The Aluetian Chronicals: Chance Encounters

Dead Portraits

Aleutian and Knuckles arrived at what appeared to be a one story house; after traveling up some mountains to get there. The house had a large cream colored stone wall with a walnut front door, and two windows on either side of it, and an additional one a little further down to the left. The house was long with its roof being flat and brown at the top. The grass looked to have not been cut for sometime as it started to grow tall on the outside of the walls. In the new morning sunlight, it looked cozy in a rundown sort of way to Knuckles.

Aleutian parked the car near the front door and got out, Knuckles doing so likewise. He looked around to get to know his surroundings; situational awareness, as his father called it. Aleutian’s front yard was a long opened grassy field that spread out in all directions. It ended to the west at a tree line about six hundred yards from the door of the house. The tree line stretched from north to south, snaking up and down the rolling hills that made the top of the mountain they were on. To the south, Knuckles could see it wasn’t actually a mountain, but an endless bluff that overlooked the sea. Gulls flew by in a “V” formation, catching the early morning thermals from the water. Knuckles knew exactly what they were feeling through their feathers. To the north, the bluff curved eastward, sharply. The dark green grass covering the ground like a freshly groomed stripe of fur that flowed with the gentle morning breeze.

Knuckles heard Aleutian unlocking the door and began to twist the brass knob, turning in time to see the dark wooden door opening, slowly revealing the inside of the house.

As Aleutian stepped through the wooden framed entrance, he mentally greeted the empty house. “Honey, I’m home.” He paused inside for a moment, anticipating a very warm greeting would come for him; but Aleutian painfully remembered that there wasn’t going to be one anymore.

With his renewed realization of being back in the empty house that had once belonged to two Echidnas, he painstakingly brought himself back to reality and pushed on inside. He should have felt happy that he was at “his” home, but without her, the homecoming was just as empty as the house.

When Knuckles slowly walked in, his shoes landed on soft blue carpet, giving him the experience of waltzing on the moon. He was awed at the decor that littered the place which glowed in orange from the assaulting sunlight. It shined through two doubled doors with a checkered board window arrangement. The doors, along with the window ledge to the right, that had a wilted flower in a white clay base sitting in the middle, were constructed from walnut. Knuckles gathered for the moment he did a once over of the house that Aleutian must have liked the wood since some of the door frames that Knuckles could see down a long corridor to his right, also had the brown stained wood around them.

Looking further down the hall, he noticed that it began where a bookcase had ended. That bookcase became two when he followed it with his widen eyes to the left, the shelves ending right next to one of the front windows. The bookshelves towered all the way up to the dry-walled ceiling, and they were loaded to the edges with volumes of literature. Not a single space was spared. At the bottom of one of the cases, half of a shelf was dedicated to white scrolls that had wooden handles at the ends. They were stacked neatly in protective wooden holes.

Knuckles’ eyes traced the excess wall in front of him. It had a small closet towards the beginning of the hallway, but the rest of the creamed colored wall traced down to the right where it morphed into a narrow white topped table. The table ended with two steps that descended down to a tile floor, and snaked to the right and curved to the east and ended at a window-less wall. Over Knuckles’s right shoulder, he saw two leather sitting chairs with one having an end table with a lamp on it, along with two couches in front of them. They were positioned in a square that wasn’t exactly flush with the walls of the house. In the center of the square was a long table that barely gave any leg room to spare. At the center of the south wall was another door that seemed to be a little shorter than the rest on the inside and it looked to have led outside.

Aleutian strolled over to the small closet and opened it. Clutching both hands at either side of his unbuttoned coat, and with one quick motion, flung it off. He let his arms fall as the coat was overtaken by gravity and settled to the floor. In the end of his melodramatic show of bravado, Aleutian held two black plasma blasters in each hand. After seeing him already do this movement once before, Knuckles knew his brother–which he still was having a hard time adjusting to the notion– had to be showing off.

But for Aleutian, it was keeping in training...his own training.

He placed both weapons on the top shelf of the closet after he ejected the two energy cells that littered the top of the coat. Picking up the discarded cells, he pilled them on top of each other and placed them by the two blaster pistols. He then reached down and picked up his coat, grabbed a hanger from the closet, and wrapped the long overcoat around it and hung it up. He then turned and marched down the hall to a room on the left. Aleutian still wore the body armor that was over the green shirt that had been ripped down the center from the day before. Secured around the vest was a shoulder rig that held the large, black pistol in its leathery clutches. Under his right arm, Knuckles noticed, was where Aleutian kept his spare mags, but down on his right thigh, over his pants, was another holster with another blaster in it, How many guns does he have to carry, and why does he even bother? Knuckles quietly mumbled to himself.

Aleutian disappeared for a moment but then reappeared from the room he had gone into with a small cherry stained wooden box in his hands and walked over and sat the box down on the table by the excess wall of the hallway and opened it. Inside the case was a blue velvet lining with a bunch of empty spaces.

Minding where his brother was, Aleutian reached around and drew the holstered pistol from his shoulder. The leather creaked as the weapon was set free from its bonds. With a flick of his thumb at the bottom of the trigger guard, he ejected the magazine that held a metallic looking object at the top of it. He placed it in a square cut out on the far left side of the box. With a tight firm grip on the back of the slide, Aleutian jerked it back, letting fly the cartridge that was chambered in the breach. It sailed in the air for a brief moment until Aleutian snatched it in mid-flight before gravity took over. He then placed it in a small hole at the bottom right of the box.

Pushing down a small lever on the left side of the pistol, the internal spring pushed the slide forward with a sharp, mechanical slap. Aleutian then reached up towards the fat rounded barrel, and started, in Knuckles’s disbelief, unscrewing it. After about six to seven revolutions, the fat extension came off, and it too, was placed in the box. Aleutian depressed a lever on the side of the pistol that made a sharp snapping noise as the hammer dropped into place, after which, he put the black squared frame pistol in the box and closed the cover.

“I’ve never seen cells that small before,” pointed out Knuckles. Most cells that he had seen, and mostly used against him, were just a big solid battery. Not cylindrical shaped with a rounded nose.

“That’s cause they aren’t. These are called bullets. Very primitive by today’s standards, but it gets the job done...”

“...And what job would that be?” Knuckles inquired flatly, his gaze sharpening as he waited for the response.

“...That boy has helped you more than you can possibly imagine in one sitting, Your Highness,” stated Mathias, “Aleutian has done things that has saved a lot of lives in the long run.” He and Sally were sitting in a study that had two cushy seats beside a wall of books. “If you think it was getting bad at one point in the fight against the first Robotnick, it could have been a real nightmare if it wasn’t for me, him and our friends,” concluded Mathias with a diminished smile.

Sally leaned forward in the red chair. “Like how, Sir Drake? And why didn’t we ever get wind of this?”

“The more who knew, the more chances we could’ve been dead and worthless to the resistence. There is an old saying, ‘three can keep a secret, if, two are dead.’ If we weren’t doing a cruise or something, we would lie low for a while, keeping our ears to the ground. When something big would come up, or word got around that Knothole could be in major jeopardy of something that you all couldn’t handle in time, the call would go out, and whoever showed up would go and do what was needed.

“Course we did have Robotnick knowing about us, since he helped with the project in its infancy,” he countered. “But, your father ended up sending us out to the east coast, and only he knew where we went to. He wanted us closer to the Overlanders and to target their shipping lanes. Our operations damaged their moral pretty good for a time, but after a while, they stopped sending ships altogether. But, the real blow came from Robotnick. He turned that beautiful city into a dark, robotic, nightmare. We laid low for a couple of years before we started going back on patrol, and the first thing we did was sail right into his door step at old Mobotropolis Harbor and destroyed anything that looked like he might need. He wasn’t very happy about that; plus knowing who could have done it didn’t sit well with him either.

“For awhile, we would do these ‘port raids’ until Julian started placing mines around his ports. Then one day, I got some interesting information that was dropped at my door; literally. Some Mobians and Overlanders were willing to help and supply him. So, I changed the mission, and we went hunting for cargo ships again that would bring in bulk supplies to Robotnick. It might have been a dent in his overall quest for power, but some of the ships we sank were carrying devastating weapons that would have brought the defeat of you. But, we couldn’t stop a good majority of them.” What Mathias didn’t say was was that he had a good idea who dropped that information to him. His two-toned eyes still sent shivers down the old Dingo’s spine.

“How did you know about us?” the Princess asked, very inquisitive in her body language.

“Your unencrypted messages for a while. Then you started securing them, but by then, we knew what had to be done.”

“And where does Aleutian fit in all this?” asked Sally with a curious look.

Mathias smiled before he began, interlacing his hands in front of him. “I plucked him from the sea one night on patrol during the Great War. The boy nearly drowned, and then nearly died from hypothermia after being in the fifty degree water for almost ten minutes. We saw him through our scope and surfaced right below him just as his head went under.”

Sally was listening intently when her gaze stopped at a picture of a very young, proud, Dingo; his blue tunic firmly pressed against his brown body. “Is that you Mathias?” she asked.

Mathias turned his head over his shoulder and realized what the young princess had spotted. He lowered his gaze at her. “No. That is my son Chester.”

“Is he around?” she asked, hoping to get another fighter on her team. Her heart sank, especially with the selfish thought she had, when Mathias spoke again:

“He’s at the bottom of the sea. He died on patrol; the same one when we picked up Aleutian.” Mathias smiled instead of moping from the loss of his only son. “Chester was the one who picked Aleutian up from the deck and brought him inside. He saved him from a bad case of pneumonia that he got from being in the cold waters. My son even asked me,” Mathias began with a chuckle, “if he could keep him, as if the young echidna was a pet. I told him someone was going to miss him, especially after I noticed the white mark that he was a Guardian.

“My son adored him, though. Chester treated him as if Aleutian was his own. He’d show him how to work parts of the boat, then tell stories that put the young lad right to sleep.

“Then one night,” Mathias said, his voice becoming stern as he paused for a breath, “one of our torpedo doors ended up jamming open. My son, the adventurous one, volunteered to fix it. So, we rigged him up in a harness so he wouldn’t get lost at sea. He went down and fixed the door; job well done. But, my second in command wanted to test it to make sure we could still could fire a ‘torp.’ We let loose the fish and one of the ropes from the rigging harness got snagged by the torpedo somehow, and yanked Chester off the deck of the boat. It was night, no moon, and we happened to be in the middle of a bad rainstorm. There was no way of getting him back,” Mathias concluded in defeat, gazing hard at Chester’s portrait. “And Aleutian saw the whole thing. That young boy screamed at the top of his lungs for Chester, and it was his screams that alerted me to what had happened. I thought I was going to take it hard, but it was Aleutian who did.”

Mathias wiped a small tear that trickled down his face. Partly from the memory of losing Chester, but also remembering the screams a young six year old seeing death for the first time. It was a very, very humbling experience for Mathias.

Sally gently placed her hand on Mathias’s knee, trying to comfort him as best as she could. She now realized that there was more than what met the eye in this fight. And now she wanted to know what the real cost in sacrifice was in this war and the last. But something else hit her. “How did you keep Aleutian from my Father?”

“Easy, I didn’t tell him,” replied the Dingo with a light smirk. “I imagined the trouble that his kind could have gotten into if the Overlanders found out we had a Guardian with us, even if he was just a kid. So I hid him, and ended up raising him. Some of my crew’s wives had a school set-up where we were, so, I sent him there for his education and kept him occupied as I did my duties. When Robotnick came around, he wanted to go and help us fight. Aleutian asked with a look of vengeance every time, so he went when I thought he was old enough.”

Sally quickly changed the subject. “Where is your crew now?”

“Either gone or retired after the fall of the first Robotnick, some of them are as old as me but they don’t have much life left in them. And some the others are dead.” The thought sent shivers down the old Dingo’s back, “Some were killed on patrol, like my son, and their sons replaced them on the Plunger. Others were roboticized, but the rest were killed on another battlefield,” Mathias breathed out, lowering his eyes at Sally. “For right now, I don’t want to scar you about that. For one: I wasn’t there, and two: the better person to tell you is Aleutian. But, problem is, he may not want to even discuss it at all...”

“...My mid to late teens, I got trained to be something far worse than what Commander St. John is,” explained Aleutian his arms crossed, leaning up against the small table.

“What do you mean by, ‘worse’? That Skunk goes on missions that are secret,” Knuckles replied as he pointed in the air through his mitts, “and border on illegal operations because of certain treaties.” Knuckles still remembered that little drop Geoffrey’s team made on the Island. It was a just cause, but they could have knocked instead of trying to parachute in unnoticed. Nothing escapes Haven. But in the end, that little operation during the Day of Fury did uncover Elias; the now acting King.

Aleutian leaned back further on the small table, that was the height of a bench. “I know of St. John, and I definitely know about his father Ian. Me and the Commander are trained, but it is the type of training and experience that is the differ.”

“How so?” Knuckles slowly asked with a deep stare.

“St. John captures a lot of traitors to their kind and such. I don’t know of anyone he has killed–”

“He did shoot at Sonic,” interrupted Knuckles with a smile.

Aleutian chuckled at the thought; knowing full well what that was all about. “Yea, but, Blackjack isn’t the first Mobian I’ve killed,” he finished, his stare turning cold as ice. “I got trained to be–”

“A hit-man!?” Knuckles jumped under a flat voice.

Aleutian stuck his hand out to calm his brother, “That has been fairly recently for that, and I will tell you why, but not now.” –partly because Aleutian didn’t want to expose part of his painful past at the moment– “Anyways, I was trained to go hunt, and if it came down to it, help assassinate those who were playing you all from behind in the dark. I did capture some, and I’d send them to Knothole, via a third party.”

“Why not just come out altogether?”

“Cause, I didn’t want you to find out about me. Look,” Aleutian began glancing back at the sunlight, “we will continue this later. I’ve got to grab some things and we need to get back in a hurry.”

“One more thing first–”


“Why do you use guns. Why not channel the power from the Chaos–”

Aleutian starkly interrupted Knuckles with a fury. “‘Cause I didn’t complete my training to be a Guardian for some reason!” he partially lied, and with that, Aleutian marched down towards the doubled doors and turned to his left to enter the kitchen. “You can explore the house at your leisure!” he shouted back, but feeling he put his foot in his mouth.

Knuckles just stood his ground for a brief moment, his arms crossed and his eyes burning at what was being unveiled to him. He remembered about Athair going back on his duties as Guardian, but that was for a reason. Then of course there was Jordan, but he became Guardian after his brother died doing his duties.

But still, Dad had sent for him to help me, Knuckles quoted to himself. But what about now? Is he going to be a Guardian as well, or just sit on the sidelines like Jordan had for awhile? Was that Dad’s plan altogether? If so, I can see why he left...I would have too.

Aleutian stabbed his hands on the marbled counter. He had said too much, or did he say too little. This is getting out of control. And you are the one who likes to be in a’days. It was a different story over two years ago, but the pages have already turned; and for the worst of him.

Aleutian stripped off his shoulder harness and leg harnesses as well, leaving the last blaster loaded in its sheath as he slid them down on the counter. At this point, he didn’t care about safety. He undid his vest and threw it on top of the scattered gear. And last but not least, he struggled out of the ripped shirt and threw it at the bagless trash can to the right of the counter. Dust flew up from the impact. Yep, the dust just keeps piling up, he scowled at himself, realizing harshly that he hasn’t been up keeping the house like he did once before.

He looked around the empty kitchen and his thoughts went to someplace else entirely. His mind triggered the lost smells that filtered out of the house long ago.

I miss her cooking. And I really miss her. The sudden frustration shot nerves to his right fist that sent it rushing hard to the surface of the counter top. The hard marble cracked when his gloveless red hand impacted it. And since Aleutian was trained to hit and stick to cause the fluid in one’s body to ripple and cause more damage and pain to his enemy, the marble top fought back. All the energy from the force he used, rippled back up through his body and triggered something that shot pain straight to his brain.

It felt like someone had stabbed him with a tiny knife in his back. It stung, then seemed to pierce further inside him. Aleutian’s left leg buckled from the sudden pain and nearly toppled him to the floor. Instead of shouting from the pain, he breathed in very deeply, making a low audible hiss through his teeth. His right hand caught him as his left hand went for his back. His eyes went wide when he felt two hard lumps protruding under the skin. No, I don’t need this now!” he pleaded to himself.

Aleutian’s mind raced. The first thing he did was look behind him to make sure Knuckles wasn’t looking. Satisfied that his brother had gone to explore the house, Aleutian went for a cabinet that had pain killers tucked away inside. He took one and swallowed it dryly. It went to work almost instantly. Wonders of ‘modern’ medicine.”

Wondering what Knuckles was doing after his senses came back, Aleutian touched the wall in front of him. One of the powers that came to him when he was five years old–and the only one he thought he had left–was that he could touch a wall and see everything inside the building. It almost came to him clear as day, but with a small blurry tunnel around the image. But no matter, he could trace the walls and get better angles if he needed too.

He watched as his brother stared at some portraits in the hallway.

Knuckles was looking right at his family, the whole kit-and-caboodle. Lara-Le was holding him in her arms to the left. In the center was a very young Aleutian with a expressionless face, and Locke, standing by him as the proud Guardian of the Echidnas.

“Where did you get this?” Knuckles asked, yelling to Aleutian so that he could hear him. “I’ve never seen this family photo?”

“That’s because that is the only one. I took it the day I left.” Aleutian replied back, his voice echoing inside the house.

Aleutian pulled a duffe bag out of another cabinet that he hastily stuck in while on a bad trip of anger. He started packing it with medicine and other stuff that he knew they were going to need for the voyage. After cleaning out the kitchen, he walked back up the two steps and into the hallway where Knuckles was studying the photos on the wall.

Knuckles was trying to decipher the history in the pictures. The second one he saw was a bunch of Mobians; all walks of species, in a group photo by the sea. He stopped when he spotted his brother, but what made his eyebrows perk up was seeing another echidna right beside him...a female one at that! She was red as most Echidnas were, but she had thin wavy hair that traced down the right side of her head, almost becoming one with her dreads. Knuckles, scooted down the wall and stopped cold at the next photo. Aleutian was centered and actually smiling without any scars on his face. Right on top of his head was that same female echidna, but with a toothless smile that would light up the darkest of places on Mobius. Her arms were crossed and laid across Aleutians head, her chin barely touching her arms.

Knuckles turned to see Aleutian walking towards him. He finally saw his brother for once without any garb on, except he was still wearing his black cargo pants. Aleutian was lean in a very scary way. Knuckles swore he could at least count four of his ribs towards his abdomen. His arms were somewhat fairly built, but not like a Guardian’s should be. And the scars. There wasn’t many, but the ones that were there, hurt Knuckles more than they probably did Aleutian. Besides the ones on his face, Knuckles wondered at the long one that went across Aleutian’s chest, which slashed at the bottom of his white mark of Guardian.

“What happened there?” he asked, pointing to the one on his chest. He knew that cutting up the crest probably got the offender a bad case of the hurts.

“I ran into some Swat Bots over a year ago. They were some of the old guard before Eggman did some house cleaning and some upgrades. They tried to get me to tell them where the Master Emerald was. Since I told them that I didn’t know, the tortured me. My stubbed lock,” he said, grabbing at it with his freehand, “they started there first.”

Knuckles winced at the idea of the pain Aleutian must have felt. Then his brother continued:

“Then, they asked me about Knothole and I opened my big mouth. I told them that I ‘knew’ where it was but they were going to have to kill me ‘cause I wasn’t going to give it up. So out came the truth serum! As they waited for the effects to kick in, I picked the lock on the cuffs they had me in. When they came back and started their questioning again, the first thing I told them was how I was going to kill them. They didn’t believe me until I showed them my handy work,” Aleutian paused as he smiled. “During the fight, the one that had cut off my dread extended his long dagger in his arm, and took a good swipe at me. My shirt got most of it, but not all,” he said, tracing the scar across his chest. “I’ve kinda been careless lately,” he admitted, mostly to himself.

Then Knuckles popped the big one. “Who’s the girl?” he asked with an authoritative look.

Aleutian stopped cold, gazing into his brother’s narrowed eyes as he searched for what he wanted to say. He lowered his eyes to floor, along with his body...

“No one...”

“...The good news is, I don’t think Eggman knows about the Plunger,” finished the Dingo.

Sir Mathias Drake stood up, and shuffled his way back to the table where the map that Sally had brought in, laid on. His eyes met the markings with a curious note; Aleutian had been a little off in his plotting. He began to correct it with his own markings on the white and blue map, adjusting to where Angel Island was going to be in the next five days. Correction, four and a half days, Drake observed as he looked at the clock. A full hour had already past and he was hoping the two brothers would be heading back by now.

Taking his compass and setting the calipers to five hundred meters on the key, he placed a point on the mark that laid south from the Island, that indicated where the bot was possibly patrolling at. Mathias started counting the hits that led to the second course change that Aleutian had plotted.

“Aleutian forgot to note the travel of the Floating Island. In about five days, his home travels further southeast and shortens the distance,” Mathias said with a teaching tone of voice.

“The Echidnas’ have renamed the Island to ‘Angel Island’ in remembrance of Angel-La,” Sally corrected. Mathias just nodded. “So, why didn’t you come back and help us rebuild, especial when my father returned?”

“Because I’m too old now,” Mathias broke in, frankly. “I’m just to the point of being hardly any good. All things considered, I shouldn’t be going on this voyage. But, this patrol is very vital and I need to keep an eye on things with the Plunger. I swear she is about as old as me the way she looks, and if she is like me, things wear down and break.”

The old Dingo started doing the math on the map and came back with a very relieving answer. He doubled check his work before relaying it to Sally. “Its going to be about a four day journey to get to the area that this thing is patrolling around.” Mathias then measured and calculated the distance between the Island and the enemy’s area of operation. “And that gives us about a half a day to sink it before the Echidnas set sail. Course, that is if this thing stays true to that hundred mile buffer zone; which it probably won’t.” Of course Mathias had the calculations in kilometers thanks to the plans he had that were in metric at the time the Plunger was built.

“And today is day one I take it?” pointed out Sally.

“Yes it is, which means, I need to see the progress with Sonic.”

Mathias marched out the door, Sally following behind his slim bushy tail, to see what the condition was on the off loading transport. He approached the blue hedgehog hoping to hear the news before he had to ask for it.

“All we have left is the chow, Drake!” came Sonic, reading the mind of the Dingo.

“Excellent, now I need some of your crew to help me hook up some hoses and lines to my boat. I don’t know her battery strength now, and we definitely need batteries to power the fridges.”

Sally perked up. “Rotor can help you.”

“Send him my way.”

Rotor was introduced to Mathias, who he liked right off the bat, and soon followed him down to the dock. Mathias produced a remote from his left shirt pocket and clicked it towards the hill on the mainland side that his house sat atop of. The grassy moss came alive with the sounds of hydraulics being pushed up. The ground elevated up, creating a cave entrance inside the slope with lights flickering on from the inside, exposing the dark and smelly underbelly of the supply room.

Rotor hesitantly followed Mathias inside, but not because out of fear, but because of the harsh fumes that bellowed from the inside. The two stopped at three coiled up rolls of hoses; one was marked fuel with a sign on top. Next to it, another sign read water, and the last one beside that said voltage. It was the first one Mathias grabbed, and handed the end of it off to Rotor.

“Take this down to the boat, walk over the gangway and, standby at the rear section.”

Rotor took the yellow, one and a half inch thick power cord, and started on his way. After dodging the obstacle course that Sonic and the rest had laid out for him, he strolled down the rickety gangway. It moaned when his heavy weight was applied to it.

He reached where he was ordered to and waited for Mathias, who soon came along with a crowbar and a wrench in each hand. Kneeling down, Mathias took the bar and placed in a small crack. Lifting hard, a hatch popped open, exposing seven little holes beneath the deck. Rotor looked at the end of the cord, and realizing it had a cover on it, he removed it, which exposed seven prongs and with common sense taking over from there, he hooked the cable to the boat. It arched with a blue flash of light as it resisted to connect.

Mathias then lifted a large hatch from the chipped wooden deck a few meters from the rear of the bridge. He descended down it and quickly came up with a smile. “We have power. Now, lets fuel her up and get packing. Tell the rest to start bringing down the food supplies and load it into the ‘fridges. They are located in the sleeping compartment forward of the bridge on the left side. They can’t miss them.”

Rotor nodded his head, and made his way, with extreme caution, off the boat.

The more pictures he gazed at, the more things somewhat became clearer, but also at the same time, came more questions. Aleutian was pictured in with three groups. He saw Mathias in two of them, and the last picture was with a totally different group of Mobians behind an airplane of some sort. The only thing that caught his eye in that one was Aleutian kneeling with the same girl beside him. Before studying the rest of the faces in the photograph, he moved over to another photo. It was a single shot of the same girl echidna, and she would have probably made Julie-Su jealous as all get-out. Knuckles could tell it was his brother behind the lens...Only a girl in love could produce a smile like that. She wasn’t really showing her teeth at all. Almost smirking and smiling at the same time, a look Julie has given him once before. Her hair was pulled back by a very long blue scarf that ran at the edge of her forehead with the excess fabric falling down on a green, low-cut t-shirt. Her blue eyes with her lashes tailored up to her brows, even in the photo, was burning a hole through Knuckles. She was now on Knuckles’s top need-to-know list as soon as his brother would open up...if.

Aleutian watched as his brother studied the pictures on the wall. He knew he would have to go through the history of them. A picture could say a thousand words, but those words were either speculations or questions at best.

Turning into the first room on the left of the hallway again, Aleutian walked by his cluttered desk to a bookshelf on the far right wall of the small, squared room. Only the sunlight light the room. From the shelf, he picked out a blue notebook and placed it in his duffel bag. From the desk, he snatched a set of pens and some other items before he exited the room. He brushed past Knuckles and went to an adjacent dark room down the hall. Aleutian came back out with a clean blue shirt in his hand and without his cargo pants on. He was about to put the shirt on when Knuckles looked at him coldly. “Covering your mark back up again?” he festered at his brother.

Aleutian’s pride, what little he had left, sank when Knuckles made the statement. He stood there, starring at the shirt, wondering what he “was” hiding. For sure, it wasn’t who he was suppose to be anymore. What he was doing now was protecting his people directly for once. But he wondered if it was the scars from his reckless past; a very recent past that he wanted to cover over. Or did he still want to hide his shame? Maybe it was both? Or maybe he was still trying to protect his brother from himself? But why? The spark his brother had ignited, just by being present beside him, triggered the very questions Aleutian really needed to think about. Good thing he was going to have two weeks to do it.

Dumping the shirt into the bag, he pointed towards the den that signaled his brother to head off in that direction. He stopped one last time at the closet and grabbed a dark brown aviator jacket out from it. As he was working his arms into the sleeves, he heard the rear kitchen doors open along with his brother’s voice. “What ‘ah view!”

Aleutian smiled as he adjusted the collar of the jacket, scooping his dreads out from under the collar, and smoothing out the wrinkles. He knew full well what his brother was witnessing.

Knuckles was humbled at the view. A balcony that stretched the length of the house and about five meters in width, looked over a beach that was about two hundred feet down, and could be accessed by a walkway that snaked down from the house. The cliffs that overlooked the sea to the north glowed in the mid-morning orange sun; along with the back of the house.

Aleutian walked up behind Knuckles, his heart stopping when he heard the moaning of the old steel chains that hung a swing that swayed gently in the breeze. It sat behind him to the right of the door. He came real close to balling, reminiscing the times that he and his equal would be sitting on that very swing, watching that very sunset. He then remembered when Mathias and the old crew of the Plunger were over for an evening dinner that stretched long into the night. And she cooked the best meal before that cruise. And the moments after they had left...those passionate thoughts became to much for Aleutian.

He patted his brother on the shoulder, calling to him in a soft voice. “We need to go. Time is of the essence.”

Knuckles nodded his head, sensing that whatever was troubling his brother, it was here. He turned to follow Aleutian out when he noticed the jacket. It had a painting of the an animal; its head was of a white hawk but the body of a large cat. Under it read “Freelanders” that curved in a large “U.” The bird/cat was flying upwards, it’s claws opened; ready to attack.

“What’s that on the back of your jacket, Aleutian?” Knuckles’s asked when they got outside of the front door, shutting it behind him.

“That’s a griffin, Knuckles. It’s a mythical creature from one of the books I’ve read. Part hawk, part big cat. I still have the books if you enjoy reading?”

“I love to read...that’s if I get the chance.”

Aleutian turned to his brother, looking over the top of the hover car. “That door that lead down towards some stairs?”

“Yea?” Knuckles’s realized. It was the door that looked smaller than the rest.

“I have a huge library underground,” Along with a bunch of other stuff, Aleutian added to himself.

“Far out! I definitely want to see what you have.”

“Hope you got a couple days for that. Anyways, lets hit the air stream.”

As they crept off to a gliding start, Knuckles was admiring the view again. But as they cleared the side of the house, something caught his eye; a square stone of some sort that sat idly alone on the bluff. It almost looked like it belonged there, but in some sad way, it didn’t. He brushed off the thought and feeling as he looked back over his shoulder at the fading house.

Definitely would like to go back.

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