Chapter 22: Regret and Redemption
It wasn’t easy being in solitary confinement. It was constantly cold, damp and silent… aside from the occasional echoing screams of other prisoners in a neighbouring sector of the facility. Ace didn’t like the cold, but he had no choice but to endure it. He would exercise through the coldest times of the day, to try and keep his body at a fair temperature. He also tried his best not to lose much more of his muscular build; but it was not an easy task while in such confined space with limited nutrition.
This new lifestyle had hardened him up - becoming used to a life without any luxuries - but with that he often felt isolated, with no one to talk to besides the guards who rarely came by to check up on him.
The solitude however, gave him plenty of time to set his mind straight, after being under the influence of DreadZone for so many years. Despite being completely alone, it seemed to have helped him mentally. At brief intervals though, he did have a longing for DreadZone, because of the support and friends he had there, such as Dallas and Juanita. But over time, he came to realize that they and Vox only ever supported him for being a violent, cruel and selfish gladiator – and this realization helped him to let go of DreadZone and his ‘friends’ for good.
He never wanted anything more to do with them again. He didn’t know if Ratchet ever defeated Gleeman Vox, but he had a feeling that the lombax succeeded, as he had Clank by his side to help him through tough times.
There is no need for guessing...
He had a sort of respect for the lombax hero now; as he helped him escape the grasps of DreadZone and he also reminded him of when he was a youthful superhero. Ace knew that he could never go back to being a superhero again; after all he has done. At times, the guilt of killing all those superheroes would tug on him but the anger of being blamed for the Bolden 3 incident would blot it out. He still felt bitter about it, but his anger had eased a lot since then, and now he found it easier to ignore hurtful words, instead of reacting violently.
The agorian left him well alone after that.
The species Ace came to learn here were new to him: Fongoids; Vullards; Hoolefoids; Terraklons; Agorians; Paladrones; and many more.
Being part of cellblock sector nine, Ace was given daily jobs to do around the prison. Such as helping fix hardware and some kitchen duties. The drophyds also noticed that Ace was very skilled with fixing weaponry, so they would often force him to fix and even upgrade their own weapons and armour.
Even though Ace disliked this particular fish-like race, the drophyd guards rarely punished or even took notice of him. But his dislike for them grew even more from seeing the way they treated some of the prisoners.
He was especially angry one time when he saw a group of three drophyds, all beating an innocent fongoid prisoner, only because of the way the prisoner smirked when he was asked who Percival Tachyon was. Ace stood up for him and even managed to down a couple of the guards, but he ended up being electrocuted painfully by several others, followed by a dire warning for any other time he tried to interfere with the guards;
“We wouldn’t want to see the hands of our favourite weaponry repairman removed now would we?”
Somehow, He felt helpless not being able to help the innocent prisoners, but he knew that he shouldn’t do it again. Especially after hearing about the several torture chambers within the prison, where some prisoners never returned from, or, having cheated death, returned with missing fingers or worse - limbs.
Ace still found it puzzling how the drophyds were loyal to this Emperor Tachyon person. But as he thought more into his past with the Sonic 6, he remembered Kurt Swiftblade and how he would occasionally speak of an ‘evil dictator’ who happened to be an emperor in the Polaris Galaxy.
And Zordoom was located in the Polaris Galaxy - not Solana. Ace had never visited Polaris prior to his arrival here, so he didn’t know much about this galaxy, besides knowing that Kurt and Bettilena came from Polaris to find a better life.
Ace often longed for his team, now that his DreadZone days were over. But deep down he knew that he would most likely never get to see them again. He wasn’t even sure if they’d want to see him anyway, after what he did to all those other superheroes.
He wanted to know how they were doing regardless - he really didn’t know what happened to them after he disappeared. He was thankful that none of the team were captured for DreadZone, as part of a deal Ace made with Vox. He agreed to serve Vox until the day he ‘retires’ as long as he leaves the Sonic 6 well alone.
Gleeman was true to his world, surprisingly.
Nonetheless Ace desperately wanted to know anything of the Sonic 6’s status; how they were doing; if they were still out there; if they were safe… but nobody in Zordoom knew of Ace Hardlight’s team, or his heroic past for that matter. Only his life as a DreadZone Gladiator.
He had now spent three years in Zordoom, with two of those years being in Sector 9 of the prison. His appearance had changed since he first arrived.
He had a much rougher look with his hair and fur, as well as a couple of scars on the side of his face from the deep cuts he received; after being dumped by the DZ carrier onto the sharp, mountainous rocks.
He never got to see his reflection much however, so he didn’t think much of it. Luckily for him though, he still had the majority of his muscular body shape. He would exercise whenever he got the chance, becoming paranoid of ever losing his toned build and strength. Being without the armour and battle-suit was an odd feeling, as he was a lot more vulnerable; especially with the absence of nanotech in the prison.
None of the prisoners were allowed it; so if they were injured, they’d just have to heal in their own natural way, which was often rather slow.
So keeping in good shape helped make life easier in this ruthless prison and, over time, he became used to living with the absence of nanotech.
Life here was tough, but somehow… it made him stronger - both mentally and physically. Some questions were still unanswered though; he only wanted to know how his team were doing. Then perhaps, he could clear his mind and accept his permanent sentence here at Zordoom…
The sun blazed fiercely as it rose on the morning on planet Viceron, the planet where Zordoom prison resided; standing out from the dark blue seas and rugged rocks down below. Police ships flew around the buildings constantly, on patrol at all times. Even mere visitors to this planet could get thrown in and sentenced for life, if they were not troops of Emperor Tachyon’s army.
It was a usual early morning in the large Zordoom prison facility. The sun continued to blaze outside, heating up the metal coated units, often causing grief and heatstroke to the unfortunate prisoners located in the higher sectors of the prison. The prisoners in Sector nine, however, were a bit more fortunate, as it was located much lower down - the area where Ace dwelled.
He lay there, appearing to be asleep. But he moved about, turning himself over as the bothersome sounds of the other inmates started up - knocking sounds on their metallic units, foreign shouting and talking.
Ace tried to ignore them, and return back to his slumber, since it was an hour before he and everyone had to wake up and start their daily prison chores. So he wanted more rest, attempting to drift off back to sleep.
But it wouldn’t stop.
Quite frustrated, he sat up and rubbed his eyes. Moving up to his cell’s window, he yelled,
”Can’t you all just SHUT UP for a change? Some of us are trying to SLEEP!”
But his voice went unnoticed, the chatter not stopping even for a second.
It was noisy, and Ace sighed… but a few other prisoners around him felt the same way, and one person suddenly shouted,
And it worked almost instantly. That particular name brought shivers down many of the inmate’s spines. Even saying his name could get you into trouble, but some prisoners were tired and cranky; not thinking of any consequences.
Many went silent; some were so frightened that they squealed. While a few couldn’t help but let off a giggle, at hearing the first name of the dreaded Emperor being made fun of. Ace was relieved that most had gone silent, but before he moved to the back of his cell…
”Hey, I know that hair…”
A sly voice said a few units away from him. The voice caught Ace’s attention instantly and he noticed that his long blond hair was sticking out of the window of his cell. He tucked his hair back a bit, before replying...
”…I know that voice…”
Curious, he tried to peer out of the window of his unit, looking down towards the row of cells where the voice had come from. And staring back at him, were a pair of distinctive eyes. Eyes he remembers from his past life as a superhero.
”Yep; that’s me kid. What’s a fella like you doing in a place like this?”
”I was about to ask you the same thing. As for me, it’s a long story…”
Ace said, looking down at Slim’s cell to the right. He was very surprised to see a friend from the past in here, especially so far from the Solana Galaxy.
”Ah yes I remember now. Sorry, I almost forgot about your so called… ‘Exterminator’ job. Because the Hardlight I remember was that young heroic chap who at one time, came to me for a Suck-cannon upgrade, when I thought you were 18; but you were actually 15. Remember that? The cops were chasing me for years on that one”
”Heh yeah, I do. Don’t lie though, you always knew I was underage but you still sold me those weapon upgrades anyway!”
Ace smirked, as did Slim from down below in his own cell.
”So… what got you thrown into the slammer this time?” Ace asked.
”Oh, just for showing a class B gravity cannon to a group of female Tumfoids during a rock concert in Meridian City. Nothing really… Polaris is one of the most inhospitable places I have ever come across. So it’s no surprise I’m in here”
”I’ve already seen many other civilians in here for stupid reasons, so I can believe that. But there is something I need to ask you about - the Sonic 6. I need to know what happened to them. And I don’t know who else I could ask…”
”The Sonic 6? Ah yes, your old team. Let me think, because I have some interesting info on them from what I last heard and saw…”
Slim closed his eyes for a moment to think. Ace peered out of his cell’s window a bit further, very intrigued by what Slim had to share with him.
”Tell me anything. I need to know… even if it is bad. You’re the only person I can trust on this one”
”I can tell you for sure that they were never sent to a prison. Nor were they blamed for that… planet destruction, as the court never had the full evidence to prosecute them. So instead, they were sentenced to 10 years community service or something”
”Community service?” Ace questioned; rather intrigued by what he heard.
”Yup. You know, doing various community jobs and all. That old President, Clint Carlson still wouldn’t stop accusing you and your team though, especially after your sudden disappearance. But there is a new President of Solana, with the surname; Phyronix. Not sure what his views on the matter are. However, I did hear of your team members being on random planets throughout Solana, doing community jobs and whatnot”
Ace pulled his head back in and thought to himself for a moment; he was very relieved to hear this information, but he started to feel bad about the team being under pressure from the media and forced to do community work. Nonetheless, he was very pleased to hear that they were never sent to prison. Ace moved over to the opening of his unit again,
”So… are they safe?”
”Well about as safe as any other person in a community will be then yeah, I’d say so. They don’t refer to themselves as the Sonic 6 anymore from what I heard… but they are still alive, and kicking”
”Thanks Slim. You’ve always been of good help, even after all these years”
”You’re welcome kid. I would also offer you some ‘merchandise’ but… it’s been a bit awkward getting stock in here, if you know what I mean, heh”
”Uhh no thanks. Knowing the security around here, I’d rather not be stuck listening to 10 cycles of Agorian folk music, or end up in a cryosleep chamber”
He said, smirking about it. He then pulled himself back into the cell, noticing how quiet it was. Ace moved from the window and went back to lie down on his solid bedding. He yawned and dozed off again into a sleep, finding it easy to rest again after having his mind cleared of certain worries about the team he once lived with.
It was the first time he had truly smiled since he arrived here.
The nap didn’t last too long - only 40 minutes - and Ace and every other prisoner were woken rudely by a loud morning siren and bright lights. The whole facility lit up as all the inmate units opened and everyone was immediately let off to do their daily chores. It was a daily event, so Ace was used to it. He walked out down the prison hallways, where many of the other inmates were already wandering about, waiting in line for the bathroom units, waiting around for breakfast or simply waiting for their daily job.
Straight after breakfast was served to the inmates of Sector nine, Ace walked on down the hallway, following the other prisoners as they went towards the transport vessels which will take them to the Exercise yard. It may have been an odd sight to see prisoners walking freely through many parts of the facilities, but Ace and the other prisoners very well knew they couldn’t escape, or shouldn’t try anything suspicious.
Each and every one had an electronic anklet, tracking everyone’s positions at all times. And not to mention, drophyd guards were at each and every corner, watching the prisoners wherever they roamed.
Ace walked down a corridor, up towards an area where more cells were found to the sides, quite large cells too for that matter; with doors that never opened… and for good reason. They may have seemed empty upon first glance, but Ace knew what dwelled in the cells coming up to his left…
Walking by quietly, he was quick to duck as a large pincer-like arm lashed out from it’s cell’s window. He chuckled and the alien growled from behind the barred window, annoyed at missing Ace’s face this time. He leapt quickly ahead of him as another from the neighbouring cell tried to attack him, missing him as well and he dashed forward, noticing the last cell in the corridor…
And only milliseconds before it could strike him, he grabbed the tentacle arm tightly, and it screeched from inside its large unit.
”Got you this time, freak. So, how does it feel to be tugged on?”
He smiled even more as he heard the strange creature from its cell roar out in anger, after his remark. The creature tried with all its might to tract its arm back into its cage but Ace still wouldn’t let go. His grip on the limb was too strong and tight. He squeezed and pulled it even harder, in an attempt to bruise the squid-like alien species. It screeched wildly and rattled inside its cage, as he tightened his grasp and finally, he let it go.
The creature from inside its cell was quick to pull in its tentacle limb and whine to itself, leaving Ace standing there, brushing off his hands and grinning.
”That’s what you get for pulling on my hair last time…”
Satisfied with the little vengeance he got on the fellow inmate; he walked down towards the transport vessel, which wasn’t far ahead of where he was going. Hopping in, it was quick to move towards another sector of Zordoom prison.
It moved at a relatively quick pace, following the vessels of the other Sector 9 prisoners along a monorail, situated above each carrier.
Pausing, it came to a stop to release the prisoners from the transport vessels, and Ace could already see the entrance to the Exercise yard, and many drophyd guards were standing nearby, shoving and nudging prisoners to go in and Ace followed, walking with a group of robots, hoolefoids, terraklons, Agorians and other races he knew nothing of. He easily stood out from the crowd, being taller and more muscular than most of the prisoners – and being the only verpardi on the whole entire planet. But a few others were very large and intimidating, and would occasionally torment the smaller, weaker prisoners out of anger.
Ace wasn’t afraid of anybody though - no matter how big and threatening they were. He knew that he had much more skills and cunning than most prisoners here. And even if a fight started, they would most likely get punished by the drophyd guards for disorderly behaviour. So Ace would usually avoid it, but sometimes he did defend the weak and innocent prisoners against the bullies, if he felt like it. He still found it stupid how many were being held here, just for not following Emperor Tachyon’s rule.
Walking on into the Exercise yard, he could already see the majority of the inmates in here. Some were exercising with the weights and other equipment that were available, while some just stood around talking amongst one another.
He walked over towards some exercising equipment, where a couple of weights lay nearby.
Standing up straight and stretching his muscles, he felt as if people there were watching him so he tried to take no notice of them; minding his own business. After stretching his arms, he grabbed both weights and went to sit down. Lifting them, he was a bit disappointed with how light the pair of weights was, so he turned around to see if any bigger ones were lying around but his attention was caught when he saw a group of prisoners, standing around behind him in a small group. They were a small group of hoolefoids and fongoids. They all looked nervous, with ‘fake smiles’ on their faces. One of them even waved at him.
He rolled his eyes and sighed at the same time, before standing up,
”What do you want?”
The group continued to glare at Ace, all seemingly nervous to even speak with him. One of the fongoids stood out from the group though, shaking slightly from sheer nervousness, but he managed to keep his friendly smile nonetheless.
”We *ahem* we were just wondering if err… you didn’t mind us standing nearby?”
”Why?” Ace questioned.
”Well it’s just that… eh… umm, it is just that some of the other prisoners here keep picking on us and you seem like a really cool guy! Defending Zehyn from those guards, it was really cool seeing you take them on with those kung-fu moves!!!”
”Well, it wasn’t so cool being electrocuted afterwards... alright fine, but don’t stand too close to me. And whatever you do, don’t touch the hair!”
”Oh yes of course, Sir! Eh. We respect your wishes!”
The fongoid bowed, as did a few of the others in the small group. Ace looked a little bothered, but he didn’t really mind their presence – just as long as they kept their distance from him. It felt kind of odd, how this group of innocent prisoners would consider him somebody safe to stick by, despite his dark past.
Ace noticed a large agorian prisoner had stopped using one of the heavier weights nearby, giving him the opportunity to go and retrieve it. Walking over, he brushed past another prisoner that stood in his path, but was yelled at after doing so…
”Watch where you walk next time, feeble prisoner! You should be showing me a bit more respect than that!”
The creature yelled. Ace turned around to look at him with a defiant stare. But he found this prisoner to be quite unusual in appearance - he was a cyborg. But what confused Ace most was that he was simply a green terraklon head; inside a glass tank full of fluid, built into a robotic body. Similar to that of the drophyds but he was no fish. He was just a head, without an organic body.
The terraklon glared angrily at Ace, until his expression changed to a surprised one, as his mind flowed with sinister plans. Then he grinned deviously.
“Ah I see now, you were that Exterminator fellow I have heard much about. Allow me to introduce myself”
He spoke, in a rough, slightly deep voice from his outfit’s speaker. Ace stood in front of him, crossing his arms. Having not the slightest clue on what this prisoner wanted from him.
”I am the almighty Lord Vorselon! Having known of your barbaric ways, I have a proposition for you in my quest for vengeance!”
”Right. Water-boy, whatever you’re suggesting isn’t what I’m interested in so move aside…”
”Oh but you haven’t even heard my brilliant plan, Hardlight! I am one of the greatest assassins of the terraklon race and you, you are one of the greatest hero-hunters too, am-I-right? With your strength and my intellect, we can escape from Zordoom with relative ease!”
”Look, freak. I’m not interested in whatever you have planned so get lost. I’m not in the mood to be hanging around with idiots like you…”
Ace felt quite annoyed, but managed to refrain from lashing out. However, the group of fongoids and hoolefoids were nearby as well, quite excited by their conversation.
”I would watch out if I were you, Flint! Eh, those Drophyd guards will catch you again!” a fongoid told the terraklon.
”My NAME is LORD VORSELON!”
”Look, I just want to exercise okay? So just move it already…” Ace said whilst rolling his eyes.
”No, you need to listen! Come on Hardlight, you would make a perfect apprentice in our vengeance against those who gave us grief in the universe! I also need a planet-buster specialist so…”
”You take that back! Unless you want to be in a game of drop-kick!”
Ace barked, clenching his fists and staring into Flint’s eye angrily. He was trying his best to keep his rage contained, but the terraklon simply wouldn’t shut up. And bringing up the Bolden accident hit a sore spot in Ace, but he still tried hard not to take it personally.
The fongoids and hoolefoids were all smiling now, not nervous but they kept an eye out for any guards. The guards, however, had their attention set on other prisoners on the far east of the room.
”I wouldn’t mess with him if I were you! He knows space karate!”
A hoolefoid said while performing some martial arts poses. Some of the other prisoners around began to snicker. But Ace didn’t notice them; he was still angry with Flint and kept his eyes locked on him, already clenching his fists…
”Why act so hastily? You should be proud of your cold-blooded, villainous ways! Destroying superheroes and an entire planet is-“
Ace snapped. Throwing a punch forward, it came into contact with the tank on Vorselon’s suit and it shattered. Glass and fluid spilled everywhere and the terraklon screamed; his head falling to the metallic floor and Ace backed away, trying to calm himself down and coming to notice the mess he had just created. Vorselon’s suit fell on the floor and his head lay there on the ground, on its side. Looking quite shocked with what just happened.
The hoolefoids and fongoids all cheered for Ace, and some of the other prisoners who witnessed the attack, were laughing. But everybody went silent suddenly as a horde of drophyd guards rushed over to see the commotion, and the prisoners moved away from Vorselon and his fallen suit.
”Alright just WHAT IS GOING ON HERE? Who started this!?”
No one muttered a single word, as they were all too nervous. Even Ace felt a bit nervous, but then the group behind him all pointed at Flint’s head on the floor. All the prisoners copied them and Ace did the same. Everyone had their finger pointed at Vorselon now, and the drophyd guards shuddered, before going down to retrieve his robotic suit and head off the floor.
”Looks like Flint here will be in Torture chamber 3, listening to a few cycles of ‘Crushing on Squishes’ by Dr Nefarious!”
”A few days of cycles, to be precise…!”
Vorselon wailed, as he was being taken away by the guards. All the other prisoners were relieved, giving off sighs of relief while several were smiling, even Ace smiled. But he noticed that the knuckle of his right fist was cut slightly from the glass, which had pierced his glove. It wasn’t bleeding much, but he tried to hide the cut for the meantime, just in case the guards caught him out later on.
He got what he deserved, as far as I’m concerned…
Later that day, Ace was summoned by the loud speaker to go into the mess hall, for Kitchen Duty. This disappointed him, as he quite liked to stay out in the Exercise yard but he knew he wasn’t allowed to stay in there most of the day.
He was called into a large kitchen facility. It was quite filthy around here, with food lying around, flies buzzing all over as the foul stench filled most of the room. The guards were standing around watching the prisoners, not taking any notice of the mess around here at all. Ace disliked it immensely, but he had no choice but to work in here when he was called to.
He was at a large iron bench, where he operated a vice-like buzzing saw that was used to cut large chunks of meat and other food products into smaller pieces. Operating this was dangerous; people have been known to accidentally lose a limb - or an even their life from not paying close attention. But Ace was careful with it, carefully slicing pieces at a time, as more came out from the butcher room and onto his bench.
As he finished pulling the vice down to cut the last chunk, a deafening siren rang out, echoing throughout the prison. Red lights flashed all around and Ace immediately stopped, standing back from the workbench as the guards all pulled out their weapons and shouted
”Attention all units! A lombax is aiding prisoner 979B Apogee, Talwyn in escape! Stop them before they reach the surface!”
All the guards were on full alert and the prisoners all appeared to be confused, bathed in the red glow from the lights above. Ace also heard the drophyd’s panicking about a ‘lombax’… and he could only guess who it was.
All the prisoners ran for cover and cowered, but Ace had too much interest in what was going on. The drophyd's attention was set on the lombax and the escaping prisoner though. Some had rushed off to aid the other guards that were fighting the escaping prisoner and lombax, while a few stayed nearby as they braced themselves for incoming combat…
”All guards prepare the turret and cut down anything that tries to get through!”
A powerful turret emerged from the floor of the mess hall’s entry and Ace continued to watch the chaos from afar, still quite surprised with all the action going on.
”Move all prisoners from the Exercise yard and block all entrances! And clear the sky dock of all non-military personnel! The lombax menace must be caught, and KILLED!”
Everybody was rushing around or bracing themselves for someone, but who could it be? Ace could only wonder if it really was Ratchet making his way through the mess hall, and it wasn’t long until he saw gunfire coming towards the group of drophyd’s…
Drophyd guards began dropping like flies as the invader made her way through - successfully shattering the glass tank of the turret commander’s suit. Water spilled everywhere and the drophyd screamed, falling out of its water tank, along with glass shards as more gunfire littered the place.
Ace took cover behind the bench but continued to watch until the escaping prisoner came into the light. She was a young woman, quite similar in appearance to Kurt, as she was a markazian just like him. She also wore a jetpack and had a pistol in her hand, firing continuously as she flew past the room in a hurry. She was desperate to get to the next sector of the prison - which was through the back entry of the kitchen, where the metal-compressors were located.
The drophyds didn’t stand a chance against this skilled rebel. She downed almost every single guard in their tracks, and fled past any survivors and made her way out the exit.
A remaining drophyd shouted, and the rest of the guards chased her through to Sector seven.
Ace moved out from behind the bench and looked all around him. Cooking equipment, tables and drophyd suits littered the place - and the other prisoners started to come out, looking either nervous or shaken with what had happened. Some of them left the mess hall to find someplace safe to wait, until the emergency sirens and red lights had stopped.
Ace decided to follow them but as soon as he took a few steps, he heard a disturbing crushing and squelching sound from under his foot. Feeling disgusted, he felt as if he stood in something slimy, probably a slab of raw flesh from the butchery room.
But when he looked down to check, his eyes had widened; seeing that it was a drophyd, squashed by his sheer weight. Its orange blood splattered all around its small body, as well as its large yellow eyes popping out from their sockets.
He found it quite comical to see this, but he tried not to snicker because he knew there would be severe consequences if another guard had witnessed it. And unfortunately for him, another drophyd saw what happened. It lay there on the floor about a metre or two away from Ace, looking angry and fierce. But it was in its raw-form, not inside its robotic tank-suit.
Ace scoffed. He looked all around him, over his shoulder then back towards the single drophyd on the floor. There was nobody nearby. He tried not to grin as he took a few steps forward, before hearing that squishing sound again from underneath his other foot.