if you don’t like it?”

            Snively didn’t know how to explain his situation to a ten-year-old. He had a hard time understanding it himself. How could he put the fear and pain of over a decade into words?

            “Because I have to,” he said simply.

            “Does Robotnik…?” Tails’s mood shifted as he said that name. He got to his feet and scowled at Snively.

            “Nice try, Snyvly, but you can’t escape that easy. I’m on to your evil scheme. You’re trying to trick me, but I’ll show you. I’m not gonna talk to you any more, so there!”

            The little fox moved his chair father away from the cell and sat down with his back to it. He pulled a yo-yo out of a pocket and played with it for the next two hours. Snively watched the spinning toy bob up and down, wondering if it was difficult to use and admiring the child’s skill with it as he performed various tricks.

            Bunnie relieved him next. She spoke pleasantly to Snively, inquiring about his health and commenting on the weather. She was a talkative person, and, with a literal captive audience, she only stopped speaking to allow him to answer a question. Snively didn’t mind, letting her steady stream of conversation wash over him. He thought about her as she talked. She was really quiet motherly toward him and seemed truly sorry for him. Maybe she was still trying to make amends for unjustly accusing him. Maybe she just liked taking care of people. She spoke with affection for all of her Freedom Fighter friends, especially Tails, who was small, and Antoine, who she thought was cute.

            “Only don’t tell him I said that,” she blushed. “Ooh, if he ever found out I’d just die.”

            Several hours later, Sonic entered the hut.

            “Sorry I’m late, Bunnie,” he apologized.

            “Shucks, it ain’t a problem, Sugar-hog,” she smiled and let him take her place. “Bye, ya’ll.”

            Sonic dropped into the chair and glared at Snively, arms folded over his chest. Snively could feel the anger emanating from his eyes, and he scooted backward until the wall stopped him.

            “I don’t care that Sally trusts you,” Sonic rumbled. “And I don’t care that my uncle thinks you’re past cool. I still think you’re slime, Snitley.”

            Snively cowered at the back of the cell, wondering when Sonic’s replacement would arrive. The hedgehog found a long, metal rod and inserted it between the bars. He jabbed at Snively, who retreated into a corner. Sonic prodded the bandage on his shoulder, and Snively whimpered, trying to turn and protect his injury.

            “How many people have you roboticized, Snidely?” Sonic growled, poking Snively’s bruised ribs.

            “Stop it,” Snively pleaded, unable to find a position that didn’t leave one of his injuries open for attack.

            “How many?” Sonic demanded, scoring a painful hit on Snively’s back.

            “I didn’t want to do it,” Snively cried, shielding his head with one arm as he cringed in the corner. “ I had no choice.”

            “You have the same choice as everyone else,” Sonic countered. “You could have fought, like we chose to, but instead you serve Robotnik, you bow and whine.”

            He drove his points home with hard jabs at Snively’s ribs, which he had concluded were sensitive.

            “Please, leave me alone,” Snively begged, tears in his eyes. “Please.”

            “Would a ‘please’ have bought you off?” Sonic demanded, pulling back his arm to poke Snively again. “If my uncle had said, ‘Please,’ would you—?”

            ZAP! Sonic accidentally touched one of the bars with his metal pole. The electricity shot through it, repelling him backward across the room. The hedgehog lay stunned for a long time, the rod still clenched in his hand. Snively stayed in the corner of his cell, massaging his sore ribs, afraid that Sonic would awaken and start tormenting him again. When the blue hedgehog did come to, he hurled the metal pole aside and sat down forcefully in his chair. Snively breathed a sigh of relief. At least he had lost his interest in torturing him. Sonic rubbed at his eyes and turned his back on Snively, sniffling. Was Sonic crying? Snively knew better than to mention it, but he couldn’t help thinking.

For eleven years, the Freedom Fighters had been battling with Robotnik. As far as he knew, Uncle Chuck had been a robotic slave until four days ago. Sir Charles was the only relative Sonic had. He must have missed him, this whole time. The idea that his only relative was serving Robotnik against his will must have torn at him for years. He was frustrated and angry, that Snively understood, but why did Sonic blame him? He wasn’t the one who roboticized his uncle; Robotnik was. Then Snively reflected on the hatred he had borne for the Freedom Fighters for so long. It was the same idea. Both of them saw another person as the source of their pain, when really Robotnik was to blame.

            It was very confusing.

            Antoine took his turn as guard after Sonic.

            “Are you all right, Sonic?” Antoine asked as he came into the room.

            “Back off, Ant,” Sonic grumbled, shoving past him.

            “How very rude,” Antoine huffed. “What has been bothering him? And what has been happening to you, Snively? You are looking most upsetting. What is happened?”

            “Sonic was very angry,” Snively whispered, rubbing his bruised side and flinching.

            “What was he doing?” Antoine demanded.

            “You see that pole over there?”

            “Oui.”

            “Well, he was poking me with it.”

            “That is a terriblé thing!”

            Snively couldn’t think of anything else to say.

            “Then what happened?” Antoine asked.

            “He accidentally touched one of the bars and he got stunned. He didn’t poke me anymore after that.”

            “You must be understanding Sonic. He is very much loving his Uncle Chunk. He has been so aggravated that he has not been seeing him, and you are reminding him of why he hasn’t been with him.”

            “I know,” Snively sighed.

            Gradually, their conversation focused on Snively’s life in Robotropolis.

            “I was going to be asking you this yesterday, but you were saying that Robotnik was kicking and hurting you after you were opening the void, and I was wondering…Was he always hurting you before?”

            “All of the time,” Snively confessed.

            “Why?”

            “Whenever things went wrong, when you Freedom Fighters ruined his plans and you escaped, whenever I said the wrong thing… Everything was my fault according to him. I remember one time, when a Freedom Fighter broke out of the roboticizor, he knocked me across the room, and I hit my head on the wall and passed out.”

            His eyes grew distant as he went back through his memories…

 

            “Roboticizor at one-hundred percent power, Sir,” Snively whined to Robotnik. He glanced at the frightened wolf encased in glass under the machine. A vengeful smile crossed his face. At last, he was certain that nothing would go wrong, and Robotnik would be pleased. If his uncle was in a good mood, he might even be allowed to run the city on his own for a while. One of the few pleasures Snively had was the giddy feeling of power he got when all of Robotropolis would obey his every command.

            “Excellent, Snively,” Robotnik thundered. “Commence roboticization.”

            “Not so fast, Butt-nik!” shouted a mocking voice. A blue blur streaked around the room, cracking the glass tube and freeing the wolf.

            “It’s the hedgehog!” Robotnik roared. “Get him! Get him!”

            The wind from the super-fast hedgehog blew Snively back. He couldn’t move or see anything until Sonic zoomed away with the liberated prisoner. When the dust cleared, it became apparent that the roboticizor was badly damaged. Crippling panic was never far from Snively’s mind, and it struck now.

            “Snively,” Robotnik growled.

            “Y-yes, Sir?” Snively stammered, facing him.

            Where is that hedgehog?!?”

            “I don’t know, Sir,” Snively whimpered.

            He screamed in terror as Robotnik hauled him up to his eye level.

            “Please, Sir,” Snively trembled. “It wasn’t my fault.”

            He yelped as Robotnik slapped him.

            “You’re going to pay for letting him get away again!” Robotnik snarled.

            “No, please, Sir,” Snively cried, clawing at the iron fist clutching him by the shirt front. “I couldn’t—”

            Robotnik hit him again.

            “I’m sorry, Sir!” Snively tried, tears forming in his eyes. “I’m sorry! I’m sorry!”

            He cringed as Robotnik glared at him with his burning, red eyes. The enormous man dropped him to the floor.

            “Ow,” Snively whimpered when he landed.

            He cried out in pain as Robotnik hit him a third time, sending him sprawling.

            “I’m losing my patience, Snively,” Robotnik snarled. “The hedgehog will not escape me again.”

            Snively cowered beneath him, afraid to speak.

            “Understand?!” Robotnik barked, kicking his nephew.

            Snively flew backward and slammed against the wall. Stars filled his vision for a brief moment before he lost consciousness…

 

            “Terriblé,” Antoine breathed in horror. “This has happened more of the time?”

            “Every time something goes really wrong,” Snively whispered. “Though I only passed out once.” He sighed. “I wish… I wish I could be brave…like you.”

            “Like moi?” Antoine sounded surprised.

            “You’re so brave, you Freedom Fighters, always coming to Robotropolis, fighting off the swat-bots, insulting Robotnik. And you’re really brave, Antoine. I…I had you in the torture chamber, and you held up for so long… I just wish I was as brave as you.”

            “You are calling moi brave? But… all of my friends, they say I am an incroyable coward. I am afraid of everything.”

            Snively and Antoine talked about the differences between fear, cowardice, and courage for a few hours, but by then the sun had set, and they were both tired from the late hour.

            “Bon nuit, Snively,” Antoine said as his shift ended. “I am thinking tomorrow the deroboticizor will be running. You will be needed to help it go, I am sure.”

            “Thank you.”

            Snively settled down to sleep, haunted by the similarities between Robotnik and Sonic and the memories of their attacks on him, but also comforted by the three Freedom Fighters who seemed to like him: Uncle Chuck, Bunnie, and Antoine. Today had been eventful. What would tomorrow bring?

 

            Sally brought Snively back to the deroboticizor room in the morning. She had him check over his calculations again, and she agreed that they looked correct.

 “I can’t see any reason why this shouldn’t work,” she said. “Let’s give it a shot.”

            Snively stood at the back of the room, guarded by Sonic, who held his arm tightly. It took Snively a while to get more used to Sonic’s presence, but he had managed to relax enough to stop shaking so hard. He tried very hard to believe that Sonic wouldn’t hurt him when the other Freedom Fighters were watching, but the memory of the anger on his face the day before kept him from feeling very safe.

            Sally assisted Bunnie into the deroboticizor again. Uncle Chuck and Rotor started up the machine, and the glass tube lowered slowly. Bunnie looked a little nervous, but she smiled bravely as she started to glow. The lights in the room flickered, and the tube filled with steam. A few seconds later, the lights blinked back on, and the glass tube rose, clouds of white spilling over the floor.

            “Bunnie?” Sally called. “Are you all right?”

            Bunnie coughed and waved the steam away from her face. She emerged from the clouds and looked down at herself. He left hand looked just like her right, and her legs had become those of a living rabbit.

            “I’m me again!” she cheered, springing into the air. “I got my ole bod’ back!”

            Sally scanned her with NICOLE.

            “Well, NICOLE?” the chipmunk prompted the computer.

            Zero percent probability of regression,” NICOLE recited. “Conversion successful.”

            “It worked!” Sally grinned.

            “All right!” Bunnie whooped, hugging herself. “Let’s get Sugar-Chuck in there and change him back, too.”

            The robotic hedgehog stepped into the machine and completely transformed. Snively was amazed at how different Uncle Chuck seemed as a real hedgehog. His blue fur was grayer than Sonic’s, and he had a white mustache. He seemed much older, now. Wiser, perhaps.

            “Uncle Chuck!” Sonic cried, releasing Snively and zipping across the room. He and his uncle embraced, wiping away tears. “And you’re gonna stay like this, aren’t you, Unc? You’re not gonna change back again?”

            “No, Sonni,” Uncle Chuck murmured. “I know I’ll stay this way. I feel different than last time. I feel freer. Closer.”

            “I love you, Uncle Chuck.”

            “I love you, too, Sonni.”

            “Ya’ll said you could feel the difference, Charlie?” Bunnie asked as she flexed her new arm. “I don’t feel any different than last time. Do ya’ll think…?”

            “No, Bunnie,” Uncle Chuck assured her. “You don’t feel any different because the roboticization never affected your mind or your heart, and that’s where the difference is. You’ll be fine, I’m sure.” He turned to Snively, standing timidly at the back of the room. “And it’s all thanks to this man here.”

            “Aw, thanks so much, Sugar!” Bunnie bounded across the room and gave Snively an enthusiastic hug.

            Snively didn’t care that she squeezed his sore ribs; he was too surprised by the suddenness of it all.

            “Um… You’re welcome,” he said, dazed but pleased.

            “I’m just so happy,” Bunnie giggled and gave him a second hug before bouncing over to Antoine and Sally and hugging them, too.

            Uncle Chuck approached him as well and extended his hand. Snively shook it, still a little disoriented.

            “None of this would have been possible without you, Snively,” the elderly hedgehog chuckled, pumping his arm up and down. “I’m glad to know you. Thank you for everything you’ve done.”

            “I…I’m honored, Sir Charles,” Snively told him, smiling.

            “Now we can deroboticize the others,” Uncle Chuck continued. “You’ve done a great thing for all of Mobius, my boy.”

            “Let’s organize a rescue party right now,” Sally said. “We can get to Robotropolis and back in a few hours.”

            “Sure thing, Sal,” Sonic nodded. “We’ll make a plan right after I stick Snootly back in his cell.”

            He grabbed Snively’s arm again.

            “Wait, Sugar-hog,” Bunnie called. “I don’t think that’s right. Snively’s been a big, ole help to us all. He doesn’t deserve to be locked up again.”

            “Come on, Bunnie,” Sonic complained. “Remember who we’re talking about here. This is Snively, Robotnik’s lackey.” He yanked Snively forward, as if to give her a better view. “He’s slime.”

            “Sugar-hog, you’re bein’ a touch unfair. Look at me and your Uncle Chuck. Snively did this for us.”

            “Please,” Sonic rolled his eyes. “He only helped us because he’s scared of us. He’s evil.”

            “I cannot be standing by and listening to this any longer,” Antoine piped up. “Monsieur Snively is not evil.”

            “Say what?!”

            “Antoine’s right, Sugar-hog. He might be a coward, but he’s not a bad guy.”

            “He roboticized people, guys. How can you not think that’s evil?”

            “He was not wanting to, he is only fearing the wrath of Robotnik.”

            “Yeah. How do ya’ll think he got hurt in the first place?”

            “You two are crazy! Snively’s been working for Robuttnik for the last ten years! Whose side are you on?”

            “That’s enough, Sonic,” Uncle Chuck scolded. “They have a point. It wouldn’t be very grateful of us to put Snively back behind bars, not after he’s helped us so much.”

            “Well, what should we do, Unc?”

            “It would only be fair to let him make a request first.”

            “Oh, all right,” Sonic grumbled. “Go ahead, Slimely. Start requesting.”

            “Um… Could I have some time to think about it?”

            “Okay… Time’s up!”

            “Sonic,” Sally said warningly. “Give him a chance. He has been a big help.”

            “Fine,” Sonic grumbled.

            “Th-thank you, Your Highness,” Snively bowed his head.

            He took a deep breath and thought as quickly as he could. What kind of request did he want to make? Snively considered asking for his freedom, but the thought of wandering the world alone frightened him, especially when he considered the possibility that Robotnik and Nagus might find him. No, he knew he was safer with the Freedom Fighters in Knothole. That thought sparked an idea in his mind, but he felt stupid for considering to say it. They would never grant him that request. Would they? He knew that three of them were on his side, but Sonic and Sally were the leaders. Still, he couldn’t think of anything he wanted more, and he might not get another opportunity to ask.

            “Could…could I…” he cleared his throat nervously, wishing that Sonic would let go of his arm. “Could I…stay here…with you?”

            “What do you mean?” Sonic growled.

            “Could I become a Freedom Fighter?” Snively asked in a rush.

            Sonic twisted his arm behind his back and pushed him to the ground. Snively cried out in pain as Sonic tweaked his arm.

            “You’re trying to trick us!’ Sonic shouted. “You just want in so you can spy on us!”

            The other Freedom Fighters rushed in and tried to pull Sonic off of him.

            “Sonic, what’s wrong with you?” Sally yelled, helping Bunnie haul the hedgehog off of Snively.

            “We finally beat Robotnik, and he brought him back!” Sonic shrieked, grinding down on Snively’s arm.

            “I didn’t mean to!” Snively wailed, squirming under Sonic’s weight. “I only wanted to free Nagus!”

            “Why?” Sonic demanded. “Because you wanted him to help you! Because he could help you capture the rest of us and roboticize us! Right?”

            The Freedom Fighters grew quiet, waiting for Snively’s denial. But he didn’t say anything outside of a pained whimper as Sonic leaned on his arm.

            “Admit it!” Sonic snarled.

            “It’s true,” Snively sniffled. “I did want to roboticize all of you, but only because it was your fault that I was always in trouble, always getting punished…”

            “Get off of him, Sonic,” Sally ordered as Snively started weeping. The hedgehog obeyed and stared down at him as if in confusion.

            “It is true,” Antoine said at last. “I have been speaking with Monsieur Snively, and he is telling me how Robotnik is cruel to him. I am believing him when he says he does not know what else to do but be following Robotnik’s orders.”

            “I agree with Antoine, ya’ll,” Bunnie added. “Just ‘cause Snively’s been livin’ in Robotropolis doesn’t mean he liked it. We think it’s bad havin’ to go there on missions, but he’s had to be there twenty-four-seven for all these years. Besides, he doesn’t want to roboticize us anymore. He told me how he used to hate us, but now he doesn’t. He knows that we never even thought about him gettin’ hurt ‘cause we were fightin’ Robotnik.”

            “But…how can you trust him?” Sonic asked, sounding genuinely curious and not very angry.

            “I get a good vibe from him, I guess,” Bunnie said, and she knelt beside Snively and helped him off of the floor. “There, there, now, Sugar,” she soothed, patting his shoulder.

            Snively cradled his twisted arm in his uninjured one, trying to stop crying. But he was still so scared. He was scared of Sonic, who, as leader of the Freedom Fighters, held his fate in his hand. He was scared of the other Freedom Fighters, who disliked and distrusted him. He was scared of Robotnik, who might reenter his life at any time. He was scared of pain and of dying.

            “I am trusting him, too,” Antoine declared, standing by Snively’s side. “He has said things too terriblé to be lies. He is very truly afraid. I am knowing, because I am also feeling the same things.”

            “Look at it this way, Sonic,” Uncle Chuck said, taking his place beside Snively as well. “He can’t go back to Robotnik because he’ll kill him for helping us and giving us information. On the other hand, if he stays with us, he’ll be protected and continue to help us out. Like you said, he’s scared of us. That means he respects us.”

            “You know, Sonic,” Sally ruminated. “Snively did volunteer to fix the deroboticizor on his own, and he didn’t betray us then.”

            “But, Sal,” Sonic argued. “If he’ll turn traitor on Robotnik, who’s scary times seven, what’s to keep him from turning on us?”

            “I’ve decided,” Sally said firmly. “We’ll let Snively have a trial period. Someone will always be watching him for a few weeks, and if he does anything traitorous, we’ll… do something about it. He won’t be allowed to leave Knothole or have access to any of our secrets and plans.”

            “Sal, when you say ‘something,’ what kind of something do you mean?”

            “If he tries to betray us…we’ll turn him over to Robotnik.”

            Snively’s heart pounded at the thought, and his face registered absolute horror.

            “Sounds good to me, Sal,” Sonic said, observing Snively’s reaction.

            “Ya hear that, Sugar?” Bunnie put her arm over Snively’s shoulder. “You’re a trail Freedom Fighter.”

            “You mean I can stay?” Snively smiled.

            “Oui,” Antoine nodded. “And you will not be staying in that cage, right, My Princess?”

            “Right, Antoine,” Sally agreed, warming up to the idea. “I’m sure you’ll be a major asset to the Freedom Fighters, Snively. Welcome to Knothole.”

            “I’m so grateful for this chance to join you, Your Highness,” Snively told her, smiling in relief. “You won’t regret this.”

            “I’ll figure out all of the rules,” Sally said. “For now, just stay in the hut where the cell is. You don’t have to be locked up. Just stay there. Bunnie, you go with him. You can be his guard for now.”

            “Yes, Your Highness,” Snively bowed his head.

            “I’ll watch him, Sally-girl,” Bunnie said. “Don’t worry about a thing.”

            Snively kept smiling as Bunnie escorted him across the ground. He was happy that he was allowed to stay in this beautiful place, this place that Robotnik had never been able to find. Snively was determined to prove his good intentions to the Freedom Fighters, and he really believed that it was possible.

            Someday, he would be one of them. Someday, he would belong.

 

            The rules Sally made were easy enough for him to follow:

1.     A senior member of the group must be with him at all times.

2.     He would be barred from all meetings concerning plans and secrets.

3.     He would not be permitted to leave Knothole at all, even under supervision (unless there was an emergency evacuation).

4.     He would be locked in the cell at night and at any time there wasn’t someone to watch him.

5.     If he broke any of these rules he would be turned over to Robotnik.

Snively didn’t even want to break any of the rules. He was only interested in earning the Freedom Fighters’ trust, and why would he want to leave Knothole anyway? Robotnik was out there, and Robotnik meant death.

The first few days were a little hectic and confusing; the Freedom Fighters had a hard time keeping someone with him all of the time, especially since Sonic wanted to avoid him, eliminating one more potential guard. Bunnie and Antoine were happy to watch Snively, and Uncle Chuck would have done it as well, but he didn’t qualify as a senior member, having been at Knothole for only five days and in his own body even less. Then there was the problem of keeping him ignorant to their plans and secrets. All of the people qualified to supervise him knew valuable information and had to be careful not to tell him anything. Snively responded by trying not to ask too many questions, although his natural curiosity wouldn’t let him ignore the fascinating new world he was immersed in. He simply had to ask about the plants, the people, the technology and architecture; everything was new to him, having been living in Robotropolis for the last eleven years.

Bunnie, Antoine, and Uncle Chuck liked him and trusted him. Sally was cold and wary. Tails seemed to regard him as some kind of oddity, calling him names but otherwise not hostile toward him. Sonic was the one that Snively worried about. The blue hedgehog clearly didn’t trust him and insulted him every chance he got. He seemed to be waiting for Snively to break the rules so he could be rid of him.

Snively befriended Sally on the third day. He had been helping her recalibrate the

waterwheel that supplied most of Knothole’s electricity, and the sun had gone down while they were working. They headed back toward the huts when Snively happened to look up.

            “Wow,” he breathed, tilting his head back. “The stars…”

            “It’s very clear tonight,” Sally commented.

            “I haven’t see stars like that since…since before…” The sky blurred, and he wiped at his eyes. “I used to know all of them, but I’ve…forgotten.”

            They had arrived in front of the building containing the cell.

            “Could I please have one more minute?” Snively asked. “I just want to look a minute longer. They’re so beautiful.”

            “All right,” Sally agreed. “One minute.”

            Snively looked up and drank in the starscape, trying to remember the constellations.

            “You don’t see the stars in Robotropolis?” Sally asked.

            “Never,” Snively said, still gazing upward. “Even if there wasn’t any smog, there are so many lights… You can’t see a thing. You can’t even see the sun in the daytime. It all looks the same.”

            Sally shivered and looked at her watch.

            “It’s been a minute,” she told him.

            Snively lowered his head with a sigh and entered the hut.

            “You really can’t see the sun at all?” Sally asked as she activated the bars on the cell.

            “No,” Snively answered. “The sky is just…dark. Like night.”

            “It must be terrible to never see the sun.”

            “I never really thought about it when I was there. I had…other things to worry about.”

His bruised ribs had healed quite a bit, but he rubbed them unconsciously as he remembered Robotropolis.

            “You weren’t much older than I am now during the coup, were you?”

            “I was eighteen, Your Highness.”

            “Gosh… I wonder what I’d think if I knew I’d never get to see the sun again in two years…” Sally gave him a look of sincere pity and tried to cover it by turning off the lights.

            “Good night,” she said, her cool, wary tone returning to her voice.

            “Good night, Your Highness.”

            Snively noticed that Sally seemed more willing to talk to him after that, and he wasn’t entirely sure why.

            Still, the times when Snively found the courage to make requests, like asking for one more minute with the stars, were rare. In that case, his deep longing to see the stars, to be in touch with something wonderful from his past he’d nearly forgotten, overcame his fear. Most of the time his desires were small enough for him to ignore, and he asked for very little.

 

Snively was helping Bunnie in the garden the next day. He tried hard to do everything she asked him to do, but he didn’t have the strength, the know-how, or the stamina.

            “Darlin’,” Bunnie said. “I didn’t notice before, but you’re very pale, like ya don’t get outside enough. I couldn’t tell ‘til we got out here in the bright sun. You’re not exactly cut out for the farm life, are ya?”

            Snively wiped his forehead with his sleeve and leaned against a tree.

            “I’m sorry I can’t be of more help,” he panted dizzily.

            “Shucks, Sugar, you’re doin’ your best. It’s all just what you’re used to. In a few weeks, you’ll get the hang of it.”

            Tails flew over to them across the field, spinning his namesakes like helicopter blades.

            “Bunnie!” he called. “Sonic and Sally want to see Snively. They’re in the main hut now.”

            “Sure thing, Hon’!” Bunnie waved with her left hand, recently returned to normal. Nearly five days had gone by, and Bunnie and Uncle Chuck showed no signs of returning to their roboticized states. The rabbit celebrated her proper form every chance she got.

            “Come on, Sugar,” she said to Snively, taking him by the wrist. “Let’s not keep ‘em waitin’.”

            Snively had found that he could tell how much people liked and trusted him by how they led him around. Bunnie usually held his wrist like that. This gesture was more friendly than Sonic’s way of grabbing him by the upper arm, usually from behind, and shoving him in the direction he wanted him to go. Antoine hardly ever guided him by touch, trusting him to follow his voiced instructions. Sally didn’t touch him either, but she always walked behind him, watching him, giving him a chance to be obedient but not wanting to take her eyes off him.

            They entered the hut, and Sally looked up at them from her work.

            “Thanks for bringing him, Bunnie,” she said. “We can watch him now. You can go back to your work.”

            “All right, Sally-girl,” Bunnie said, leaving the room. “See ya’ll later.”

            “Come here, Snively,” Sally ordered, typing at a large computer.

            Snively crossed the room cautiously beneath Sonic’s gaze. The hedgehog stood beside Sally with a scowl on his face.

            “Y-yes, Your Highness?” Snively wavered as he drew near.

            “Listen to this.” Sally typed a command, and a holographic recording lit up over the terminal. Snively shivered at the sight of Nagus’s face. The message played.

            “Greetings, Freedom Fighters,” Nagus wheezed. “It is I, Ixis Nagus. I have just learned that you are the ones responsible for killing Robotnik. For this, I thank you to no end. You see, when Robotnik died, I was released from the void. I have since taken up residence in the city you call Robotropolis. I would be most appreciative if you would come and visit me so that I may thank you in person.” The image changed to show a particular place in the city. “Please meet me here. I would like to speak to you about the decontamination of Mobius and the release of the roboticized Mobians, who seem confused without Robotnik around. I would also like to form an alliance with you. Together, we can make Mobius the peaceful planet it once was. End transmission.”

            The hologram blinked away.

            “Explain that, Slimely,” Sonic snarled. “Nagus said he wants to make peace. He said that Robotnik is dead.”

            “He’s lying,” Snively said, nervous under Sonic’s glare. “It must be a trap.”

            “Maybe you’re the one who’s lying, Snotly,” Sonic countered. “Nagus was enemies with Robotnik when I talked to him. He was on our side, and that’s what he’s saying now.”

            “But he’s lying,” Snively protested. “Robotnik is alive. I saw him.”

            “Know what I think?” Sonic growled, grabbing Snively’s shirt front and slamming him against the wall. “I think that you’re just telling us a bunch of lies so that we’ll stay away from Robotropolis and never learn the truth. You don’t want us to clean up the planet or deroboticize the people, you just want to escape from Knothole.”

            “No,” Snively shook his head, trying to extricate himself from Sonic’s grasp. “I want to help you. I want the same things you want. I wouldn’t lie to you.”

            “Why should I believe a word you’re saying?” Sonic demanded. “You’ve hunted us for years. You’ve turned our friends and families into robots. And Nagus has helped us. He fought Robotnik. He hasn’t ever done a thing to hurt us. But, you, you’ve done nothing but help Robuttnik make our lives miserable for the last eleven years.”

            “But…but…” Snively faltered. “Nagus said Robotnik was dead, and he’s not. He’s alive.”

            “Oh, yeah?” Sonic challenged. “Prove it.”

            “I…I can’t,” Snively trembled.

            “I told you, Sal,” Sonic called over his shoulder. “He’s got nothing. I say we go talk to Nagus.”

            “No!” Snively shrieked. “If you go see Nagus, he’ll make you tell him where Knothole is, and then he’ll find me!”

            “Oh, so that’s what this is all about,” Sonic sneered. “You’re afraid of Nagus.”

            “Yes” Snively nodded.

            “Because he knows you’re an evil, little toad like Robotnik that wants to take over the world…”

            “No!”

            “…and you know he’ll tell us if we go talk to him.”

            “No! That’s not it at all! Nagus and Robotnik plotted to conquer Mobius together! He doesn’t want to make peace, he wants to lure you out into the open! He’ll roboticize you and make you tell him where Knothole is so he and Robotnik can wipe it out!”

            “Robotnik is dead!” Sonic slammed Snively’s back against the wall again.

            “That’s enough, Sonic,” Sally said. “You got his explanation. Let go of him.”

            Sonic released Snively’s shirt and stomped over to Sally’s side.

            “I don’t care what he said,” he grumbled. “I’m going to meet Nagus.”

            “Be careful, Sonic,” Sally warned him.

            The blue hedgehog streaked out of the room. The Princess stared after him for a second before beckoning to Snively. He followed her to the infirmary, which was the building where his cell was located. She pushed him into the cell and turned on the bars. Snively looked at her, unable to tell whether she believed him or not.

            “What’s going on?” he whispered.

            “You’re staying here until Sonic gets back.”

            “But he’s walking into a trap. Don’t you believe me?”

            “I don’t know what to believe.”

            Sally left him alone in the cell. Snively worried the entire time he was by himself. Sonic might get caught. He might reveal Knothole’s location. Nagus and Robotnik might come and roboticize his new friends. Or maybe… What if Snively was wrong? What if Nagus really did want to make peace with the Freedom Fighters? Maybe he killed Robotnik after… No, no, no. Nagus was lying. He said that the Freedom Fighters killed Robotnik and that’s how he got out of the void. Lies! Robotnik struck Snively several hours after the Freedom Fighters allegedly killed him because he built a retrieval gate. He was there. He knew what happened. He knew that Nagus had wanted complete world domination since before the coup. But what could he do now? Sonic was on his way to Robotropolis. Nagus was very powerful; not as powerful as he was in the void, but still a real threat. Then there was still Robotnik.

            Snively shuddered to think of what would happen if Nagus and Robotnik found Knothole.

            The door opened, and Snively jumped in surprise. Antoine entered the room.

            “Oh, Snively,” he sighed. “I am only just learning why My Princess has ordered that you are not to be leaving that cage.”

            “Could you tell me?” Snively asked. “I’m so confused.”

            “She is thinking that she is not trusting you anymore because of that message from the sorcerer Nagus. She is not knowing what is the truth, and she is not wanting to be careless.”

            “What’s going to happen to me?”

            “When she is finding out that you are telling the truth, she will be letting you out of there.”

            “You still trust me?”

            “But of course. I am never meeting this Nagus. Why should I be believing his word against yours?”

            “What’s going on out in Knothole?”

            “Everyone is waiting for Sonic. It is terriblé, and the princess says she is very busy and we must not be disturbing her.”

            Both of them heard Rotor’s voice in the distance call Antoine’s name.

            “I must be going, but I will not  be leaving you in the park. I will return.”

            The coyote left in a hurry, muttering to himself in French.

            A few hours passed without anyone entering the room. Snively sat in a doze, half-wondering what was happening to Sonic and what Sally was so busy with. He tried to remember his uncle before he betrayed him and made him his lackey: a large, intelligent man, motivated and strong of will, but intimidating and, Snively thought, closed-minded.

            Snively remembered looking up to him once,  but he couldn’t remember what it felt like. He felt foolish, now, for not suspecting that his uncle would betray him once he attained complete power. He regretted agreeing to help him take over the world, but he had been so tempted by his uncle’s promises of power that he didn’t let his conscience bother him. Now he realized that he was just as guilty as his uncle. He was responsible for organizing and directing the armies that swept Mobius. He was the one at the controls as hundreds of Mobians were roboticized.

            Snively wished he had just said, “No,” when his uncle asked if he wanted to help him conquer Mobius in exchange for an equal division of the supreme power among him, Nagus, and Robotnik, and later, just him and Robotnik. He never should have trusted him. He was too greedy.

            Maybe the Freedom Fighters were right not to trust him. If he’d had his way when he was eighteen, he would be just like Robotnik, in control of everything with every Mobian his robotic servant.

            Guilt, guilt, guilt. Snively felt awful. If he hadn’t helped Robotnik, none of this would have happened, and he never would have lived in a polluted city called Robotropolis being smacked around by his evil, domineering uncle.

            Sonic was right to blame him for everything. To some degree, even Robotnik was right to blame him for everything. It was all his fault. It hadn’t been his idea, he wasn’t the evil mastermind behind the coup, but it was his fault.

            The door slammed open, and Snively stared as Sally, Bunnie, and Uncle Chuck rushed into the room carrying Sonic.

            “It’s okay,” Sally chanted frantically. “It’s okay. It’s okay.”

            “Get him on the bed, Sally-girl,” Bunnie called, stooping to get the medical kit.

            Sally and Uncle Chuck laid the moaning, half-conscious hedgehog on the bed.

            “Sal?” Sonic groaned.

            “It’s okay, Sonic,” Sally said, clasping his hand.

            Snively could see that Sonic was injured, a growing patch of blood on his chest, just below his shoulder. He was covered with dust and small scratches.

            “Hang in there, Sonni,” Uncle Chuck urged, wiping the dirt from his nephew’s face with a wet cloth. “We’ll help you.”

            Bunnie knelt over him, blocking Snively’s view. Sonic cried out in pain, and Snively felt his own stab of guilt. This was his fault, too. H wanted to cover his ears to block out the sounds of Sonic’s suffering, but his conscience wouldn’t let him. He needed to be aware of all the pain his actions had caused. He deserved it.

            “No,” Sonic whimpered, trying to evade Bunnie’s hands.

            “Hold him still,” Bunnie grunted as she worked. “He’s makin’ it worse for movin’.”

            Sally and Uncle Chuck each took one of the hedgehog’s arms and pinned him to the bed. Snively couldn’t see exactly what was going on, but Bunnie seemed to be extracting something from Sonic’s chest. The hedgehog made short, agonized cries every few seconds, not really screaming but so obviously in pain that it made Snively feel weak in empathy.

            “Got it!” Bunnie said, showing Sally, Uncle Chuck, and, without realizing it, Snively, a long, thin, sharp, metal laser dart, covered with blood. Snively grew nauseated at the sight of it, but he still couldn’t tear his eyes away.

            “Oh, Sonic,” Sally breathed, stroking his face.

            The hedgehog cried out again as Bunnie cleaned his wound. He gripped his uncle’s hand tightly.

            “You’re doing great, Sonic,” Uncle Chuck murmured.

            “There ya go, Sugar-hog,” Bunnie sighed. “All finished.”

            “Sally?” Sonic gasped.

            “I’m here, Sonic,” the princess said, taking his other hand.

            “Snively…was…right…” Sonic wheezed. “It was...a…trap… Nagus…”

            “Shh…” Sally hushed, holding his hand to her face. “It’s all right.”

            “R…Ro…botnik’s…alive…”

            Snively couldn’t take it anymore. He curled up in the corner of his cell and cried.

            “Aw, Sugar, what’s wrong?” Bunnie knelt on the outside of the bars, gazing in at him.

            “This is all my fault,” Snively sobbed. “I let Robotnik and Nagus out of the void.”

            “You couldn’tve known all this would happen, Darlin’.”

            “But it’s more than that. I helped Robotnik take over Mobitropolis all those years ago. I was stupid, and people are getting hurt now because of me. I wanted power, and I was willing to do whatever it took to get it… I should be the one on the bed over there right now, not Sonic. It should be me…”

            He tried to keep talking, but his sobs stole his breath, and he couldn’t form words anymore. He shrank fearfully away from the arm that curved over his shoulders. Bunnie had turned off the bars and put her arm around him. She pulled him closer when he cowered at her touch.

            “Aw, Sugar, don’t beat yourself up like that. You didn’t do anythin’ to hurt Sonic.”

            “But I…” Snively hiccupped. “I helped Robotnik take over the world. I wanted to. I didn’t want to after I found out that he was lying when he said I’d have power, but not because it was wrong. I…I’m a bad person…” He tried to cringe away, not feeling like he deserved Bunnie’s compassion, but she still held him.

            “You’re not bad, Sugar,” she assured him. “You’re not.”

            “But I let Nagus and Robotnik out of the void. It’s my fault they’re here. I wanted revenge, and I was stupid and let them out.” He shuddered. “You should just turn me over to Robotnik. He’ll torture and kill me, but I deserve it.”

            “No, you’re wrong,” Bunnie said, sounding a little tearful herself. “You don’t deserve that. No one does. Listen to me, Sugar. You can’t be bad if you feel this guilty.”

            “I don’t want any more people to suffer because of me. Robotnik made me roboticize so many people.”

            “Don’t ya see? Robotnik made ya. He would’a hurt ya’ll if ya didn’t do what he said.”

            “But I still shouldn’t have done it. I was so selfish…”

            “You were afraid. People do lots of things they ought’n’a do when they’re scared.”

            “But I hurt so many people…”

            “Oh, Sugar, you’re so convinced that you’re bad… Robotnik hurt you for the last, what is it, ten, eleven years? Haven’t you been punished enough? You don’t need to take a laser dart for Sonic.”

            “Robotnik is so much bigger than me…”

            “I think you’ve suffered plenty for the things you did eleven years ago. Don’t you?”

            Snively started crying anew.

            “Bunnie,” Sally called. “Come here. He’s got these terrible burns on his back.”

            “Listen, Sugar,” Bunnie murmured to Snively. “I’ve gotta go take care of Sonic now, okay? You stop beatin’ yourself up. You’re a good person with a good heart. Evil people don’t cry for others.”

            Snively covered his head with his pillow, trying to drown out Sonic’s tortured cries as Bunnie tended to his burns. After a few minutes, Sonic was bandaged up and sleeping.

            “I’m going to stay with him,” Sally whispered to Bunnie and Uncle Chuck. “In case he needs anything.”

            “Try to get some sleep, Sally,” Uncle Chuck advised.

            “Give me a holler if ya’ll need anythin’,” Bunnie said in parting.

            Sally turned off the lights and got into the empty bed beside Sonic’s. The hedgehog moaned and talked in his sleep. He was angry in his dream, whatever it was, and frightened. Snively could only understand the words “Nagus,” “Liar,” and, “No.” Sally got up and stroked his forehead to placate him.

            “You’re safe now, Sonic,” she whispered. “It’s okay.”

            “Sal…” Sonic mumbled in his sleep, calming down.

            Snively wrapped up in his blanket and softly cried himself to sleep, tortured by thoughts of the terrible deeds he had done and the retribution he would receive if he ever fell back into Robotnik’s and Nagus’s hands. He didn’t know that he, too, spoke in his sleep that night.

            But Sally did.

 

            “Man, I was a total lameo,” Sonic grumbled weakly. “I walked right into that trap.”

            “It’s okay, Sonic,” Sally told him. “You were just following your instincts. I almost went with you.”

            “It’s a good thing you didn’t, Sal. It was pretty rough.”

            Snively opened his eyes. Sonic was sitting up in bed, and Sally was sitting in a chair close to him. Snively groaned as he stared at the ceiling of his cell, feeling less miserable than he did last night but still depressed, still aching inside.

            “Is he awake, Sal?” Sonic asked.

            Sally peered into the cell.

            “Yes.” She crossed the room and turned off the bars.

            Snively tucked into a corner and averted his gaze, too ashamed to look at her.

            “Come here, Snively,” Sally ordered. “Sonic wants to talk to you.”

            Snively got to his feel and shuffled over to Sonic’s bed. Sally stood just behind him and put her hand on his shoulder, as if to keep him from backing out. Snively looked into Sonic’s eyes for a moment before falling to his hands and knees beside the bed.

            “I’m sorry, Sonic,” he whimpered. “I’m sorry I let Robotnik and Nagus out of the void. You were right. Everything is my fault, and I did have a choice. I’m just a coward. I’m sorry.”

            “Will you stop apologizing?” Sonic asked, irritated. “I need to apologize to you.”

            Sally pulled Snively upright.

            “Apologize… to me?” Snively asked.

            “Yeah. I’m sorry I didn’t believe you when you said that Nagus was laying a trap for me. You were telling the truth about everything, and it’s my own fault that I got hurt. Okay?”

            “O-okay.”

            “So, Sal,” Sonic turned to the chipmunk, abruptly ending his conversation with Snively. “You gonna tell Snively about your new project?”

            “Snively,” Sally said. “I’ve been working on a map of Robotropolis, and it’s nearly complete. What I want to do is check it for accuracy. The easiest way to do that is to use a machine I invented called the memory probe to compare my map with your knowledge of the city.”

            “What is the memory probe?” Snively gulped.

            “I’ll show you.”

            Sally wheeled a cart into view. On top was a large, clear bowl on an adjustable arm connected to a small, square computer base.

            “This dish goes through your memories and projects them like a hologram. It has these speakers, too, to transmit any sounds.”

            “Does it…hurt?”

            “No. I’ve tried it myself. It feels like  having a very vivid dream. Please. This will be a huge help to the Freedom Fighters, since you’re the only one who’s had access to all of the sensitive areas of Robotropolis.”

            “So, I just kind of sit there? I don’t have to do anything?”

            “Well, you’ll be lying down, but, no, you don’t have to do anything for it to work.”

            “All right. I’ll try it.”

            “Good. We can do it here. I have all of my equipment ready.”

            Snively lay on the bed, and Sally swiveled the clear bowl over his head. Colored lights blinked on along its surface, and the machine started humming.

            “You’re…sure this doesn’t hurt?”

            “I promise. Now, I’m going to activate this, and you’ll feel like you’re falling asleep. Don’t fight it. You’ll wake up the moment I shut off the probe. Okay?”

            “Okay…”

            The humming grew fainter as Snively was overcome with drowsiness. He closed his eyes, and the memory probe when silently and painlessly through his mind. Snively started to remember…

 

Snively stood in the main control room, working on a keyboard and casting anxious glances up at the monitor on the wall.

            “I’m getting impatient, Snively,” Robotnik growled from his seat in the center of the chamber, drumming his metal fingers of his left hand on its broad armrest.

            “Don’t worry, Sir,” Snively said, wiping nervous sweat from his face. “I-I’m certain this last trap will stop the hedgehog.”

            “I hope you’re right,” Robotnik rumbled. “For your sake.”

            Snively’s hands jerked in a sudden burst of fear. He deleted a typo and gulped. Statements like that from his uncle were a bad sign.

            The blue hedgehog was competing in a race Robotnik had decided to hold as a device to lure him to Robotropolis. Robotnik made Snively design all of the machines that would help them cheat and capture him, but so far, all of them had failed. Since they were Snively’s inventions, and he was at the controls, it would be his fault if Sonic got away.

            Wiping his face again, Snively activated the final trap. For a brief moment, he smiled. The hedgehog sailed into the air, bound to die when he hit the ground. Robotnik chuckled wickedly, and Snively almost relaxed. Then the hedgehog caught a protruding pole, spun the momentum out of his fall, and hit the ground in a perfect, ten-point landing, completely unharmed. He then zoomed off of the race track and out of the range of the surveillance orbs.

            Robotnik howled in fury, and Snively whipped around to face him, not wanting to be attacked unawares.

            “Where did he go?!” Robotnik roared.

            “I don’t know, Sir,” Snively shook.

            Find him!

            “Yes, Sir!” Snively squeaked and rushed to the communicator. He cycled through all of the swat-bots patrolling the city and asked them the same question.

            “Any sign of the hedgehog?”

            “Negative, Sir,” each of them replied.

            Every response sounded the same, a cold, unfeeling voice telling him that he was in big trouble. They didn’t care. How could they?

            “Unit four, hedgehog report.”

            “Negative, Sir.”

            Snively heard Robotnik’s boots approaching on the hard, steel floor, but he couldn’t stop working to protect himself.

            “Snively,” Robotnik growled. “Where is the hedgehog?”

            “He…He’s…” Snively gulped. “He’s…disappeared.”

            The metal hand grabbed the front of his shirt and dragged him up to Robotnik’s face. Snively could only stare in dread.

            Suddenly, the electricity went out, sending all of Robotropolis into darkness. Snively still felt Robotnik’s hard, cold fingers gripping his shirt, and he uttered a strangled cry of terror as his uncle’s red eyes lit up, the only thing he could see in the gloom. Pain streaked through his face as Robotnik’s normal hand smacked him, first one side, then the other. Snively tasted blood.

            “Please, Sir!” he shrieked. “I’ll get the power back online! Please!”

            He fell to the floor as Robotnik released him and grunted as the side of his boot rammed against his back.

            “You have one hour to improve my mood,” Robotnik boomed.

            “Y-yes, Sir,” Snively whimpered, struggling to his feet.

            He used a self-powered radio to order the worker-bots to repair the generator that the Freedom Fighters had damaged, and in a few minutes, the computers turned back on, but not the lights.

            “We’re at ten percent power, Sir,” Snively reported to Robotnik.

            “Why aren’t we at full power?”

            “Th-there are still some…problems, Sir.”

            “Then fix them, Snively. You have forty-five minutes.”

            Snively dabbed at the trickles of blood on the left side of his mouth and over his right eyebrow and glanced nervously over his shoulder at his uncle. He worked as fast as he could but was able to bring the energy level up to only forty percent by the time his hour was up.

            He cringed as Robotnik stomped up to him, fury burning in his glowing eyes.

            “Please, Sir. I need more time,” Snively begged.

            Robotnik knocked him to the floor with a blow to the back. Snively cried out as Robotnik struck him two more times. He was unable to think straight through his fear and pain.

            “One more hour,” Robotnik snarled as he retreated back to his throne.

            “Thank you, Sir,” Snively whimpered, hurrying back to the computer in spite of the pain burning through his shoulders and back. He worked even faster, rerouting connections and directing the worker-bots, and he managed to reach ninety percent just as his time ran out. Snively was concentrating so hard that it came as a near-heart-stopping surprise when Robotnik hauled him into the air again.

            “No!” he shrieked. “I’m so close! Just a few more minutes and we’ll be back at full power, I swear!”

            Robotnik silenced him with a slap.

            “I know, you little worm,” he grated, shaking him. “The power will be at a hundred percent capacity in no more than ten minutes…or else.”

            “Of course not, Sir,” Snively agreed frantically. “Ten minutes. That’s all. I swear.”

            Robotnik tossed him aside. Snively screamed as he hit the floor, landing sideways on his ankle and spraining it. He clutched at his flaming joint and moaned in agony.

            “Get up!” Robotnik ordered, kicking Snively in the side. “If you aren’t up and working in five seconds…”

            Snively scrambled to the computer and pulled himself onto his feet, gasping in pain as he put his weight on his sprained ankle, having no other choice but to stand on it and work or fall down and get beaten up by his uncle. Somehow, in spite of his pain, Snively got the generator back to full power within the time limit.

            “Generator at maximum output, Sir,” he said, leaning on the computer in weakness.

            “Fine,” Robotnik growled. “Get out of my sight, you miserable little mutant.”

            “Yes, Sir.”

            Snively limped from the control room and managed not to burst into tears until the doors slid closed behind him…

 

            Snively jerked awake with a gasp, as if from a nightmare. Sonic and Sally gazed at him without speaking.

            “I…” Sally murmured at last. “I feel like I shouldn’t be surprised that Robotnik is so cruel, but somehow…seeing it like that…”

            Snively sat up and shook his head to clear it of bad memories.

            “Did it work?” he asked timidly.

            “Yes, Snively. It worked. We compared our map to the one you were using. We were able to correct it. You were very helpful. Thank you.”

            “You’re welcome, Your Highness.”

            Sonic continued to stare at him, really looking at him, and stayed silent.

            “Snively,” Sally ventured. “You were talking in your sleep last night.”

            “I was?”

            “Yes.”

            “What did I say?”

            “I wasn’t sure until now. You kept saying… You said, ‘No, Sir. Please. I’m sorry.’ You said things like that, over and over… That…wasn’t the only time something like that happened, was it?”

            Snively knew she was referring to the memory he had just relived.

            “No…” he whispered, looking away. “It wasn’t, but it was one of the worst.”

            “We’ll get him,” Sonic growled at last. “We’ll get that evil Buttnik. We’ll make him pay.”

            “Calm down, Sonic,” Sally said. “You’re going to hurt yourself.”

            “Don’t worry, Snively,” Sonic scowled in determination. “We won’t let Robotnik get away with the awful stuff he’s done.”

            Two days later, Snively was made an official Freedom Fighter, free from the confines of his cell, trusted, and appreciated.

            Snively worked with the Freedom Fighters in Knothole, growing happier and healthier than he could ever have been in Robotropolis. Even his hair started growing back. After a few weeks, he was like a completely different person.

            “I just have to say, Sugar,” Bunnie told him. “Ya’ll’ve finally lost that scared, sad little look that just broke my heart every time I saw it. Ya’ll’re a reg’ler Freedom Fighter now, smilin’ and all. I’m just so happy for ya, Sugar.”

            He was happy, and as committed to his cause as every other Freedom Fighter. Nothing would ever make him betray his Freedom Fighter friends. Nothing.

 

 “Here’s the plan,” Sally said, using a pointer to indicate different portions of the holographic map of Robotropolis in the center of the room. “We’ll intercept the convoy of worker bots and bring as many as we can back to Knothole.”

She switched off the map and collapsed the pointer.

            “Sonic will lure away the swat-bots, and Antoine, Bunnie, and I will handle the worker-bots. What I need from you, Snively, is some kind of device that will shut down or stun or unhypnotize the worker-bots for a short time so we can bring them back here. Can you do it?”

            Snively ran his hand over the quarter-inch-smooth, brown hair regrowing on his head, a new habit.

            “I don’t know about shutting them down,” he said. “But I could make something that could override their programming and make them obey radioed commands.”

            “That would be great. When can you have it ready?”

            “Probably by this time tomorrow, but it will take longer to teach someone how to use it. It’s rather complicated.”

            “I don’t know if we’ll have the time,” Sally worried. “The convoy moves out tomorrow night. We didn’t hear about it until this morning. Do you think you could come with us to work it?”

            “…Me?” Snively gulped. “Go to Robotropolis?”

            “You don’t have to if you don’t want to,” Sally added quickly, seeing the old look of terror flit across his face. “We can find another way. Maybe if we hit them with a stun ray…”

            “No. That would destroy their circuits. That would kill them.” Snively sighed, staring down at the blank map base. “There is no other way. I’ll do it. I’ll go.”

            “But, Snively—”

            “I roboticized most of them in the first place. It’s my fault they’re robots. I have to help them escape if I can. I owe them that much…”

            “You’re very brave, Snively.”

            He glanced up at her without moving his head and gave her a timid half-smile.

            “Thank you, Your Highness. I’ll do my best.”

           

            The five Freedom Fighters crouched behind a fallen pillar, waiting for the convoy to arrive. Snively felt the weight of the book-sized controller in his backpack. The device worked perfectly in the lab that afternoon. He could only hope it would work as well tonight. The familiar sounds and scents of the polluted robot city sent shivers through his stomach, and he gripped his shoulder straps to occupy his nervous hands. Snively noticed Antoine shaking as well. He wasn’t faring much better, gasping and turning to face each new sound. At least the familiarity allowed Snively one benefit: he knew which sounds to ignore and which to fear.

            “Are the rest of you not hearing that sinister sound?” Antoine whimpered.

            “Shut up, Ant,” Sonic spat.

            “Don’t worry, Antoine,” Snively whispered. “That’s just the auxiliary generator starting up. It’s nothing bad.”

            “Oui,” Antoine sighed, pacing a hand on his heart. “Oui. Merci.”

            A new sound echoed down the empty street. Antoine shrieked and cowered against Sonic.

            “Get off me,” Sonic snarled.

            “That’s the convoy,” Sally said. “Everybody ready?”

            “All set, Sal,” the hedgehog gave her a thumbs-up.

            “Ready, Sally-girl,” Bunnie nodded.

            “Oui, My Princess,” Antoine trembled.

            “Snively?” Sally said when she didn’t receive a fourth response.

            “R-ready, Your Highness,” Snively stammered, taking his controller from his pack and nervously fingering the keys and dials.

            “Okay. Go, Sonic!”

            The blue hedgehog zoomed out of hiding and confronted the convoy. The swat-bots guarding the three vehicles carrying fifty worker-bots turned on their sirens.

            “Hedgehog-alert,” they droned. “Priority-one.”

            Sonic sped away, and all of the swat-bots but one gave futile chase. Sally and Bunnie took out the remaining guard.

            “Okay!” Sally called. “Hit it, Snively!”

            Snively activated the device and sent a signal to the worker-bots, who had started chanting,

            “Detain-Freedom-Fighters. By-order-of-Nagus.”

            The device shot an invisible beam, and the roboticized Mobians went quiet.

            “All right,” Snively waved to Sally. “I gave them the order to stay where they are. They’ll stay that way for about an hour.”

            “Great,” Sally smiled as she, Bunnie, and Antoine took the pilots’ seats in each of the vehicles.  “We’ll see you and Sonic back at Knothole.”

            They flew away with their precious cargo, leaving Snively to wait for Sonic.

            The distant wail of hover unit alarms sent a tremor of fear through him, and he hurried back to the relative safety behind the fallen pillar. Sonic came roaring down the street, pursued by several hovercrafts. Suddenly, the hedgehog seemed to stumble and crashed to the ground, sliding to an unnatural stop. Snively saw the snare tangled around Sonic’s legs. He saw that Sonic was stunned from the fall and unable to free himself before the hovercrafts caught up to him. Without letting himself think farther, Snively ran from his hiding place and pulled Sonic out of the snare.

            “What happened?” the hedgehog mumbled as he stood up. Snively was about to explain when he saw the hovercraft coming up behind Sonic, its cannon aimed and ready.

            “Look out!” Snively cried, pushing Sonic out of the way as the cannon fired. The shot took Snively in the chest, a huge glob of mega-muck, a sticky substance that even the super-fast hedgehog would have been helpless in. Snively lay flat on his back, held to the ground by the tough goo.

            “Snively!” Sonic gasped, looked down at him, afraid to try to help him lest he become stuck as well. “Oh, man. Not good.”

            Another shot whizzed by the hedgehog’s head. Snively stared up at him in terror.

            “I’ll get pasted if I stuck around here,” Sonic moaned. “I’ll be back, Sniv.”

            He zipped away, and the hovercrafts followed him. Snively struggled in vain, his terror growing into sheer panic. He froze in utter horror as a special hover unit descended from the sky and landed beside him with an ominous billow of smoke. The doors slid open, and a scream caught silently in Snively’s throat.

            “Well, well, well,” boomed Robotnik as he stepped out of the dirty cloud. “I set a hedgehog trap and catch a little traitor instead.” He pressed a button on his glove, and a stream of water sprayed from the hovercraft, disintegrating the mega-muck.

            Snively scrambled upright and tried to run, but Robotnik grabbed him by the wrist and yanked him up on tiptoe, jarring his arm and sending waves of pain through his shoulder. Robotnik dragged him into the hovercraft and locked him in a holding cell at the back of the cabin. Snively curled into the corner and shivered, trying to make himself smaller, frightened even beyond tears.

            The view screen above the windshield snapped on, and Robotnik jumped in the driver’s seat as Nagus appeared.

            “Well, Robotnik?” the sorcerer wheezed. “Did you capture the hedgehog?”

            “Uh, no, Sir,” Robotnik gulped. “But I—”

            “You disappoint me, Robotnik,” Nagus hissed, his hand starting to glow.

            “But, Sir,” Robotnik said nervously. “I did catch one of the Freedom Fighters.”

            “Which one?”

            Robotnik turned the camera so that it could see the interior of the cell. Snively panted in terror and pressed himself against the back wall, shaking harder than ever.

            Nagus’s laughter sounded like a knife on steel, thin and grating.

            “You are fortunate, Robotnik,” Nagus hissed at last. “This will work to our advantage.”

            “What should I do, Sir?” Robotnik asked, pulling the camera back on him. “Will we continue with the plan?”

            “Yes. Take him to the dungeon and do with him what you wish, but don’t kill him or maim him. We need him alive.”

            “Yes, Sir.”

            “And, Robotnik, don’t drive him out of his mind. If you drive him insane or cripple or kill him, I’ll do the same to you. Understand?”

            “P-Perfectly, Sir.”

            “We won’t get another chance like this one, Robotnik. Don’t fail me.”

            “I won’t, Sir. Thank you, Sir.”

            Snively didn’t know what Robotnik was going to do to him, but he did know it was going to be bad. It would be horrible, and there was nothing he could do to stop it.

Robotnik pulled the hovercraft into the detention unit and grabbed Snively. He dragged him down the dark, freezing corridor and shoved him into a cell. Icy-cold, iron bars were set firmly into the floor and ceiling; Snively had no hope of escape. A wicked gleam lit in Robotnik’s eyes as he gripped Snively’s arm in his robotic fist. He chuckled as he ruffled Snively’s new hair painfully and his nephew flinched and squirmed in discomfort.

            “I’ve been looking forward to this,” Robotnik grinned, tugging a wide strap from a pouch hanging from his shoulder.

            Snively squeezed his eyes shut and tensed himself for the blows, but even then he wasn’t prepared for the flames of agony igniting across his back. He screamed and writhed helplessly in Robotnik’s grasp; his legs wouldn’t support him anymore, and he hung from his uncle’s hand, shrieking in torment as Robotnik whipped him. The huge man grew weary from the exertion, and he let Snively slip from his fingers as he panted and wiped the sweat from his face.

            Snively lay on his stomach on the floor, tears streaming, his back and shoulders throbbing and bleeding. Dizzy with pain, he struggled to turn his head to get a better look at his uncle. Again, he could only close his eyes and brace himself as Robotnik regained his breath and began beating him again.

            Snively’s screams grew weaker as he lost more blood. All he knew was his torment, the unending, burning agony, like blades against his back. Death would have been welcome.

            Robotnik halted again, breathing even harder from his renewed efforts. Snively was barely conscious, moaning as his blood soaked through his torn shirt. He couldn’t take more pain. Surely he would die if he had to endure any more suffering.

            Robotnik caught his breath and pulled back his arm to start hitting him again. Snively couldn’t move as he waited for the fire to rekindle across his shoulders.

            “Enough!” hissed Nagus’s voice as the sorcerer appeared at the cell door. He shot a beam of magic that took Robotnik in the hand. Robotnik yelped as if burned and dropped the strap to the floor, backing away from his victim.

            Wordlessly, Nagus entered the cell and pulled Snively’s right hand closer to him with his palm facing up. What now? With a sudden, violent slash, Nagus tore three rows into Snively’s hand. Snively could only manage an exhausted whimper as he tugged weakly, trying to free his hand. Nagus dropped Snively’s arm and grabbed his other one. He clawed Snively’s left hand as well. There was a second, intense flash of pain, and Nagus finally released him

            Snively lay wheezing for breath, growing weaker as more blood pumped from his injured hands. Darkness overcame his senses, though his body still burned, and he lost consciousness.

 

            Cold water cascaded over Snively’s head and shoulders, and he jerked awake, moaning as the liquid oozed into the injuries on his back, setting them aflame once again. He saw Robotnik standing over him with an empty bucket. The enormous man tossed this aside and grabbed Snively by the back of his ragged shirt. Snively screamed as the bloody fabric, which had dried and stuck to his wounds, was ripped away, tearing at his cuts and starting them bleeding again.

            Robotnik slapped a strip of tape across Snively’s mouth, preventing him from speaking or making much noise, and carried him out of the building. Snively was vaguely aware of being in some kind of vehicle where his hands were manacled to short chains attached to the floor. He flinched and tried to pull his head away as Robotnik rubbed his short hair the wrong way again. Then he was alone, dizzy and miserable, his back and hands pounding with pain.

            What would happen to him now?

            The vehicle lurched and ground to a stop. Noises, chaos in the cockpit. Voices.

            “Is he here, Bunnie?”

            “I don’t know, Sugar-hog. I saw Robotnik escape. Maybe this was a decoy.”

            “Check in the back.”

            Snively sat on the floor, too weak to do much besides open his eyes as pale light seeped into the hold.

            “He’s here, Sugar-hog!” Bunnie called over her shoulder, rushing to Snively’s side. She pulled the tape from his mouth and inspected his manacled hands, which were crusted with dried blood.

            “Oh, Sugar, what’d they do to ya?” Bunnie whispered, placing a hand on his tear-stained cheek.

            “Help me,” Snively whimpered. “Please.”

            “I’m tryin’, Sugar.”

            Bunnie checked the strength of the chains holding him and snorted in frustration.

            “He’s stuck tight, Sugar-hog!” Bunnie shouted toward the front of the vehicle. “We need Rotor’s metal saw.”

            “I can steer this thing back to Knothole,” Sonic returned, “but they might be able to track us.”

            “Well, ya’ll’d better do somethin’ fast, ‘cause he’s in bad shape.”

            The vehicle started up again, and Bunnie opened the medical pouch on her belt.

            “I’m gonna help ya now, Sugar,” she murmured.

            She filled a shallow bowl with water from a canteen and washed away the blood. The clear fluid filled his cuts and stung like acid, and Snively reflexively tried to pull his hands away. The chains held him fast, and he cried softly in his vulnerability and pain.

            “I’m sorry, Sugar,” Bunnie sounded truly grieved. “This’ll help some.”

            She patted his palms dry and closed his wounds with medicine. The pain lessened, and Bunnie bound his hands with bandages. He cried out when she pulled them tight, but the pressure helped the bleeding to stop, and they wound up hurting less.

            “Bunnie?” Snively groaned.

            “Hush, Sugar,” the rabbit said, stroking his hair the right way, trying to calm him. “We’ll be home soon, and I’ll be able to take a look at your back. You’re flush against the wall, Darlin’, or I’d try to do more now.”

            Snively let his head droop, the effort of holding it up becoming too much for him.

            “Rest now, Sugar,” Bunnie soothed. “We’re almost home.”

            Her level tone and soft words lulled him away from his pain; the next thing he was aware of was Rotor and Sally entering the chamber with a large machine on wheels. They cut through the manacles with a small, spinning blade and moved him to a stretcher. They exclaimed over his wounds as they carried him until Bunnie interrupted.

            “Ya’ll’re gonna worry him, goin’ on like that. He’ll be all right. I’ll patch him up.”

They transferred Snively to a bed. Sonic and Sally helped lift him a few inches off of the mattress so that Bunnie could gently ease Snively’s shirt off. Snively moaned and tried to move, but his friends held him tightly, and finally Bunnie had removed the tattered, blood-stained garment. They lay him face down again, and Bunnie proceeded to clean his wounds. Though she did the job very gently, the wet cloth scratched and burned; her very touch brought tears of pain to Snively’s eyes.

            But he was safe, surrounded by friends, and the pain throbbing through the welts, bruises, and gashes criss-crossing his back was that of healing. Though his skin screamed with pain as Bunnie spread medicine over his injuries, the salve quickly doused the fires springing up beneath her fingers, and he drifted off to sleep again, soothed by the reassurance of her friendly touch: not everyone wanted to hurt him.

 

            Snively regained consciousness many hours later. He lay on his back, the pressure of his own weight reducing the strain on his carefully bandaged wounds, giving him a quiet sensation of comfort and relief.

            “Hey, Sugar,” Bunnie sat at his bedside, smiling as he opened his eyes. “Been wonderin’ when ya’ll were gonna wake up. How do ya’ll feel this mornin’?”

            “Tired,” Snively sighed.

            “Ya lost a lot of blood, Sugar. I’m not surprised. Ya wanna try sittin’ up?”

            “Okay.”

            She helped him slowly rise, supporting his shoulders and propping him up with pillows. The effort exhausted him, and small stabs of pain crackled through his back as he moved.

            “There ya go, Sugar,” Bunnie said. “Ya sure gave us a scare. Sonic said he came back to where he left ya as fast as he could, but there wasn’t anythin’ left of ya but a little puddle. So he scouts around Robotropolis and finds a report sayin’ they’re gonna roboticize ya’ll the next day, that was yesterday, Darlin’. He comes back here for help, and I’m the only one he can find. So, I went with him back to the city, and we stopped a hovercraft and found you. Oh, Sugar, why’d they do this to ya? What did they want?”

Snively shuddered as images flashed across his mind’s eye: iron bars, a metal fist, a wide strap growing taut as it swung toward him, pools of his own blood on the floor. The sounds revisited him as well—the snap of leather cracking across his shoulders, Robotnik’s snarls, his own screams. The memory of the pain was too awful, and he covered his face with his bandaged hands.

            “I don’t know,” Snively moaned. “They didn’t ask me any questions. They… They just…”

            Bunnie shushed him, murmuring words of comfort.

            “You’re gonna need a lot ‘a healin’, Sugar,” she said. “The only thing that’ll do that is time.”

 

            A week passed, and Snively grew stronger. Bunnie removed the bandages on his hands and back; only scars and sensitive, half-healed shallows remained. He was up and walking, although he was still too weak to do much work. The deroboticized Mobians had all thanked him, but most of them remembered him as Robotnik’s lackey and the one who had roboticized them, and none of them became very friendly with him. In spite of this, Snively was recovering.

            Then his palm started blinking. A tiny, red light flashed on and off through the scar on his left hand. Snively gasped in horror as he recognized one of Robotnik’s homing beacons, which he himself had invented. He ran to find Bunnie and Sally.

            “What’s the matter, Sugar?” Bunnie cried as he burst into the room.

            “Nagus planted a tracking device on me!” Snively panted. “It’ll lead him to Knothole! We have to destroy it before he gets a fix on the signal!”

            “Oh, my stars… Hold him down, Sally-girl. I’ve gotta get that thing outta him before it’s too late.”

            Sally pushed Snively to the floor and leaned on his arm, pressing his hand flat on the floor to expose the beacon blinking in his palm. Bunnie knelt and drew a knife from her medical kit.

            “It’s not too deep, but it’ll be bad. I’m sorry, Sugar. Try not to move.”

            Snively cried out as he felt the blade dig into his hand. He could feel blood trickling down between his fingers. Then, as soon as it had started, Sally got off of him, and Bunnie held up a tiny, rectangular chip. The little light appeared yellow now that it wasn’t shining through Snively’s blood. Sally smashed it with a rock.

            “We have to evacuate,” the princess said urgently. “We don’t know if Nagus found us or not. We might not have much time.”

            Bunnie bound Snively’s hand again, apologizing over and over. He assured her that the event was no more traumatizing than the incident that got the tracker in his hand in the first place.

            The Freedom Fighters went into action, and soon all of the children and old people were safely in hiding.

            “Okay,” Sally directed. “We’ll head for the hideout in pairs. Has anyone seen Sonic?”

            “He’s still missing, Sally,” a Freedom Fighter reported.

            “I hope he’s all right,” the princess worried. “Okay, first group, get ready to—!”

            A net swooped down from the sky and swept Sally into a ball. Everyone looked up and saw the stealth-bots soaring down on Knothole. Snively and Bunnie helped free the princess from the net.

            “Everybody split up!” Sally ordered. “Don’t go to the hideout!”

            The Freedom Fighters scattered as the stealth-bots landed and deployed net-cannon-toting swat-bots.

            “Capture-Freedom-Fighters,” they buzzed.

            Snively tried to run, but he was still so weak that he kept stumbling. The swat-bots were closing in on him as he struggled to put distance between them, sobbing for breath. Bunnie sprinted to the rescue, hooking one of his arms over her shoulder and running for the trees.

            “We’re almost there, Sugar,” Bunnie urged him on. “We’re almost—”

            A net smashed her to the ground, and Snively went sprawling. He saw Bunnie fighting with the net and rushed to her side to help free her.

            “Don’t worry abut me!” she cried. “Hurry up and get outta here before those ‘bots come!”

            “No!” Snively shouted, tugging on the tough mesh. “I won’t leave you!”

            He almost had he free when someone grabbed him by the back of his shirt and pulled him up into the air. Snively knew who had caught him before he saw his face. Only one man had metal fingers and the ability to lift him so high into the air.

            “Nagus will be pleased,” Robotnik chuckled.

            Snively struggled to free himself, but his powerful uncle wouldn’t let him go. Robotnik ordered the swat-bots to bring Bunnie, and he returned to the center of Knothole. The other swat-bots were already gathered there guarding their two other prisoners: Antoine and Sally.

            “Where are the rest of them?” Robotnik growled.

            “No-other-life-forms-in-vicinity,” the swat-bots reported.

            “They’re hiding somewhere,” Robotnik snarled. “Well, Princess?” He glared down at the chipmunk. “Where are the others?”

            “I’ll never tell you, Robotnik,” Sally declared. “None of us will.”

            “In due time, Princess, you’ll tell me everything.”

            The swat-bots assembled a roboticizor in the clearing, complete with the enormous, glass tubes. Robotnik had Sally, Antoine, and Bunnie placed in them. They pounded against the smooth, clear walls, but they couldn’t break them. The swat-bots put together the control console and the roboticizor itself. Robotnik held Snively’s arm, allowing him to stand as he stared at his imprisoned friends.

            Just then, another hovercraft descended from the sky. Robotnik grew tense as Nagus stepped out of it, his hand shaking as he squeezed Snively’s arm.

            “Well, Robotnik?” Nagus wheezed. “Where are the Freedom Fighters?”

            “Here, Sir,” Robotnik answered, gesturing to Snively and the three trapped in the roboticizor.

            “Where are the rest of them?”

            “They’re…hiding somewhere, Sir, but they can’t be far. Once we’ve roboticized the Princess, we’ll plug her in, and she’ll tell us.”

            “Mmm,” Nagus muttered, staring at Robotnik, making him squirm. “She had better, Robotnik.”

            “She will, Sir. I promise.”

            Snively noticed for the first time that Robotnik’s face and single human hand were covered with small scratches. It seemed that Nagus was being as hard on him as Robotnik had been on Snively. A small, round burn on Robotnik’s cheek solidified this idea in Snively’s mind, and it frightened him.

            “I’ll roboticize this little traitor as soon as I’ve finished with the others,” Robotnik sniveled, indicating his nephew by jerking him forward a step.

            Nagus shot Robotnik with a thin beam of energy, and the huge man released Snively and staggered back in pain.

            “You,” Nagus growled, “are presumptuous. When did I say I wanted him roboticized? I have a proposition for him.” The sorcerer hobbled up to Snively, who pressed back against the computer in fear. “Now, little one, I give you an opportunity. If you renounce these troublemaking Freedom Fighters and return to me, you will not be punished.”

            “But, Sir—” Robotnik protested.

            “Silence!” Nagus hissed, zapping him with magic again. “The little fellow is skilled. Even you can see that.”

            Snively stared in terror, seeing the offhanded cruelty of the sorcerer and dreading becoming his lackey. Robotnik was horrible enough, but the one strong and vicious enough to overpower him made him feel sick with fear.

            “So, Snively,” Nagus said, gazing back down at him. “Do we have a deal?”

            “I…I…” Snively stammered.

            “Need I remind you of the situation you are in? If you refuse, I won’t hesitate to turn you over to Robotnik, who, aside from his insolence today, has pleased me and earned such an…appropriate reward.”

            Robotnik had recovered and grinned wickedly at Nagus’s words.

            “I’ll make this easy for you,” Nagus wheezed. “Simply roboticize these three prisoners, and you can take your place at my side.” He pushed Snively up to the controls where he was able to see his three friends, imprisoned in glass, their eyes meeting his, searching them, speaking, pleading, reminding him of the life he had known for the last month and the one he had escaped after suffering for eleven years. Their eyes told him what he had to do, and he obeyed.

            “No,” Snively backed away from the controls, shaking in horror as he realized what he had done.

 What did you say?” Nagus demanded. “Perhaps you have forgotten who we are. Robotnik… remind him.”

            “Yes, Sir,” Robotnik grinned, snagging Snively’s shoulder and forcing him against the roboticizor computer. Snively couldn’t see what Robotnik was doing, but it became apparent as he felt the excruciating sting of a lash across his back. He screamed as Robotnik struck him a few more times; through his pain, Snively heard angry shouts.

            “Leave him alone, you monster!” Sally yelled.

            “Ya’ll’re a bully and a coward!” Bunnie cursed, kicking at the glass.

            “You terriblé man!” Antoine cried. “You are nossing but a stupid fuel! I spit upon you!”

            “Silence!” Nagus hissed. “That’s enough Robotnik. I’m sure he remembers now.”

            Snively felt the bruises rising on his back, the blood trickling down his sides. It was too much. He couldn’t bear this torture again. Nagus shoved him against the console and glared at him.

            “This is your last chance,” he wheezed. “Roboticize them now, or I won’t stop him next time.”

            Snively’s whole body trembled, wanting to hide from his uncle and his cruelties. His very skin shivered, afraid of his pain Robotnik would inflict upon him if he refused again. Snively reached toward the keyboard, his hand shaking as his fingers hovered over the activator. With great difficulty, he moved his hand a few more inches lower, until he could almost push the button.

            It should have been easy. He had roboticized hundreds of other people under less dire threats. But he didn’t want to. He looked up at his friends, and his stomach twisted in guilt. Bunnie had cared for him. Antoine had defended him. Sally had trusted him. And if they were roboticized, Nagus and Robotnik would find the rest of the Freedom Fighters and roboticize them, too. He had regretted helping his uncle all those years ago. Now he could finally make amends for his greed and his cowardice…if he was willing to be tortured to death.

            It didn’t make his decision any easier when Robotnik laid the end of his strap on his shoulder, letting the length of it tickle along his back like a leather snake.

            Snively realized then that he was too afraid of the pain to refuse. Tears of shame stung his eyes as he placed his hand on the activation key. He told his fingers to press the buttons…but they wouldn’t move. His whole arm vibrated with the struggle, and he knew then that he couldn’t go through with it. Confronted with the act itself, he could not do it. He wasn’t a bad man. He didn’t want to hurt people anymore. He didn’t want to be beaten, but he simply could not make himself harm his friends.

            And that terrified him.

            He dropped his arm and gripped the computer edge, tears speckling the chrome surface as he shook his head.

            “I can’t,” he sobbed.

            He didn’t see the nod Nagus gave Robotnik, but he couldn’t help noticing the stabbing pain when his uncle began beating him again. Snively slid to the ground as the lash battered the blood from his body. He tried to crawl away, but the crippling pain gave his limbs a life of their own, jerking and twitching, trying to lessen the agony but unable to do so. Robotnik threw the strap to the ground and hauled Snively up into the air by the front of his shirt, forcing him to look at his face.

            “Why can’t you do it?” Robotnik barked, shaking him.

            “I…I don’t…” Snively whimpered, clawing at the mechanical hand gripping his collar. “I don’t want to hurt them.”

            “Why not?” Robotnik howled.

            “They…” Snively couldn’t see through the tears blurring his vision. “They were kind to me.”

            His back already felt as though he had lain on a bed of flaming coals, and it was difficult for him to think as Robotnik slapped his face. His whole head felt bruised by the time Robotnik let him drop.  Snively tried to remember why he was bring punished, but his mind seemed to have gone elsewhere. All that remained was his pain and the fear that more would come.

            Then he felt a gun barrel against his head, and his entire life flashed through his brain as he heard it whine in preparation, charging the laser.

            He had done a lot of bad things, blinded by his fear. He regretted every one of them, but now he had finally done something he was proud of: he had refused to do what he knew was wrong. He had not betrayed his friends. That thought, coupled with the idea that soon his suffering would end, allowed him to accept the fact that he was about to die.

            He heard a laser blast, and, to his great surprise, a second one. Managing to look up over his shoulder, he saw Robotnik topple backward, a laser rifle in his hands and a scorch mark precisely over his heart. Snively heard another body fall and gazed in amazement at Nagus, who was shot dead as well.

            Who…?

            “Sniv!” cried Sonic, zooming up to him and pulling him to his feet. “You all right, Pal? Did he shoot you?”

            The ground seemed to lurch beneath Snively’s feet, and he felt ill.

            “No…” he said, his mouth going on automatic while the rest of him tried to stay conscious through his pain.

            “I need you to work for a sec’, okay?” Sonic asked, leading Snively to the console. “I need you to let Sally and Bunnie and Antoine out of there. That’s all, then we can help you. Okay?”

            Snively, already beaten and brain-sore, managed to gather his strength and focus long enough to type the command. Then he went limp in Sonic’s arms.

            “Good job, Sniv,” Sonic said, carefully setting him on the ground leaning against the computer. “Now hang in for a sec’. I’ll be back with help.”

            Snively fought to stay conscious for the few minutes while Sonic was gone and was rewarded when he returned with Bunnie.

            “Oh, Sugar,” she cried, tears running down her cheeks. “You’ve just got the worst luck I ever did see. Bring him around here and hold him up, Sugar-hog. It’ll be easier if he’s sittin’.”

            Sonic placed his hands on Snively’s shoulders and let him lean forward a little.

            “Everything’s cool, Sniv,” Sonic murmured. “Bunnie’s gonna help you.”

            Snively moaned and arched his back as Bunnie cleaned his wounds.

            “You…you’d think I’d be used to this by now,” he chuckled weakly, gritting his teeth against the next wave of pain.

            “Don’t worry, Sugar,” Bunnie sniffled, crying openly as she smoothed medicine over his injuries. “Robotnik won’t hurt ya’ll ever again on account’a he’s dead.”

            “Nagus, too,” Sonic grated.

            Snively couldn’t help glancing at the starburst-shaped scar on Sonic’s shoulder. He closed his eyes wearily. The left side of his face throbbed, his eye nearly swollen shut, and it felt too hot, flushed and bruised.

            “Here, Sugar,” Bunnie wiped her eyes before pulling Snively back and laying a wet cloth across his burning cheek. The coolness eased the pain a little, and he held the damp fabric against his face as Bunnie finished bandaging his back.

            “Ya’ll were so brave, Sugar,” she told him with a watery smile. “And it was just awful seein’ him hurtin’ ya’ll like that and bein’ trapped. I would’a stopped him if I had half a chance. I just hated bein’ stuck in that machine, not able to do anythin’ for ya. We couldn’t see ya’ll when he had ya on the ground, and I was worried sick. I’m so glad he didn’t kill ya.”

            Bunnie gave him a very gentle hug.

            “I am thinking you are very brave as well,” Antoine said, coming within speaking distance. “You were finally standing up to Robotnik, non? That is a very brave thing to be doing. Oui. You have incroyable courage, Snively.”

            “Courage?” Snively repeated. “But I…I couldn’t help it. I was terrified, and I tried to push the button. I was willing to do what they said. I didn’t want them to hurt me anymore, but I still couldn’t do it. I couldn’t roboticize you.”

            “You were all mixed up, Sugar,” Bunnie said. “But ya still did good. Yup. Ya’ll did good.”

            “By the way,” Snively added as Antoine and Sonic assisted him to his feet. “Who killed Nagus and Robotnik?”

            Daddy!” Sally’s joyful cry echoed through Knothole.

            Snively turned toward the sound and saw none other than the long-lost King Acorn, Sally’s father and the rightful ruler of Mobius. The chipmunk was travel-worn and wearing a laser sniper over one shoulder, but he knelt and embraced his daughter with tears of happiness in his eyes.

            Snively pulled free of his friends’ helping hands and limped toward the King, gazing up at the wise leader and remembering how he had plotted against him with Robotnik. How he regretted his actions!

            “Oh, Daddy, Daddy,” Sally cried, hugging her father. “I’ve missed you.”

            “I’ve missed you, too, Sally,” the King murmured, holding her tightly.

            “I thought you were trapped in the void.”

            “I was, but I escaped.” The King looked up and noticed Snively hesitantly approaching him.

            “M-may I speak, Your Majesty?” Snively squeaked, trembling in weakness and fear.

            “You may,” the King responded, standing and putting an arm over his daughter’s shoulder.

            “Are…are you the one who killed Robotnik?”

            “I am, and Nagus as well. It was my responsibility as ruler of this planet.”

            Snively knelt and bowed his head.

            “Then,” he said. “You are the one who saved my life.”

            “And spared it,” the King informed him.

            “And I thank you for this, Your Majesty. And I…I apologize for my actions these last eleven years.”

            Tears filled his eyes, and, though he tried to fight them, they fell to the earth as he bowed his head farther in submission and shame.

            “I was a fool, Your Majesty, and would offer no resistance if you decided to punish me for what I’ve done. I was wrong, and… I deserve it. I place myself at your mercy.”

            “You have assisted Robotnik for the last eleven years,” the King said after a thoughtful pause. “You were at his side during the coup. You are a traitor to the crown.”

            “Yes, Your Majesty,” Snively whispered.

            “But, you have also suffered for the last eleven years, and you have changed. Sonic has sworn that you are  a loyal Freedom Fighter, and from the little I have seen of you today, I believe this to be true. In addition to all of this, were it not for you, I would never have escaped the void.”

            “The gate,” Snively gasped.

            “However,” the King asserted, “I do not know enough about you to pass judgment. Therefore, I leave it to my daughter and her friends to decide.” He turned to Sally, Sonic, Antoine, and Bunnie. “Tell me, do you think that Snively still needs to pay for the crimes he committed against the crown?”

            “No way,” Sonic spoke first. “He’s okay. He saved my life.”

            “I agree,” Sally smiled.  “He’s been a Freedom Fighter for almost a month, and I trust him.”

            “Monsieur Snively has already been paying for his wrong-doingses. He is a good person, and he is also a good friend,” Antoine saluted the King.

            “Snively’s a sweet, kind, good-hearted fella, and he’s been in enough pain to pay for a hundred times what he did,” Bunnie knelt beside Snively and took his hand. “He’s been the biggest help to us, fixin’ the deroboticizor, and if you’re still mad at him, then, golly, you’ll have to be mad at me, too.”

            “Enough,” the King chuckled. “I am not angry with anyone. You have confirmed what I already suspected. Snively, you are pardoned.”

            “Ya hear that, Sugar?” Bunnie grinned, helping Snively to stand again. “You’re free to go!”

 

            The rest of the Freedom Fighters returned from the hideout and celebrated their planet’s  liberation and the deaths of two very evil men. The city of Robotropolis was torn down, and the roboticized Mobians were restored to their proper forms.

It became apparent that Snively, having devoted much of his time to the restoration of Mobius, was truly a fine citizen. King Acorn was duly impressed. He knighted Snively in the great hall of the newly constructed castle.

            Snively, Sir Snively, couldn’t have been happier. He served the Royal Family to the best of his ability alongside his friends. Finally, after years of suffering, both Snively and his peaceful planet had begun on the road to recovery.

 

THE END