The Path to Closure
Passing into the next time zone, the trek shortened an hour to an already long day. The sun was halfway down on the western horizon, painting the clouds pink and orange along with the very light choppy sea. For Knuckles, the view was humbling as he rode the sea atop the grey conning tower. He leaned over the anti-aircraft gun, resting his feet as much as possible, but still keeping his balance. His arms were crossed and placed over the covered magazine wells, snuggling his chin in the folds of his arms.
Hard to believe that there’s a war going on. People dying and suffering, but yet, from here, the world looks at peace. But then Knuckles realized something, “he” himself, was bread for war. His abilities, his hands, his thoughts...all were conceived to do harm to someone or something. So, what was the irony in what he was seeing and feeling? He couldn’t explain it, nor did he care to at that moment. What he did figure out was why his brother, his lost brother in more ways than one, seemed to be happy out here. Knuckles hadn’t seen any bitter sadness or cold hatred from Aleutian since they left. With the demise of two of Eggman’s ships, he saw his sprites rise ten fold. Knuckles could positively see the changes in his brother.
Aleutian was acting way different than two days ago. The scars still cut through Knuckles’ emotions, but his face wasn’t looking as if he wanted to kill something at that instant. Aleutian was starting to walk with a stride now, almost a swagger. His tail was waving side to side, not trailing along the ground. Something was definitely changing in his cold, battered brother, and Knuckles knew it was for the supreme better. “Locke was right, he needs me, and I need him.” Knuckles shook his head and corrected himself, “More like what Mathias said, ‘He needs us, and we need him.’”
Knuckles caught a whiff from the simmering food down below. He smelled onions and steak; then the breeze kicked up, transporting the smell of seafood into his nose. Then that all went away when the fumes of the diesel fuel came up from the open hatch, overpowering his senses.
Knuckles took one lasting look at the horizon, his locks flowing past his muzzle from the assaulting wind . He watched as the sun slowly concealed itself within the cover of darkness. The stars, little by little, showing their twinkling selves as the sky went from pink, to blue; to black.
Closing the blue notebook, Aleutian rubbed his eyes with both hands; the feeling was ecstacy to his weary mind. He had just finished writing about all that had happened: the reunion with Mathias, the boat, the journey so far, and the sinking of two of Eggman’s ships. Scribing out his daily and sometimes weekly life was not old, nor new. A good friend, and mentor he pointed out to himself, had told him it was therapy. He could write down what he had seen, thought, and felt, and hopefully come back with a different perspective from what he had done. And for Aleutian, it worked more ways than one. The book he had now was his fifth and he was almost halfway through it.
Looking at his cup, the urge to fill it again came over him. Tea happened to be his drink of choice and his taste buds were craving for more of the dark orange beverage. What made him like the drink so much was that he could drink at any temperature, (except freezing of course,) the chemical make up of the leaves made the decision of flight or fight easier under extreme circumstances, and spiritually, for Aleutian; “Better to drink from leaves that are fed by the sun and water.”
He reached for his white cup and stood up from the chair, gradually making his way to the open curtained doorway. As he neared the edge of the metal frame, Rogue bumped into him as she tried to go in. “I’m sorry, didn’t see you comin’ there, hunk!” she said, batting her eyes at Aleutian, throwing out signals to him; it all went over his head...but something else didn’t.
“Come in and close the curtains, please,” he said.
Rogue caught it; it was the first time he asked for something nicely. She did as she was asked, stepping through and drawing the curtains closed with her white gloved hands.
Aleutian stepped back towards the table. Putting his glass down on it, he turned around to face Rogue, before sitting down on the left corner of the maple table, moving his tail around so he wouldn’t pinch it.
He placed his hands in his pockets of his jacket and looked down at the rough metal floor. “I’m sorry that I snapped at you and Julie-Su the way I did,” he apologized, raising his head up as he drew in his next breath. Rogue just kept smiling as he spoke, her ears enjoying his kind baritone voice. “It wasn’t really me talking, but more of the anesthetic that Dr. Quack put me under,” he explained, after finding out what happened to him when Mathias told him about his morning episode. It still was a fog on his mind. He continued after taking in a deep breath. “I’m sorry and it was wrong.”
Rogue took two steps closer towards Aleutian, herself gloomy over the words. “No, you were right. We could have gotten us all killed by not doing what we were supposed to be doing...”
Aleutian stopped her, standing up as he spoke with his arm out. “But I really could have killed us today. Yes, you two missed the ships; but, you two would’ve eventually spotted them and we would have been under the waves in no time. I, on the other hand, almost sank us, and about turned us into crispy critters. I kept the motors running at ahead flank, which produced hydrogen gasses that could have caught fire in an instant,” Aleutian explained. “Fire” and the idea of being under water if it had happened was all Rogue got; “And I didn’t check the propulsion valves to the torpedoes. That lapse on my part, produced two ‘hot run’ torpedoes, and those could have exploded and sank us in an instant. If anyone should be yelled at, it should be me.”
“But you’re weren’t yourself, like you said handsome...”
“...But I have been doing this kind of fighting for a long time and I have no excuse. This was your first time...for the both of you,” he added, remember that there was two females he let his anger loose upon.
Rogue gracefully walked right up to him, reaching her right hand out and touching his face; the side opposite of his terrible blemishes. “You need to stop beating yourself up,” she softly whispered. “What were you crying about, Aleutian?” she asked next.
Aleutian felt a cool surge go through him like the morning wind. He opened his mouth and lightly gasped in the diesel filled air. The touch of her silk gloves sent a shiver down his back that he hadn’t felt in a long time. That feeling soon turned to disloyalty. He still loved his soul-equal, even if she wasn’t there. Then Rogue’s question brought back his dream, and the rest of the early morning. He almost collapsed to the floor when he remembered seeing Emi-La’s face, then seeing himself crying and screaming on the floor from that morning.
Reaching up and grabbing Rogue’s gentle hand, he brought it down and clasped it with his other hand under her palm, and looked at her as if he was going to weep in her arms, but he stopped himself before he did. “I’m not ready,” the sentence coming out as a quiver in his voice. He swallowed hard, gaining his emotions back. “It’s been real hard for me to move on from the past...”
Rogue shushed him by placing her finger over his lips. “You found me once, I’m sure a guy like you can find me again,” she smartly nudged. She turned and slowly walked out of the cabin, throwing her hips out, hoping to entice the dumbfounded Echidna.
Geeze, the girl I about shot; correction, stunned, is coming on to me. Her face still flashed in his mind with the front and rear sights of his blaster centering on her chest, still felling the movement of his finger removing the last safety; by placing it on the trigger. “What is this world coming too. It’s already in shambles!”
“Chow time!” Sonic said, speeding towards the dinning table that was just outside the door. The curtains fluttered from the hedgehog’s dash as his stomach guided him to the bench.
Espio had moved the table back some to give leg room to those who might be sitting on the bench. Mathias removed some chairs in the supply compartment and had Tails bring them forward. The table was set when Aleutian refilled his cup with some cold sweet tea, noticing each spot on the table had a white plate, silver wear, and fine linen napkins as he poured his drink. The glasses ranged in all shapes and sizes, but they were filled halfway with the choice drink that was requested, sloshing from the slight roll of the Plunger. Mashed potatoes, corn, and assorted fruits--grapes for one–were at the centered of the long wooden table. Large chunks of steak, fish, and even a plate of eggs, littered around the edges. At the top edge of each setting plate was a bowl that was covered by a slab of melting mozzarella cheese. Steam billowed from the table.
Everyone grabbed their seats: Knuckles on the forward corner bench of the table followed by Julie-Su to his right. Sonic, Tails, Mighty and Vector snaked around the bench towards the back with Rogue sitting with her back against the rear wall facing forward towards the torpedo room. And to her delight, Aleutian was standing beside her, waiting to grab his seat. Espio and Rotor had the two front chairs beside Mathias, who was also standing. Doctor Quack was positioned by Mathias’s right, and was sitting down and about to dig in.
The Chameleon saw what was happening. He jabbed Rotor’s shoulder and stood up, clutching his drink in his right hand as he did. Soon, one by one, everyone did the same, their faces showing nervousness as they stood up.
Mathias extended his right arm out, holding his drink high, as if giving a salute:
“To fallen friends and fellow fighters. May we envy them, for they are at peace and have seen the end of war!” Mathias said in a commanding voice.
Aleutian bowed his head slightly, Emi-La’s face flashed in his mind from Mathias’s salute.
Then in unison, the fearless Mobians raised their glasses in salute and swallowed down their drinks.
“In the words of the late Chester Drake,” Aleutian began, his voice steadfast with out emotions as he nodded his glass at Mathias. The Dingo nodding his head in response before Aleutian continued; “Let’s dig in!”
As the meal progressed, so did the uplifting conversations. Most told jokes, while others sat back in listened. As Rogue watched Aleutian tackle the steak and eggs. She still couldn’t get over him from apologizing. “Eggs...” she asked, hoping to spark a little conversation of her own.
“..Steak and eggs,” Aleutian replied after swallowing a morsel down, “breakfast for champions,” he smiled at her.
She took a quick look around the table with a puzzled smile before asking her next thought. “But, we’re having dinner.”
Aleutian looked over at her and smirked. “I’m getting a head start,” he slyly said, nodding on the last syllable. A low wave of laughter flowed across the table with Rogue blushing at the comment, then continued with her fish and potatoes.
Mathias stood up and went back towards the radio room, coming back with the record player and a black vinyl disk on top of it. Opening the curtains to one of the rooms, he placed the turntable on the table, and brought it closer before turning the machine on. He gently placed the needle on the revolving black record and heard the black pops register through the speaker. As he sat back down, tucking his tropical shirt away from the seat, sounds of the first notes by a clarinet section began the slow and graceful piece of Pachelbel’s “Cannon.” Ears perked up when the sound filtered over the loud engines.
“What is this?” snorted Vector.
“I have you know Vector; it’s dinner music, done by a great classical artist many centuries ago,” Mathias shrewdly replied, “and if you don’t like it my reptilian friend...get your own boat and your own record player.”
Again, laughter echoed throughout the boat. Vector just shook his head as he went back to his fish and steak.
“So good doctor, what is this that I just burned my tongue with?” Mathias asked as he placed his spoon back in the bowl. He tasted the onions and the sourdough bread that floated among the cheese.
“That is french onion soup. Antoine showed how to make this one day for my family. We had the stuff to make it, and you wanted to eat like a king,” the doc remarked, shrugging his shoulders.
“Antoine?” Mathias paused with a puzzled look at his guest; it was his boat after all, “that wouldn’t be General D'Coolette’s son, would it?”
Tails practically jumped from the bench. “You knew Antoine’s father?”
“Yes!” the Dingo replied, catching the “knew” part in the reply “how is he by chance?”
“He passed on about a week ago,” Sonic solemnly said.
“Oh,” Mathias said sadly, “terrible news. Only met him on a couple of occasions, but liked every greeting.” He then looked squarely at Tails, just realizing who he resembled. “I take it young man, that ‘Tails’ is your nickname?”
“Yes sir! I’m Miles ‘Tails’ Prower.”
A smile lite up across the old Dingo’s face. “I knew your folks, son. Especially your Dad.”
“Hey Drake, change ‘knew’ to it’s present state!” exclaimed Sonic.
Mathias’s mouth dropped. “Your folks are still alive!?” directing his the question back at Tails.
“Yep, we brought them back from Argenthum not to long ago.”
Mathias looked to Aleutian with a puzzled look. “Argenth-what?”
Tails, began the long story about what had happened, Sonic adding little tid-bits here and there for dramatic purposes. When the two finished, Mathias was ecstatic. “I haven’t seen him in ages. I wonder if Amadeus still remembers me. I have a picture of me and him, Tails. It was taken the day I was knighted by King Maximilian. Oh, we’d trade war stories here and there. He would tell me the Great War’s progress on land, and every time he told me about defeat, I’d be motivated to sink more ships.”
Espio turned to the Dingo. “How many ships have you sunk since you began?”
“I don’t count ships. There is a number, but, I’ve always gone by ‘tonnage.’ It’s not about counting the ships you sink, but how much you deprive the enemy. That is what helps win the battles. What supplies were lost to the enemy by us, meant that to our friends on the shooting side on the land, they had better odds of living and possibly winning,” Mathias said, almost giving a speech. “So far, I think we’re up to half ah million tons?” he guessed, looking over at Aleutian.
“Somewhere around there, Captain.” the Echidna answered modestly.
“Speaking of which, today was no exception. You all have helped yourselves greatly by the sinking of those vessels. Sonic was right, it could have been anything on board, but whatever it was, it’s now Davy Jones’s problem. And Sonic,” smiled Mathias, “I do know your family.” Sonic gulped as Mathias continued. “Your father was my best mate for awhile until I left to the East. When I heard of his fate, plus your moms, I wept for days.”
“They’re still alive and kicking along with my uncle Chuck; in the flesh. Except my dad, but his mind is still in tacked and for me...that’s what counts,” Sonic gracefully stated.
“Here-here,” saluted Aleutian with his glass, “freewill is everything.”
Mathias continued on: “Your Uncle Charles was of great help to me and the Plunger. Without him, our first dive would’ve been it.”
“Why isn’t the Plunger powered by the Rings?” came Tails.
“I told Charles that they could be better used on the land than here. After all, they were still comparatively new when this rust bucket came along. But she’s a good rust bucket.”
Rotor spoke next; “So what are you gonna do when we get back?”
“Rest, dig out my old dress uniform, and pay a visit. I would definitely like to see the King again, and my old friends of course,” Mathias said with a twinkle.
“Yeah, you definitely don’t want to go looking like you just came back from surfin’,” Sonic pointed out, observing the flower patterned shirt.
“‘Tiny bubbles...’” Vector started to sing. The galley exploded with hoots and laughs.
Looking at Aleutian with Rogue by his side, Mathias smiled internally. Of the joys of the day, seeing the boy laugh and being happy again, himself again, almost made him shed a tear. But not in front of guests.
“So, Mathias,” came Julie-Su, “how did you come to fight for King Acorn, you being a Dingo and all?” she asked, putting the shoe on the other foot.
Mathias squinted his lips before going deeper in the past. “My parents found a way to leave the zone that the Dingos where sent to. They grew tired of the warmongering, so we left when I was still a pup. I grew older, learning all I could, and ended up marring my Faith. Then Chester came along and helped complicate things during my studies. But he became the least of my worries when war found me. I was afraid that my home and family could be gone in an instant, so I chose sides and I helped King Acorn find a weapon to help find victory. Since my kind likes to copy weapons from others, I did the same...”
The table suddenly began to move side to side. Hands went everywhere to hold on to the dishes and glasses as the Plunger swayed, the inertia pressing everyone to the left side of the boat. Rogue was enjoying it as Aleutian pressed up against her shoulder.
“What’s going on?” asked Julie-Su nervously.
Mathias calmly spoke as he smiled. “We are turning further to the north. We are well on our way.”
The rest of the night progressed without incident, except for Aleutian. Dr. Quack removed the original dressing, making the sitting Echidna wince as he pulled the tape off. He made him wince again as he applied the “magic spray;” the cold propellant tickling Aleutian. Aleutian was glad, for once, to hear Dr. Quack say that his wound wasn’t going to scar.
The lights were dimmed and the alarms were set to awake the dead in case of an emergency or radar contact. Mathias went around the cabins, checking to make sure everyone was sleeping peacefully before he turned in himself. To his surprise though, Aleutian was still up, his head deep in his blue notebook, lit up by the overhead lamp under Rogue’s bunk. Sliding through the curtains, Mathias approached the center table. He grabbed a chair from under it and gently placed it by Aleutian’s bedside. Before sitting down, he looked over the top bunk at Rogue; she was sound asleep.
He gently sat down, doing his best not to make the chair creek. Aleutian looked over from his journal and smirked at Mathias. “I’m a little too old to be tucked in, you know. Besides, we don’t have any books for bedtime stories,” he grinned.
“Now that’s the Aleutian I remember. Not some black dressed hit-man, roaming around Mobius with an axe to grind.” Mathias whispered with excitement.
“Yea, I am feeling better just being here, doing this again.”
“I know,” he softly said, patting Aleutian’s shoulder.
Aleutian finished his letter that he wrote to Emi-La, a letter he wrote to her as if she were still alive. Commitment ran deep through the bloodline of Edmund. Partly for what they were born to do, but for Aleutian, it was the love he shared with Emi-La; that was his. He made a choice after he had met her by not going back home and defending the Emerald and his kind. His commitment went to her, and it was something that Emee didn’t take for granted when she was alive. She cherished and respected Aleutian so much for that, and for the scarred boy; missing that trust and love was the hardest thing for him.
He started to realize after reading his journals that the past two years, and with them the things he had done in the first months of that dark span, made him wonder if Aurora was going to forgive him. He helped certain figures depart the world in very violent ways, and sometimes silently too. But reflecting on the reason why he did it seemed so selfish to him. Aleutian now realized that he was lost at the time and still was at that hour. Maybe now he was finding himself. “Realizing what you have done wrong is a good start,” he commended to himself.
“You know, that doc can cook, but she beats him hands down,” jabbed Mathias, referring to the times when Emi-La was onboard. But his smile soon faded after he realized of what he just brought forth. To his surprise though, Aleutian softly chuckled, but Mathias saw that soon fade with tears streaming down over his deep fissures and his quivering mouth. Aleutian reached up with his freehand and whipped his tears away.
“I miss her Mathias. Oh, for the love of Aurora I miss her so much,” he gently cried out, being mindful of Rogue’s dreams.
Mathias reached over and embraced the grieving Guardian. “We all do, Aleutian. We all do,” tears soon dropped down from his eyes as well, but he still kept his smile. “Everyone who met her and saw you two together, knew there was something special between you two. And they miss her as well. But you still have a life...you can move on...”
“...I can’t Mathias. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do,” Aleutian whimpered out.
“If Aurora had given her one last breath...one last precious breath, she would have told you to move on with your life. When my Faith passed on, I grew after her death. When Chester died, Faith and I moved on with you in his stead. You helped me and Faith through our toughest times. You helped us find closure over our son, because we had you to raise. It was selfish on our part to keep you from your real family, but we needed you.”
Grabbing Mathias’s hand that laid over his birthright, Aleutian drew in a long shaky, teary breath. “You’re like a father to me Mathias,” he softly let out, “I still question why you didn’t send me back to this day, even though I know why...”
“...Because you know a real father would have sent you back in a heartbeat. I’m more of a mentor if anything, but yet, I still felt like I was raising a son.” He then leaned over to Aleutian’s ear; “And in many ways, you are.
“Like I said dear boy, you have a full life ahead of you. I may only have ten more years before Aurora calls for me,” Mathias softly finished leaning back in his seat.
Aleutian whipped his tears away again before speaking. “Did I ever tell you how long I might live?”
“No...you spoke of your heritage and your duties, but never that.”
“My bloodline lives for centuries Mathias...centuries.” The last word coming out almost as a gasp.
“All the more reason to pick yourself up and move on. You can start with the girl above us. She fancies you...”
“...I know, it took me a while to get...”
“...No, my dear boy you don’t...she stayed with you while you were out. She felt through your dreads, held you tight when the sub dived down below the waves so the doc could operate on you...she stayed with you for over two hours.”
Aleutian just starred at the smiling Dingo. She stayed? he thought to himself.
Patting him on his head and sliding his fingers through Aleutian’s locks, feeling one end before the others as he traced over the stud lock, Mathias smiled before leaving him. “...Let her go, friend...let her go.”
Aleutian shook his head as Mathias left, the curtains flapping in the induced air flow of the open hatches as the dingo made his way out. His eyes glistened in the white light from his tears as Aleutian reached up to turn it off, darkening the room.
“...I can’t.” he whispered.
But Rogue heard it; she heard the whole thing, and she was desperately trying not to cry to where Aleutian might hear her. It had been a long time since she has heard a grown boy cry.
It was still daylight in New Robotropolis, and Snively wasn’t busy with much of anything. The bald Overlander, except for a few hairs on his head, and with a nose that could poke someone’s eye out, was having a little fun with a small puzzle game on his hand-held computer. But his attention to it abruptly vanished when a distress signal popped up on the monitor where he sitting. As he operated the keyboard to decode the ciphered message he took note of the current time, and the time that the message was sent, it was over four hours old. And the message itself didn’t make much sense either;
Taking on water, escort split in two by unknown reason. Spotted a...
Snively fumbled his hand under his chin, trying to make sense of the broken message. Noticing from where the message originated, he clicked on the manifest list. It showed that it was loaded with new metal components, plundered weapons, and a load of fresh supplies, plus some new biological agents. He checked the departing point of the two vessels: a captured port near the Kingdom of Mercia.
No...it can’t be. My plan had succeeded... He shrugged his thought away as he went back to the message.
With not much else to go on, except for the tail end of the message that the bots did spot something, Snively typed in an order for two scout-bots to head towards where the distress signal had originated from, and to investigate as to what had happened. After sending the message, he went back to more important matters...solving his puzzle game.