Jerry was just reaching the elevator when Verlos Swiftwulf pounced him from behind with a hug. Jerry being the average, Mobian height of four feet, was genuinely surprised with the five-foot something Wolf snuck up on him. Verlos lifted the smaller Fox up in their arms as they laughed.
“Haha! You’re awake!”
“For Fuck Sake!” Jerry complained as he was simply held there in the air.
Verlos hugged the male then set him down.
“You knew Wade a hell of a lot longer,” Jerry vented on, but the hug had thrown him somewhat off-balance, and he stumbled against the wall.
Verlos made a move to help but Jerry held them off with his cane.
“I’ll be fine, thanks, good to see you made it,” the Fox mumbled.
“It was Jeebs mostly,” Verlos said with a shrug, but Jerry reached over and patted their shoulder.
“It was both of you, thanks,” Jerry replied as they both entered the elevator that would lead them to the surface.
“I haven’t seen the walking tin can yet, where is he?” the Fox demanded as he leaned against the elevator railing as it started to ascend.
“He’s with Mags,” Verlos explained, “Control detected a power spike a few days ago, and their investigating, I would have done it, but Wade wanted to make sure I could use my bow again.”
The Wolf held up their hands for Jerry’s inspection.
The Fox inspected them, remembering that Verlos, MARS3 as they are known in the Program, went aboard the Battleship in Jerry’s previous Mission with a broken forearm.
“Good, how’s the wife?” Jerry questioned, the elevator doors opening up to reveal a cramped looking office. The elevator itself had been hidden behind file cases that were far too close to the chair of a desk to be practical.
Aila Swiftwulf, Verlos’ wife was slightly taller than her Husband and a darker shade of gray. Jerry did not talk to her much, nor did he see her in the Medical Area of the Base.
“She’s fine, she was terrified when you arrived in the state you were in,”
“Yeah, if I don’t see her soon tell her thank you for me.”
Jerry then turned towards the office door, which would lead into the Kitchen of Wade’s Bar and Grill, then the tavern area itself. He pulled open the door, keeping his ears turned towards Verlos.
“Right now I really need a cig-GAH!” as the Fox was exiting the office he had been once more enveloped in a mammoth hug, this time from Bron the Bear, an old freedom-fighter turned bartender slash cook of Wade’s Bar and Grill.
Bron towered over the others at a monstrous nine and a half feet. One could almost say they were wide as they were tall, but that was just their shaggy fur.
“It is good to see you friend!” Bron boomed happily.
Verlos started laughing as Jerry snapped his teeth.
“Put me the fuck down! Touchy-feely fruits the lot of you!” the Fox twisted and snarled, but Bron ignored him, showing their own appreciation that the MARS member survived his ordeal.
Jerry was appreciative, but he desperately wanted a drink and a smoke more than he wanted a hug. As he was set down, he adjusted his cane to swat Bron’s massive side “I swear by the Gods I’ve been up in the air longer now than when I was falling,” Jerry ranted. After another snort, and Jerry started for the tavern door again.
A Green Walrus, just as tall as Verlos, heavily scarred with minor dark tan slashes across their bare frame, with a fresh, lighter one streaking down their right eye, stepped into the kitchen just as Jerry came within reach of the door. Before Jerry could react to the sudden shock of seeing his oldest friend, Lukus Walrus landed a punch right between Jerry’s eyes, flattening him against the floor. Bron and Verlos were stunned, and stood a few paces back, looking between Jerry and Lukus.
“Oh what the fuck!?” Jerry shouted up at Lukus.
Lukus shouted back. “That’s for my fucking eye, you bastard!”
Jerry slowly stood up with some effort, Verlos reaching down to give him a hand up.
“You got to keep it you daft ass!”
“No fucking thanks to you!”
And this continued on. They yelled at each other, flinging words that neither Bron nor Verlos ever heard before, not even out of Jerry’s own lips when he had arrived. They pointed, gestured, shouted angrily, raged, vented. They moved back and forth where they stood, looking ready to come to blows as the Fox and Walrus simply yelled either at the same time or took turns.
Then Lukus produced a pack of cigarettes, tossed it to Jerry who caught it expectantly. The Walrus stood aside and grunted, “Go see your goddaughter, and don’t you fucking smoke near her and don’t you fucking cuss either.”
“Yeah yeah, you big pussy,” the Fox muttered, putting the pack in a pocket as he limped out of the door with Lukus following behind.
Verlos and Bron looked at each other, utterly dumbfounded.
“What sort of friendship is that?” the Wolf asked, and the Bear shrugged.
This time, Jerry did not mind the hug so much from the little girl who came squealing “Unca Jay!” as they sailed through the air and clung to the Fox’s neck. Jerry stumbled again but was caught by Lukus who guided them both towards the countertop.
“Hey Tasha,” Jerry smiled at the pigtailed, blonde-haired, blue four-year-old Walrus.
“You been behaving yeah, where’s your momma?” Jerry questioned, glancing around to see his best friend’s wife sitting near the door to an empty Tavern. He raised up his hand holding cane and waved.
“Yo, Samantha!” he called, and she waved back,
They did not like each other too much. Jerry was a ‘bad influence’ on Lukus supposedly. Despite the fact that it was Lukus who took Jerry under their wing, taught him a brand new language that was considered lude to the ears of all civilized creatures, and got him his first smoke.
The Fox did not care what she thought, but always kept his respectful distance and Samantha kept hers.
Of course, Tasha loved her ‘Unca Jay’, who normally spoiled the child rotten when he could.
“Here baby girl,” Jerry placed his god-daughter on the counter-top.
“You got toys in the middle of the floor yeah? Why don’t you go show them to Uncle Verlos here,” Jerry said, jabbing Verlos in the stomach as they came up behind the Fox with his cane. “I need to talk to your Daddy.”
“Thought we already talked,” Lukus huffed, shifting aside to let Verlos by.
The gray Wolf rubbed his stomach before Tasha pounced him as well. Verlos gave a startled, if not over-exaggerated cry before falling to the ground, pleading mercy from the girl, who giggled at the larger Mobian’s display.
The Fox watched for a moment, then moved around the bar when they were clear, settling down on a stool across from Lukus.
“Hey Bron, can I have some stewed fish?” Jerry ordered, putting his cane, his sword belt, and sword on the countertop.
“Sure comrade, it will be a few minutes.”
When they were gone, Jerry’s ears flattened against his bandana swathed skull, “I’m sorry about the eye.”
“And I’m sorry about Larcy,” Lukus responded almost immediately, “So I guess we’re even.”
Jerry’s ears perked upward and he straightened. “No.”
“Yeah,” Lukus smiled, nodding some more, “She was bad for you, you should have stuck looking for Elizabeth.”
“Not that bad.” Jerry frowned and avoided the mention of Elizabeth completely. His ears folded against his skull again, and Lukus took the hint. It was bait. Jerry was not going to be baited.
“Lacy is married and on her third boyfriend.”
“She was bad for me.” Jerry huffed, then extended his hand towards Lukus, “We good?”
Lukus inspected the hand for a moment, “Will you talk to your Sister if you come across her back at Home?”
Again, Jerry’s ears yet again pressed against his skull, and he growled in annoyance. “What is it with you people and this ’home?”
Lukus perked a brow, and said nothing.
“Fine,” Jerry grumbled in defeat as he rolled those golden eyes.
The Walrus smiled, shook his hand, then put two shot glasses between each other.
“Here, Bar’s closed for the day, and this is for a special occasion,” Lukus announced, producing an old bottle of Scotch.
“Thanks,” Jerry smiled, feeling much better all of a sudden. “So, are you going to join?”
Lukus paused in the pouring, their face pulling into their own thoughtful frown. They stroked one of their tusks, then shook their head,
“No, done fighting bro, the Great War, our Last Stand, the Badnik incursions, the Iron Dominion, and then Prower’s little Civil War? Yeah, I’m done.” Lukus finished pouring and putting the bottle down on the counter. “I got a girl to think of, you know?”
Jerry nodded, “I understand, besides, I don’t think your fat ass could keep up,”
“Managed to deck you didn’t I?”
“Yeah yeah, thanks for bringing my stuff with you too, I didn’t want to go back to that Barracks.” Jerry downed the alcohol, putting down the shot glass for more.
Lukus finished their own and chuckled.
“Believe it or not, I didn’t have any intention of coming out here, Horus talked me into it,”
Jerry stiffened at the name.
“Horus?” the Fox mouthed in genuine shock. “I haven’t seen him since the Stand,”
Horus the Hedgehog had been one of the members of their ‘Scout Force’ during the Great War, and had served with the lot of them as Royal Guards. The last Jerry had seen of the brown Hedgehog had been on the stairs of the GateHouse during Robotnik’s Coup of the Kingdom of Acorn.
The Hedgehog had just shoved Jerry into a lift and sent them upward towards the top of the GateHouse when the assailing SWATBot’s dragged Horus down.
After the Kingdom had been Freed, and the Mobians who had been de-robotized started to tally the hellish cost of Robotnik’s Rein, Horus had been presumed one of the many who did not make it.
Again, Lukus chuckled, “I don’t think he was robotized, I think he got away, he looks older then I remembered him last.”
The Walrus poured them another drink for them both, “He told me you got hurt bad doing something insanely stupid, and I needed to get your stuff when I moved here ready for you when you got better to go Home.”
Jerry was growing annoyed with that and pushed the glass away from him.
“Home?” the Fox demanded, “You’ve said it, Wade said it, home where?”
“You don’t know then?” Lukus raised his brows, “Jay, your Mom’s house is still standing in the Dragon Lands.”
“What? How does he know it’s my Mother’s?” Jerry asked, bewildered. He had a strong urge for a cigarette and started to pat himself for that pack Lukus gave him.
“Chase is there.”
For the first time in Jerry’s life, his mind was too numb to smoke.
Jerry was not one for verbal confrontations. He would prefer to come to blows than to have his emotions toyed with. And now the World was playing with his emotions like a Violin.
Chasen Melini Voxholm, known to him as Chase, was his younger sister. She had disappeared shortly before the Siege of Mobotropolis had started during the Great War. Jerry did not find out Chase was gone until their Mother lay on her deathbed, begging for him to bring Chase back to her.
Jerry had assumed his Sister would fight with the defenders, she was a Voxholm, it would have been a matter of Family pride. When he looked for Chase, Jerry discovered she had left the City with the Jakuul Family long before the Overlanders were in mortar range.
The Jakuul and Voxholms had been rivals since the foundation of the Acorn Dynasty. Kalm Jakuul and Jerry hated each other just as their Fathers, Morten Jakuul and Tyson Voxholm hated each other.
Their Fathers were both Officers of the Royal Guard, serving the King before and during the start of the Great War. Tyson fell at the battle of High-Low Tower defending the King’s retreat, wielding Morten’s Prized Sword.
Morten brought Tyson’s Saber home to his bitter enemies’ Family, and in tears, declared that the rivalry was over. Shortly after, Morten bought time for Civilians who were fleeing from the Overlander onslaught with his life. They were both two of countless tales of heroism and sacrifice that would be forever forgotten thanks in part, to Ivo Robotnik.
When Jerry discovered his Sister and the Jakuul Family had left Mobotropolis, the young Fox disowned her and had renewed the old Family hatred, though that did not take much effort either.
Jerry’s mind was so locked up with how he dreaded this new prospect of confronting his Sister, he did not remember stepping off the transport in the field. He hoped it would be a brawl.
He needed it to be a brawl. A Fight.
MARS1 and Two, Jeebs and Mags, had deposited him within a hundred yards of a house squeezed between a brook and a forest. Jerry remembered thanking the red SWATbot for all they had done and exchanged words with Mags.
Now Jerry was alone on the field, twenty hours away from the Base he had called his home with two duffel bags of gear. Jerry poked at the duffels with his cane, unsure of what he had packed or what was brought over. The Fox had his Father’s Saber on his hip, but he was pretty sure he would not need it.
If he did, then Jerry would make it a short fight.
Trying to get his mind off the impending battle royal, he popped a cigarette in his mouth and lit it. Inhaling the chemicals, Jerry could feel his nerves calm, and his mind focus on his surroundings.
The Dragon Lands. Ruled by the Iron Dominion, an offshoot of the Eggman Empire that wallowed in the ruins of the Robotnik Empire that came before. This had to be deep in enemy territory, but the majority of the Iron Dominion Forces were an ocean away.
Control had said something about it being hidden. There was a village and a small stone shrine nearby. There was a fortress within a day’s march from it, but there was no sign of Iron Dominion or even the Eggman Empire’s Pollutants.
The air was clean, the high mountains and crystal clear skies gave the illusion that this was one of the last untouched places of Mobius that had not seen a climactic battle, or even that G.U.N. transport that had set Jerry down.
Hooking the cane on the heaviest duffel bag and hoisted it up over his shoulder, Jerry then half dragged and carried the other to the door of the house. There was no smoke from the stone chimney, but from the thatched roof to the stone fence told Jerry that someone had taken good care of this place.
The blood-red Fox stopped on the other side of the fence to regard the small yard, spotting a small pile of wood for winter, a chopping block, and an ax. There was a creak from the wooden door, and Jerry dropped the bags and put a hand on his sword.
“Who are you?” asked a tall, pale orange Vixen wearing loose-fitting sparring clothes. Jerry eyed her and gawked, the cigarette falling from his mouth.
“I have no time to entertain guests nor fools, I am expecting family, speak your peace and be gone,” the Vixen continued, their blue-green eyes were judging him as a predator would prey.
“Chase?” Jerry asked, looking down from her shoulders to her bare feet.
Chasen Melini Voxholm had been taller than Verlos Swiftwulf by a full head, and Jerry could make out the powerful muscles in her bare arms. Jerry barely recognized his baby sister, who had a long scar beneath her eye and was missing most of her left ear. Chase looked battle-hardened, tough, and not at all like the prissy twelve-year-old girl who loved to wear dresses and smell the flowers.
When Jerry spoke her name, the vixen eyed him from head to toe, slowly, her face reverting from a hostile one to recognition.
“It can’t be,” Chase murmured softly, a hand covering her mouth in mild horror. “Jerry? Oh by the Gods, what has happened to your fur?”
“My question first,” Jerry stated, overcoming his own surprise rapidly, “Why weren’t you at the walls with Mother?”
The question was just as shocking as Jerry’s appearance. The last time Chase had seen Jerry, he was a darker color of orange than her, his fur two-toned just like her’s and almost every other Mobian in existence.
Chase recognized his eyes and his voice. The question, however, was not something she had expected.
“Mother sent me away with the Jackuuls before the Overlanders arrived,” Chase started to explain. “I tried to go back, but then this Robotnik-”
“-Mother asked for you, Chasen, before she left us,” Jerry growled accusingly, using her full first name.
“She nearly died of grief when Father fell at High-Low, where were you then, Tiberius?” Chase shot back calmly using his as her expression became as cold as her brother’s. Both of their ears were pressed against their scalps as they regarded each other.
Jerry responded to her own accusing question with a blunt statement. "At Sea, making best speeds to head to the Fight,"
“I was fourteen Jerry, what did you expect me to do?” Chase finally demanded.
“Die Fighting like a Voxholm,” Jerry returned, obviously unimpressed with the age.
“I may have, but Mother gave me to the Jackuuls’ for safekeeping. They had to drag me away Jerry,” Chase flicked the injured ear as she defiantly folded her arms across her chest. “I did put up a fierce fight.”
“And there?” Jerry asked, dragging a finger over his own face to trace the path of the long scar across her visage.
Chase touched it, her expression becoming vacant, haunted.
Oh, Jerry struck a nerve there.
“What happened to your fur?” Chase demanded, avoiding the question completely.
Jerry looked at his hand. He held it up over his left eye as he did in MARS' Medical Bay, or Infirmary, or whatever it was called. Jerry once more frowned, before dropping the hand from his face to grab the duffel bag next to him.
“A bad bath,” the Fox finally answered. “May I come inside? My legs are killing me.”
“It is your Home brother,” Chase said, suddenly looking happy that they had gotten off the subject of the past. Chase approached him, taking up both of the heavy duffels without effort and carried them inside.
Jerry blinked at the ease she had handled the bags and frowned.
“I can’t be that out of shape, can I?” Jerry asked himself, limping in behind her.
As he entered, Jerry was assaulted with the familiar smell that nearly drove him to tears. He stood in the doorway, dousing the cig immediately and thrust it behind his back in order to preserve that scent that assailed him.
Jerry could hear the door to his Father’s study, open.
“So what do you have there?”
Golden eyes darted towards the voice to see his Mother, Edwina, as he remembered her. Tall, slender and wearing a simple gown. Her perfume waifed over him as she drew close to reach down and scratch behind one of her son’s ears.
Jerry murred, tilting his head against the sensation of Edwina’s affectionate touch.
“What’s that behind your back?” Edwina inquired playfully. The tall vixen slipped to her knees before him and still managed to gaze down at her little boy. Jerry slowly presented his Mother’s Violin for her, smiling bashfully.
“Ah, so there it is eh?” she grinned down at her child in amusement.
“Clever little boy, I had that locked up,” Edwina took it up and presented the slender bow needed to make the Violin sing. “Yet you need one of these, want Mommy to teach you how to play?”
Jerry’s head slowly nodded, the smile spreading wider across his young lips.
“So you smoke now?” Chase asked, her voice and the sound of the bags thumping heavily against the table drove the image for his Mother from him, leaving Jerry in a state of bewilderment.
“Mommy?” Jerry murmured, round, startled eyes darting across the room.
He searched from one wall to another as it slowly dawned on him he was not five years old, and this was not the Voxholm House situated in Old Mobotropolis.
Items that once belonged to his mother, Edwina Nae Voxholm and her parents were everywhere. But as for Edwina herself, she was not.
Edwina had been buried long ago beside her husband, Tyson Voxholm, in a graveyard not too far from the irradiated wastes of a ruined City that they paid with their lives to defend.
Jerry grew weak in the knees, weaker than he already had been. He stumbled to a chair, and was helped into it by Chase who turned around when she thought he heard him call her ‘Mommy.’
“What happened to you?” Chase asked worriedly, “Horus said you were in bad shape, not bad enough to walk.”
There was that allusive Hedgehog again. How much did they know and where they have been was starting to annoy Jerry.
He glanced up to Chase and shook his head slowly.
“I wrecked a Hover-Cycle,” he lied. It was a foul taste in his mouth. Why did it do that? Lying had been something he had done before with excellent results, in both Intelligence Gathering and sheer Entertainment. Yet, with Chase asking questions, she must not have known he was a part of the MARS Program. It was supposed to be a secret, was it not?
“A Hover-Cycle?” Chase questioned, huffing some as she moved pull a chair over herself. “You weren’t doing something foolish again where you? Like skydiving onto a mountainside and scaring the Gods out of woodland folk tearing through their properties have you?”
Jerry reflectively smiled. Typically Mobians before the Great War were more interested in arts and farming then War. It had been called the Golden Age, ironically brought on by Nate Morgan, an Overlander, long before Jerry had been Born. During that Age, Mobotropolis had been modernized, and it became easier and easier to do menial tasks. The Mobians began to find ways to entertain themselves with their increased free time.
Tyson had gotten his boys Hover-sleds when they were younger, and Jerry eventually became a terror on a custom-built Hover-Cycle he had won in a Fight.
“Yeah, something like that,” the Fox’s smile faded, and he leaned heavily on the chair. “Why didn’t you return and make me feel like an ass sooner?”
“Responsibilities to the local village,” Chase gestured towards the door, “Apparently I’m their best fighter, so I teach them to defend themselves,”
“Best Fighter huh?” Jerry grunted with a raised brow, “So you stay here?”
“No no,” she shook her head, looking around the house. “I have a place in the Village, it’s less than a mile into the forest, up the trail a ways.”
Chase point towards a window at the rear of the room, as if providing directions. “You are more than welcome to visit me there as long as I can visit you here,”
Jerry was still skeptical that she tried her all to return when her Family needed her the most. Still, the smell of his Mother’s Perfume, the peace around him, added to the fact that she seemed to be a veteran of her own battles, the Fox was unsure what to think.
Jerry had disowned her for years, passionately even, and now here she is, nothing like he had suspected her to be. Or, was this all in his head?
“Sure, why not?” Jerry offered, keeping his jumbled thoughts to himself and focused on the now, “I’d like to see some of your students if you don’t mind, see if I can reverse some of the damage.”
Chase laughed sharply, “Oh yeah, I seem to recall that I could beat you.”
“Slip up just one time,” Jerry started, rolling his eyes some. They laughed with each other. It was almost like they were home again, before everything.
Before the scars.
After a brief meal, Chase departed to let him get settled. She had deposited his gear in his room and let him wander the grounds.
Jerry was nearly brought to tears in every picture he came across. There were images of his Mother holding hands with his Father, Tyson Voxholm. There was even one with Jerry’s eldest brother, Markus, holding a baby Jerry, who was trying to hide from the camera in Markus’ coat.
Many more were old photos, black and white ones with very few colors. Some of the color photos were of just his Mother and her family, and he had no idea who many of these beings were.
Jerry took one solely of his Mother and Father, and took it to his room, placing it on the nightstand.
Would Mom be proud of him after what he had done?
Jerry tilted his head for a moment to regard them, before turning his eyes towards the gear on the bed. Jerry would do anything in his power to hear from them again. But he did not care for their opinion nor approval on the matter.
He did not do what he had done for them.