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|Sonic the Hedgehog #176|
"Cracking the Empire": The greatest heroes of Mobius have been captured, their homes destroyed and Sonic defeated. but you can't keep a good hedgehog down! With only Tails, Knuckles and Amy Rose at his side, can Sonic manage to recover in time and save his friends and family - or has Dr. Robotnik truly won the day?!
Cracking The Empire
Sonic and Tails return from the destroyed Knothole just as Amy Rose and Knuckles the Echidna have managed to dig themselves out from the rubble of Freedom HQ. Tearful and distressed, Amy demands to know what's happened. Sonic, beaten, bluntly replies that Knothole has been burned to the ground by Eggman and all of its people captured and sent to the Egg Grapes. Knuckles asked what to do, and Sonic replied that the three of them should start clearing out the rubble; heading towards the lab to find anything useful, he added that he will be the one to rescue their friends and family. Following Sonic to the ruined lab, Tails protested, offering to take a moment to plan or build something to help, but Sonic dismissed him, saying he'd be safer staying and not to worry. However, Tails continued to protest, citing the incredible odds that Sonic was planning to face alone; Sonic bluntly cut him off, impatiently saying he would take care of things. Finally, Tails lost his temper, and demanded if Sonic planned to handle things as well as he'd just handled Knothole and if his plan hinged on "getting [his] butt kicked again." After a moment of tense silence, however, NICOLE, her computer form buried in the rubble, interrupted, tersely saying that they could continue their fighting later, as she had a plan to rescue everyone.
Within the Egg Grape Vineyard, Doctor Eggman welcomed his captives, thanking them for their "entertaining" resistance over the years. While some showed fear, many were defiant or attempting to comfort each other; the Egg Grapes containing Bunnie Rabbot-D'Coolette and Mighty the Armadillo showed slight damage from within.
Back at the ruins of Freedom HQ, Tails quickly set to getting a saucer functioning. As they flew towards New Megaopolis, Eggman continued demeaning the Freedom Fighters and telling the Chaotix that siding with the monarchy only proved their stupidity. He taunted Maximillian Acorn for letting the House of Acorn fall and for putting his "inexperienced" first-born on the throne, telling Elias Acorn that he had never encountered so weak a king. Megan Acorn, from her own Egg Grape, tried to reassure her husband, but Elias looked ashamed while Eggman laughed at them both.
Meanwhile, Sonic, Tails, Amy and Knuckles reached the city limits and began their attack. Inside, Eggman announced that he would demonstrate to his captives the capabilities of the Egg Grapes before activating them all, and selected the Egg Grape containing Charmy Bee. Alarmed, Saffron Bee called out while Charmy bravely tried to reassure her. Approaching the isolated Egg Grape, Eggman nonchalantly asked if he hadn't already ruined Charmy's life, citing the destruction of the Golden Hive Colony. Charmy replied that while that was true, he continued to fight on, and would continue to do so no matter what happened to him, leading other prisoners to show their support of his words. Eggman marked them as "brave last words" before instructing Snively to activate the machine. Sonic, Tails, Amy and Knuckles suddenly burst into the chamber; Sonic began to make a cocky remark before noticing the glow of the activated Egg Grape. Knuckles cried out while Sonic, dismayed that, once again, he may have arrived too late. While Sonic raced up the wall to rescue Charmy, Tails, with NICOLE, flew to find an access port; Knuckles and Amy began smashing the Egg Grapes and freeing everyone trapped within. Eggman was shocked at Sonic's appearance, having expected no retaliation after their battle; Sonic replied, "Shows how smart you are" before breaking the Egg Grape with a Spin Dash and recovering Charmy. Holding the disoriented bee, Sonic coldly announced that Eggman would only have a head start until Sonic confirmed Charmy's condition. Fleeing, Eggman berated Snively for not capturing everyone despite his claims.
On their vacated control platform, Tails opened up the console and hooked NICOLE into the systems; as A.D.A.M. was no longer present, NICOLE had no obstacles, saying she would only need a minute. Bringing Charmy below to where all the escapees had gathered, Sonic had Dr. Quack assess the situation. Despite not having any tools, the doctor announced to a distraught Saffron that Charmy at least seemed stable. Sally quickly asked Sonic if he was all right before taking control of the situation; she announced to the large group that it was time to leave. Tails unhooked NICOLE from the console, saying they had to go; NICOLE replied that she had accomplished all she could and that further preparations would be completed "back at home". Despite Tails' confusion, NICOLE said there was no time to explain and that Tails should stay with the group; Tails accepted this, adding that he hoped NICOLE's plan would work...
While Sonic lead everyone through the hole in the wall, Sally attempted to assess the situation, saying that their numbers were too great to escape easily. She began to form a plan, but Sonic quickly cut her off, saying they already had one and needed to stick to it. Reassuring Sally that the plan was NICOLE's idea, she instructed everyone to stay together as they fled. Sonic attempted to bring up his conflict with Tails earlier at Freedom HQ, but the entire group was caught by surprise as Eggman appeared in the Egg Beater battle armor. Wasting no time, the doctor unleashed his teleportation beam upon the crowd. Sonic attempted to direct everyone back down an alley while Sally fretted over the situation, saying they'd all be recaptured in no time. Snively attempted to speak with Eggman, but he dismissed him as he recaptured the royal family. Snively insisted, talking about the teleporting beam, but Eggman snapped that it was obviously functioning and that only a few Mobians remained. Trapped in the alleyway, Sally desperately asked Sonic if he could spin dash through the wall to create a new path, and while he replied that he probably could, he refused. Extremely distraught, Sally asked if he'd lost his mind, and Sonic only replied that he didn't want to spoil the surprise. Sally and the few remaining Mobians were then struck by the teleportation beam, leaving Sonic the last one standing. Eggman taunted Sonic for failing twice in a single day and asked if he still wanted to put up a fight, but Sonic casually dismissed him. He was then blasted by the teleportation beam.
Ecstatic, Eggman announced that he'd finally won, instructing Snively to not activate the reserve Egg Grapes until his arrival. Angrily, Snively finally spoke out; the teleportation beam's frequency had been altered, and the reserve Egg Grapes were completely empty. Dejected for a moment, Eggman then announced that he would launch the Egg Fleet, instructing Snively to track down the new frequency. Not long after, Snively reported with some surprise that the teleportation beam had seemingly been redirected to what appeared to be the Nanite City...
Within the newly-walled city, the former inhabitants of Knothole looked about with delight and amazement; before them appeared to be a rebuilt Lake of Rings, a number of homes and Castle Acorn as it had appeared in the Mobotropolis of the past. A lynx then appeared before the Freedom Fighters, saying she had been planning to unveil the city as a surprise, but had been forced by the situation to reveal it earlier. Welcoming everyone to New Mobotropolis, she announced herself as their hostess... NICOLE.
Sally, recognizing NICOLE's projected form from her earlier experiments, hugged the lynx, who explained that with a more powerful energy source and the city's nanites, she was now able to maintain her physical form. While everyone had several questions about the new city, NICOLE happily assured them that she'd answer them all in time. Sally thanked NICOLE, as well as Sonic, Tails, Amy and Knuckles, saying that without their help, they never would have lived to see NICOLE's beautiful city. However, NICOLE suddenly became worried, saying that it did not take Dr. Eggman long to figure out the ruse. Outside, the amassed Egg Fleet began to move in on the city.