Phase Four: 'Alive'
It was morning once again when power was restored to the city of Robotropolis; the storm outside had gone for now. Sally had spent a long, quiet night lost in thought in her cell, but all of it was for nothing, it seemed. No amount of planning, no amount of ideas could get her out of the lab and out of the city. Soon, her friends in the Freedom Fighters would be searching for her, and they would be put in harms way against an opponent she wasn't sure even Sonic could beat.
Even worse, if Robotnik could go through with his experiment, she knew she was going to become that opponent. What would happen to her when the time came? Would she be like Nine? Emotionless, stripped of thoughts or personality, just an obedient, living weapon? What if she didn't even remember her friends by the time they came?
But no, that wasn't true, Nine wasn't like that, not really. Sally was certain that she was reaching out to him, and he was reaching back on some level. Her hopes lay within him, hopes that fell when he entered her cell with his same blank expression. “It's time to go back to the lab. Please follow me.” There was notably no breakfast this time.
Sally hung her head in silence, and followed. What choice did she have?
Nine ushered the prisoner into the lab and closed the door behind them. He pointed to the table. This was it, Sally knew. “Please lay down.”
Could she fight? Not really, she wouldn't beat him. Run? Pointless, she couldn't escape the lab. Would dying be better than being turned into one of these things?
Nine leaned over where the princess lay and looked down at her. “I have decided to cease the experiment.”
“Wh... … What?” Sally stared back up, wide eyed. Suddenly, she was free. Just like that. What had happened? “You're just... letting me go? Why?”
“I did not say that I was letting you leave. I merely said that I will not experiment upon you.” Seeing the blank confusion on her face, he elaborated for her. “I am still under orders not to let you escape. However, thanks to Nicole, I have spent much of last night reading your collection of literature. I found the subject of philosophy most intriguing.”
“Wait... you read a book on philosophy? You?” Sally sat up on the table, perplexed. It was a strange subject for her emotionless friend to pick up.
“I read well over a hundred books on a wide variety of subjects last night.” Nine continued past the princess' incredulous look. “I process information considerably faster than 'normal' Mobians. In the end, I decided that morality dictates that I must not harm you with this experiment. Though you would no longer know or care, your emotions would be stripped from you, and though I do not enjoy having the feelings I now have, I cannot in good conscience take them away from someone who does.”
“So you do have feelings, after all.”
“Yes. I have previously had and lost them many times, I now realize. My memories have returned in full, and I now understand what has happened.” Nine paced the lab as he spoke, much more animated than he'd been before. “I am much older than I realized. Father created us quite some time ago. His intent was to use us as weapons, and for us to be effective, we would have to be without feelings and emotions to get in the way of killing. My brothers did not 'malfunction', nor did they go berserk. They grew personalities.”
“They wouldn't kill for him anymore.” The true horror of what the doctor had done in secret was dawning on Sally. “So he killed them.”
“He was afraid of us, and of what we could do if we chose to rebel against him. Each time our personalities began to re-emerge, he would subject us to a machine that erased all of our memories. Those of us whose personalities had progressed too far to re-erase were killed instead. And each time, those of us who lived on forgot all about it.”
“Why help him, then, Nine?” Sally took the green fox's hand in hers. “If he's done all this to you, why do you still follow his orders?”
“He is my father. His actions are unforgivable, but he still gave me life. I owe him my existence even if he would take it away. As best as I can understand these feelings, I 'love' him in a familial sense. I owe him at least some small courtesy. I feel...” It was still awkward for him, saying 'feel'. “I feel sorry for him. He would be alone without me.”
Sally sighed, unwilling to argue. How could she tell this emergent person, her friend, 'no' about his feelings? “... You know Dr. Robotnik is not really your father, though, don't you?”
“I know.” Nine nodded, a trace of sadness in his voice. “And the young fox in the picture you showed me knows that you are not really his mother, does he not? But does that diminish his love for you?”
“There is no time for further discussion, Sally. Father will be here any minute to check on the experiment, you must lay back down and play along.” Nine presented a mechanical armband connected to some wiring. He screwed a vial of blue liquid to the outside and a syringe needle deployed, which he snapped off with his fingers. “You are intended to be heavily sedated, can you simulate that?”
Sally extended her arm for the now benign device, nodding silently. Nine clasped it to her upper arm without trouble and gently laid her back on the table in the correct position.
As if on cue, the sound of clanking metal feet echoed in the corridor outside and the lab door opened. Flanked by his ever-present SWATbots, Dr. Julian Ivo Robotnik squeezed through the doorway, appraising the scene. “Ahh, very good, Nine. I see that the experiment is underway.”
“Yes, Father.” Nine stopped and bowed his head a little. “Ten is presently under heavy sedation and is being prepared for the next step.”
“So I see.” Robotnik towered over the table where the princess lay and reached out to take her face in his robotic hand, turning her head one way, then the other to examine her.
Sally struggled to stay relaxed only looking at him through half-lidded, unfocused eyes. She breathed as slowly and quietly as she could as she fought her disgust at his cold metal hand and rough treatment.
Robotnik leaned in close, forcing her to struggle not to upturn her nose at his horrible breath. “If only you were cognizant enough to appreciate my victory, Princess. I have won. Soon, you will crush the hedgehog for me. I have seen his obvious affection for you, that's why I picked you. You will destroy him and he won't even fight back. The fool would obviously curl up and die before hurting his dear princess. Unfortunately for him, you will not share that sentiment when the time comes.”
He was so close. Sally could try to take him on the spot. He had no idea she wasn't really sedated, and she was close enough to strike at his throat or face. It might be the only chance and she had the element of surprise, but what if it failed? What would happen to her then? What would happen to Nine? She couldn't risk it, no matter how badly she wanted to reach out and strike at the man who had ruined her world and the lives of so many.
Any opportunity to strike was lost when the doctor glanced at her unbound limbs and turned away. “Why isn't she restrained, Nine!?”
Sally internally panicked, though not for herself. Could Nine lie? What was going to happen if he didn't? She tilted her head slightly, still feigning a drugged stupor, to see what was happening.
“The subject previously expressed discomfort at the restraint system. As it was not essential to the experiment, I disengaged the restraint system.” Nine answered naively, honestly.
“You did what??” Robotnik immediately shifted from the cold, calculating lunatic Sally knew well to the raging, paranoid lunatic she knew best.
“I subsequently promised her that I would not use them again. This is why they are not in use.”
“YOU DID WHAAAAT!?!?” The tyrant bellowed, storming across the room and seizing the fox by the throat with his mechanical arm.
Sally observed Nine instantly adopt a submissive posture. It was obvious he'd been treated this way before. She wanted to shout, to yell not to hurt him, but it would have blown the cover and only made it all worse. She had to endure watching her friend's harsh treatment, for both of their sakes.
Robotnik lifted and shook the green fox violently. “You idiot! I give you one simple task and you fail me?” He threw Nine aside into a large wall shelf full of science equipment, scattering objects and shattering glass beakers and vials of chemicals. “You are obviously beginning to malfunction, Nine. I think you're past due for an 'education' session once this experiment is concluded.”
Nine slowly staggered back to his feet, now covered in cuts and scrapes from the glass that lay shattered all around him. He hung his head like a scolded child and answered softly. “Yes, Father. I apologize for my mistakes.” Though he could have easily killed the obese Overlander if he'd wanted to, he instead returned quietly to his work, pretending to input information into the computer at his desk and monitoring Sally's vital signs.
“Prepare her for the next stage, I'm moving the experiment forward!” Robotnik pointed to his SWATbot guards and they roughly seized the princess.
Sally glanced to Nine, who was obviously trying to hide his nervousness about this sudden change in plans. She tried her best to remain relaxed despite the rough handling of her robotic captors as they dragged her up and off the table. With her arms restrained by the two robots, there was nothing she could do even if she cast off the half-conscious ruse.
“Father, Ten has not fully undergone reprogramming yet. The subject is not prepared for the augmentation process.” Nine's mind raced, trying to come up with more reasons to stall.
“That's unimportant, we'll do it later.” Robotnik steeled his expression, regaining composure. “You are clearly not functioning properly, Nine. I am assuming control of the experiment. You will begin the augmentation process immediately, under my direct supervision, is that clear?”
Nine wanted to help his friend, but he knew that it would cost him his personality once again to do so. “Yes, Father. I understand.” Maintaining a calm, emotionless facade was getting more difficult as he watched the princess dragged out of the lab. He followed quietly behind as Robotnik led them to the augmentation room.
Sally faced him as she was dragged along, looking to him hopefully. Whatever was about to happen was obviously bad; she sought reassurance that the plan was still going through, despite it.
Nine nodded to her silently as they walked, mouthing a response to her hopeful gaze. 'I promise'.
Robotnik broke from the group along the way, returning to his command center at the heart of the city. “I will oversee the rest of the experiment remotely, Nine. Do not disappoint me.”
Alone with Nine and only a pair of SWATbots, Sally looked to her friend again. 'Now?' She silently mouthed.
The fox shook his head very slightly and slowly, glancing behind him for emphasis as a quartet of additional robot guards joined the procession. The doctor was on to them, he knew. This had become more about testing him than completing the experiment on Sally. To help her now would be helping her escape, and he would undoubtedly be destroyed for it.
The door to the augmentation room opened slowly and he saw Sally's reaction as she glanced over her shoulder and saw the large clear tube in the middle of the room and the sharp mechanical implements that spun around it. He had promised her he would help, but what did that mean? Was a promise worth dying to keep? Though he had technically existed for some time, it felt like he had only come to life just the night before. He wanted to continue to live, despite the confusing feelings and emotions that had given him real life. Still indecisive, he only watched as she was suspended by cables in the tube and fitted with a breathing mask.
For Sally, this was the limit of her trust. She dropped the guise of sedation the moment the tube closed on her, flailing in her enclosure and silently shouting at Nine through her soundproof mask.
A speaker activated inside the tube and a monitor bearing the moustachioed face of her captor lowered outside. “Ah, how quickly you managed to snap out of heavy sedation, Princess.” He sneered, mocking her. He'd known the whole time, most likely, and was only testing Nine through her. “Fill the tank!”
Nine stood in front of a control console and pulled the large lever there, causing a panel to open in the bottom of Sally's enclosure. A runny blue gel began to slowly pump up from the bottom and fill the tank. It would take some time, and buy him a moment more to think.
Sally recoiled the moment it touched her toe, lifting her body up by the tubes that bound her to escape from the cold sensation. This was it, she realized. Her life was going to end here, in this plastic tube, because she'd squandered her chanced to escape on trying to reason with the thing outside. Why had she trusted him in the first place? Was it because he appeared Mobian? What reason had she had to treat him as anything but an enemy? Her strength slowly failed and she descended into the gel, glaring silently at Nine the whole way. As the gel rose to her mask, she closed her eyes silently. The cold was making her numb, and if she didn't have to feel it all, she didn't want to see it either.
This was it, Nine realized. There was no more time for delay, no more evading the decision at hand. As he saw the mechanical arms descend into the tank with his friend, and watched them brandish scalpels, syringes and countless other frightening medical implements, he knew he now had to choose between her or his father.
“Nine!” Robotnik's booming voice came in over the speakers as he watched Nine through his monitor. “Begin the procedure! Activate the serum injectors!”
Nine took a deep breath and held it, hands trembling.
“Nine! I said activate the serum injectors!”
“...no.” Nine's voice was so soft, so timid that his father didn't hear him, still staring at him intently on the monitor. He drew another breath and answered again, more confidently. “No.”
“What!?” Robotnik glared at him and Nine watched as the six SWATbots in the room adopted combat postures. “Nine, I am your father and you will do exactly as I say!”
Nine stared down the guns trained on him and took another deep breath. He hung his head, sadly. “That is true. You are my father.” He raised his head again and met the doctor's glare, eyes now narrowed and defiant. “But you are not my friend!” Nine balled his fist and punched the control console, burying his arm elbow-deep inside. It exploded almost instantly in a shower of sparks and sharp metal fragments, blanketing the room in total blackness as the power went out and the SWATbots opened fire in the darkness.