- "Changing Tempo"
Sonic the Hedgehog and Sally Acorn are among a huge crowd in the Coliseum of New Mobotropolis; everyone's there for a Forget Me Knots concert. Sonic tells Sally to relax, but given recent events, Sally finds that difficult. Sonic brushes her concerns off, saying they're there to enjoy the concert, even if Mina Mongoose's music may not be Sally's favourite. Sally is baffled by this claim, saying she owns all of Mina's previous albums. Sonic says he had assumed she wasn't a fan since, when Mina's career took off, Sally had always seemed to get quiet when she was mentioned. Sally blushes and admits that at the time, she had thought Mina had been trying to date Sonic and had been a little jealous. Embarrassed, they both realize that the should have talked more at the time to have avoided any misunderstandings. Teasingly, Sonic points out that they've been hanging out together a lot lately; he asks if he should be concerned about Monkey Khan attacking him out of jealousy. Sally points out that Ken Khan is busy rebuilding his homeland, and that she had spoken with him and had decided to spend more time finding out what she wanted instead of making rash decisions.
Arm in arm, the two suddenly notice a shy NICOLE, who asks if this will make her a third wheel, but Sally is overjoyed to see her. Sonic says he likes NICOLE's new look (her avatar has been reconfigured into a different outfit) and NICOLE explains she had programmed something new for the event, as, she explains, looking self-conscious, that she wasn't sure she'd be completely welcome in public. Sonic brushes this off, finding the notion ridiculous, but NICOLE continues to look unsure; she says that people are still shaken over the Iron Dominion's occupation. She adds that, connected to the city's systems, she's been hearing people talk. Sally tries to reassure her, saying that between the Iron Dominion and the Destruction of Knothole, the people are jumpy, but that they'll calm down eventually. Sonic chimes in, saying that tonight is all about relaxing, and that they're not going to worry about anything, including how Dr. Eggman is still unaccounted for, or what Geoffrey St. John has been up to...
In the upper section of the Coliseum, Ixis Naugus literally slinks out of the shadows, dragging a violently gasping Geoffrey with him. A disapproving Naugus tells Geoffrey that "shadow-melding" is supposed to be stealthy, and that Geoffrey is making that pointless by "carrying on like that." Geoffrey, wheezing on the ground, says that it's the worse sensation there is, and then pointedly adds that Naugus shouldn't be complaining as he hadn't bothered to teach him much magic yet. Regaining his composure, Geoffrey points out that while his magical skills may be lacking, Naugus will need his other skills and experience if he hopes to take over the kingdom. He adds that because of his experience, he advises against what they're doing right now, saying there's too high a risk of being seen and that they'll need the element of surprise later. Naugus warns Geoffrey to not lecture him, and Geoffrey quickly backpedals, saying he did not intend to do so. Turning back to the crowd below, Naugus says that while Geoffrey's plans are good, they need something more, and that something is present here. Geoffrey wonders what it is, and Naugus replies, "The fear, Geoffrey... that poison fog of fear!"
Meanwhile, in their trailer, the Forget Me Knots are preparing to go on stage. Mina hypes and encourages the other band members, telling them tonight that they're going to make a difference. She asks them if they're ready, and they all eagerly reply that they are (though Max the Monkey is nervous despite the enthusiasm). Mina tells them it's time to take the stage, and they leave. Then she turns to Ash with a strained, almost manic smile and admits she feels like throwing up -- she's scared that people will hate the new sound. Ash assures her that they won't, saying that they love Mina. With his encouragement, Mina takes the stage. She greets the people with a brief introduction and Sharps the Chicken begins to play. As the band begins the song's intro, the crowd is taken aback. Sally says it doesn't sound like Mina's older music at all, and Sonic eagerly agrees, greatly enjoying it. Sonic throws up the horns and rocks out and Sally and NICOLE dance together as Mina begins to sing:
- I lie awake
- in my bed
- just can't sleep
- full of dread
- will the nightmares come for me this time?
- In the day
- in the night
- never knowing
- full of fright
- why won't anyone listen?
- I can't always be jumping at shadows!
- I can't always be running away!
- I won't be afraid!
- I'll save myself!
- I won't be afraid!
- I'll save myself!
Nicole stops dancing, looking shocked upon realizing the song is about her. Sonic continues to rock out, oblivious, but Sally realizes that something's up...
- She's everywhere
- but heroes aren't
- we're all left prone
- It's painfully
- they won't act
- it's up to us
- we won't live in fear of the city!
- We can't always be jumping at shadows!
- We can't always be running away!
- We won't be afraid!
- We'll save ourselves!
- We won't be afraid!
- We'll save ourselves!
With Mina's encouragement, the crowd joins in for the chorus. NICOLE is horrified; Sonic, Sally and the nearby Espio all notice, but NICOLE utterly distressed and upset, runs off and literally disappears.
In the upper levels of the Coliseum, Geoffrey comments that while he knew there was some concern over NICOLE and her nanites, he didn't realize it had gotten this bad. Naugus grins, saying it was -- and wasn't. Geoffrey realizes with some shock that Naugus is responsible -- he's using his magic to affect everyone's emotions and blowing them out of proportion. Naugus explains that just as he had done during the days of the Great War, he'll make the people want more than just reform; they'll be "baying for blood!"
With the song finished, Mina thanks the crowd, saying she's glad to see such passion and motivation. She tells everyone that while the Freedom Fighters give their all to protect them from outside forces, they need them to help with things at home. She adds that as the government is now elected by the people, they need to listen to them. She pumps a fist in the air, telling them that they shouldn't be afraid and that they want change, to which the crowd eagerly agrees. However, Sally and Sonic share a glance, not quite liking the sound of things...
After the concert, the Forget Me Knots approach their trailer through a throng of eager fans. Sipping a drink, Mina waves to the crowd, thanking them for coming. Ash drapes his jacket over her shoulders, congratulating her on the performance. However, the soon notice that the band has stopped in front of the trailer. Max, uneasy, tells the two to go ahead, saying, "You know them better than us."
Mina and Ash are surprised to find Sonic and Sally already in the trailer. Sally looks pensive. Ash is not exactly pleased to find them like this; he tells Sonic that if he wants an autograph, he can go line up outside with the other fans. Sonic bluntly tells him that Mina's music doesn't need any "dark and gloomy 'I'm so sad and misunderstood' baggage" and Ash is incensed; he begins to reply but Mina gently steps in. She tells Sonic that the new direction was her doing, and that she feels it's a message that needs to be heard -- especially by the Freedom Fighters. Sally explains that she feels that someone with Mina's popularity needs to be careful with the messages she sends, and begins to talk about responsibility, but Mina cuts her off; she feels that it's irresponsible to have let Nicole remain in power even after she, Bunnie "Rabbot" D'Coolette and Monkey Khan were all taken advantage of by the Iron Queen. Growing angry, she tells Sally that while she and Sonic were off in the Dragon Kingdom, they were left back in the city with Iron NICOLE a constant threat. Mina tells Sally that while she was busy "talking politics," she was witnessing people being Legionized -- she ends by telling the princess she's not one to talk about responsibility. Sonic protests, saying it wouldn't have helped anything if they had stayed behind and been captured as well, but Sally cuts him off, standing. She approaches Mina and says she has one thing to add about NICOLE: that she was in fact no longer being controlled by the Iron Queen when they left, and that she maintained the act in order to protect as many people as she could. NICOLE also saw all the Legionizing first hand. Furthermore, Sally adds, NICOLE was in fact present for Mina's concert. This catches Mina by surprise, and with everyone now uneasy, Sonic and Sally leave the trailer, leaving Mina looking unsure.
Sonic and Sally make their way through the crowd of Forget Me Knots fans; the effect of the concert (with influence from Naugus) becomes apparent as the crowd rumbles about Nicole. One person tells the "computer" to stop spying on them, while another wonders if she'll feel pain if the scenery is stomped on; others praise Knothole and talk about structures made of brick rather than nanites. Reaching the trees beyond the crows, Sonic is indignant; he mutters that Eggman should come back, if only to see how quickly the people go from distrusting Nicole to begging her to protect them. Sally tells him to not say such things; she gently calls out to Nicole, asking her to talk with them rather than hide, saying they're still her friends.
In the Coliseum, Naugus watches over the scene, amused, while Geoffrey looks less than impressed. Naugus says that once the people's terror has festered and grown, they'll beg him to save them.
- "Second Impressions" - Part One
NICOLE lies on the floor of a server room, sobbing. Suddenly, Dimitri calls to her, concerned, and she looks up in surprise, having forgotten that he was installed in this room. She apologizes for bothering him and begins to fade out, but he insists that if she were a bother, he wouldn't have let her weep all this time. NICOLE admits that she had not realized she'd been there that long, but Dimitri merely says he thought he would give her some time alone before offering help... and observes that Espio was likely doing the same thing. Espio, who had been hidden invisible on the ceiling, drops down into view; he coldly tells Dimitri that he seems to know a lot for someone who's been missing. Dimitri replies that he's hooked into the city's system and has some access to it -- allowing him to not only observe Mina's concert, but Espio entering the server room in the first place. Espio turns on NICOLE, demanding to know why Dimitri is there. NICOLE explains that Sonic and Tails had found and rescued him while investigating the Eggdome; when they realized that Dimitri had been left for dead, Sally decided they needed to show him mercy. Dimitri begins to interject, and Espio pulls out a small knife, asking what a villain and traitor possibly has to say to him. Dimitri points out that Espio is not in a position to call anyone else a traitor, but then asks him if he really came there to threaten him and yell at NICOLE. Espio pauses a moment and then backs down, ashamed. He puts the knife away and turns to NICOLE, saying that he had seen her flee the concert and wanted to make sure she was okay. NICOLE is taken aback and asks why, and Espio says that he felt he owed her for helping him in the past. He adds that they were both used by the Iron Dominion, and that he knows how it feels to have lost the trust of others. NICOLE is again taken aback, clarifying that she meant that she wondered how Espio knew she would be in the server room instead of just disappearing into the system. Dimitri says that he did so because he knows that NICOLE is more than just a program; a program wouldn't run in fear or cry in despair as she had done. He says that Espio knew where his friend, as a Mobian, would go.
Regardless, this is still Dimitri they're talking about, and Espio is still unable to understand why no one said anything. He asks if Knuckles knows, and NICOLE says that very few are aware that Dimitri's been living in the city; he's been preparing to face Knuckles. Dimitri says she's being kind, admitting that he's in fact afraid to confront Knuckles, given their history. But he turns the conversation back to NICOLE, and she explains that she doesn't know what to do. She says she build New Mobotropolis for the people, in order to live among them, and now they fear her and the city itself. She asks Dimitri how he dealt with the loss of control over power in the past. Espio snidely asks the ancient echidna if he thinks she means his time as Enerjak or his time as Grandmaster, but Dimitri replies that in both cases, he was trying to alter the world to suit his desires rather than actually deal with his problems. Looking ashamed, he admits that now he's lost everything; he can never again be with his family, his son lead his people astray, and his legacy has been twisted into something serving the Eggman Empire. He tells the two that he had been selfish and ignored something they have: support and love from other people. He tells NICOLE that she must be brave and stand up for herself. However, he admits that telling someone else to be brave doesn't mean one has courage themselves; he admits that while he'll never be ready, he needs them to arrange a meeting with Knuckles for him. Espio thinks it over and admits he can't be one to deny someone a second chance. He tells NICOLE that he'll talk with Knuckles if she comes with him; she says she'll be there to help explain everything.
Espio asks Dimitri if what he is installed in is uncomfortable, and Dimitri admits that it was better than Sonic's idea, which was a soda machine. Earlier, it shows Sonic asking Dimitri to celebrate his new installment while getting a soda, only to have that soda shot at his head.
- Sonic: See, Sal, this is why we should do this "talking" thing more. We could've saved ourselves a lot of angst.
- Sally: I know, I know. I don't handle confrontations well.
- Sonic: Unless they involve killer robots and blasters and such.
- Sally: Well, of course. That's all easy.
- Mina (To audience): The Freedom Fighters spend almost every day protecting us from dangers from the outside. They need us to handle things here at home. And our government is elected by the people! They HAVE to listen to us! We won't be afraid! We will save ourselves! And we demand change, NOW!
- Mina (To Sally): Responsibility?! What about you and the Freedom Fighters? Bunnie, Khan, AND Nicole all got turned on you! And Nicole runs the city--IS the city! How is that "responsible"?! We were running for our lives! Anywhere we hid could be turned into a prison by Nicole! While you talked politics over there, I saw people legionized here! So don't you dare talk to me about responsibility!
- NICOLE: I made this city for the people! I made it so I could be with them! Instead, they think I will trap them with it, or worse.
- Dimitri: In either scenario, I was trying to exert my will over reality, to force things to suit me rather than deal with them as they were. And now look at me. Never to be with my family again. My people led astray by my own son. My legacy a twisted, wretched thing serving the Eggman Empire. You two have something I ignored. You have the love and support of others. Friends who will seek you to help you...
- Mina performs her new song to the city of New Mobotropolis, referencing NICOLE's "betrayal" as the main subject.
- Ixis Naugus uses his magic to manipulate the citizens, amplifying their fear and anger.
- Sonic and Sally confront Mina, and reveal to her the truth about NICOLE's role in the city occupation.
- Espio and a recuperating Dimitri comfort NICOLE, bolstering her courage.
- Espio and NICOLE agree to arrange for Knuckles to talk with Dimitri.
- This is penciller Ben Bates's first issue cover.
- This issue is the first in which NICOLE appears on the cover (sans #210's prototype cover).
- The Forget Me Knots concert features several cameos in the crowd:
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