Mecha told me how I would have died. And now he's given me a new voice in my head. A pleasant, welcoming voice. One that I don't mind in the least. She looks exactly like how I remember Maria, and acts just like her, too. It's as if she's been resurrected and stuck in my head.
There remained one more thing to do.
I teleported here and there across Mobius, demonstrating for Maria. She squealed and clapped her hands. Mekion had never done that. I did not realize how damaged my mind was until he was gone. Maria took up a fraction of his space, and did not intrude on my thoughts. It felt like I had had a tumor removed from my brain. It would take me a long time to heal.
I teleported to Waterhall. The village looked intact, but one building had been leveled by fire-bombing. Guess which one.
I cursed as I ran toward it. "Watch your mouth, Shadow," Maria said.
"But Aleda!" I said. "If the chao gardens are gone, where's Aleda?"
"I am detecting no lifesigns," Maria said. "That includes bodies, Shadow. It was empty when they bombed it."
I rounded a corner and found a group of firefighters arranging a dozen aliens in bodybags, preparing to load them onto a truck. I dashed to a firefighter who was overseeing the rest. "Sir," I panted, "what happened to the chao?"
He glanced at me and grinned. "Oh, the breeders got wind that the aliens were coming. They smuggled the chao out. The aliens were still searching for them when GUN bombed the facility. Here they all are." He waved at the bodybags.
"Where did the chao go?" I asked.
The firefighter shrugged. "All over the place. People's homes. Ask around."
This I did. Maria helped by scanning the town for very small lifeforms. We uncovered many chao in hiding, but no Aleda. I wished that Mecha had showed me how to chaos-summon.
I sat glumly on the curb and thought, "We'll never find her, Maria. She was rare, and they'd have taken special precautions with her."
"Maybe so, maybe not," she replied. "Look over there."
Emerging from a shop across the street was a disheveled hare on crutches. Bouncing up and down on his shoulder was Aleda. His coat was full of holes from her claws, and there were bitemarks on his face and ears. I jumped up and ran to them.
Aleda's bouncing intensified when she saw me. "Shadow!" she squealed. "Hi hi hi! Where's Mecha? How is he? I'm hiding from aliens, it's so much fun! Anduvius is nice, isn't he?"
Anduvius looked as if he had not slept in days. I shook his hand, and his grip was limp. "Do you know Mecha?" he said hopelessly.
"Yes," I said, "why?"
He snatched Aleda off his shoulder and thrust her at me. "Take her back. Please. Get her away from me."
Over Aleda's cheers, I said, "What about her price?"
"The bottom has dropped out of the chao market," said Anduvius, hunching his shoulders. "Mecha's friend made a deposit for him. I assume he knows the fox Melthision? Yes. The deposit covers her full price now." He strode away up the street, straightening his ragged coat.
I looked down at Aleda. "Wait until you see Mecha's new chaos powers."
"Mecha has new powers?" she exclaimed. "What do they do?"
"Let him tell you," I said, and teleported.
End Notes: I'd like to thank Woodduckprime for his great ideas for some of the adaptation details. Another big thank you to Ryan, my wonderful husband, who pre-read, proof-read, and helped me refine some of my ideas. And a big thank you to everyone who read this fic!