Author's Note: No, I am not dead! I know, I know, I've claimed this before, but I just got very wrapped up making an entry for the Tails Art Contest Archie is (was) holding. I'm gunning for runner up because I like the prizes better. It bothers me that the TAILS Art contest has Sonic and Knuckles things for first prize rather than something displaying the fox we all know and love. In any event, I'm back on trying to get this done, so hopefully there will be some fresh updates soon. Enjoy and remember to read and review.

Disclaimer: No, I don't own this… yet.

Past 12 years ago.

Sonic sat at the breakfast table in Mrs. Axelby's apartment, eating the frosted covered Ricey-O's she'd bought specifically for him, and feeling just a little blue. It had been weeks since he'd come to stay with the woman and he was feeling just a touch homesick. Miles remained in the hospital under Dr. Labris's watchful eye. And this worried the hedgehog.

Officially very little information was being given out on the fox's condition, mainly to protect the stock of Prower Aerodynamic. Someone had come to the conclusion that the less Sonic knew, the less he could accidentally leak to the press when they inevitably tried to ambush him. That this "protection" was driving the hedgehog crazy didn't seem to register with anyone. To make matters worse, school would be starting soon, which meant Sonic's time would be occupied once more with Reading, and Writing and 'Rithmatic, and he would be unable to go see his father as regularly as he had been doing.

'Which makes no sense.' Sonic thought as he stirred his now soggy cereal, shuddering a bit as it sloshed around unappetizingly. 'Dad doesn't look bad. He hasn't had any trouble remembering anything else. Why won't they let him go!'

"Sonic dear, are you almost done?" Mrs. Axelby asked as she came into the dining room, putting on the big, dangling earrings she loved almost as much as her feather boa. Sonic scowled a bit at the woman, wishing she'd stop intruding on his desire to be alone and brood. Almost immediately he felt guilty. It certainly wasn't as though she HAD to take Sonic in. And though he normally wouldn't have minded staying with his Grandfather and his new housekeeper, Sonic wasn't overly enthusiastic about being so far away from Station Square while his Dad was all laid up. Quietly he swallowed his disdain.

"I'm almost done, Mrs. Axelby," he said as he forced another bite of the slushy cereal, penance for his previous thoughts. It didn't hurt that the elderly woman was not a fan of children who didn't clean their plates. Sonic felt as though he'd put on ten extra pounds since he'd come here. Closing his eyes, the hedgehog gobbled down the rest of the cereal, drinking the lactose free milk it had been swimming in. "All done!" he said as he hopped off the chair and took his dishes over to the sink. A bit of water and scrubbing and they were ready for the dishwasher.

"Excellent. Now go get ready and we'll leave."

"Leave?" This was odd. It was way earlier than the usual time they left to visit the hospital. Sonic had been planning to bum around for a while in the guest bedroom he was currently occupying, wallow a bit in his misery.

"Well yes, Sonic dear. I thought we'd spend the day shopping for your return to school." At this last part Mrs. Axelby looked positively giddy. For Sonic, all it did was cause alarm bells to sound in his head. The last thing he wanted was a repeat of his shopping trip with Sam.

"Uh, that's all right Mrs. A, I'm sure Dad wouldn't want you to go to any trouble on my part. We'll just wait until he's back home and do it then," the hedgehog replied, holding his hands up as if to ward off the older woman.

"Oh tosh, it's no bother at all," she said as she ushered him towards his prized shoes and gloves. Left with no choice, Sonic dressed and washed his face. Absently his temporary guardian reached for a comb, but then stopped herself. Sonic's head quills had proved resilient to even the most persistent of grooming and Mrs. Axelby had already lost three fairly sturdy combs trying. Soon human and Mobian were getting into the old woman's car and driving off.

Dr. Labris massaged his head slowly, wishing with all his heart that he could just wash his hands of his current case and go get a drink. But of course that was an impossibility. Even putting aside just how bad a doctor that would make him, Miles was still his best friend and abandoning the fox now when he was needed would be unthinkable. And so, grudgingly, the wolf doctor took hold of the file folder he'd been brought by one of the nursing staff, the results from the latest round of tests that had been done on Miles Prower.

"Nothing," Labris spit as he looked through the pages. "Absolutely nothing. I might as well be dancing around with a stick and feathers for all I'm seeing here." The lupine glared at the report, as if willing the body it depicted to surrender its secrets. It wasn't as though he didn't have reason to worry. Though they'd done a good job of hiding the details from the public, the truth of the matter was that Miles had suffered eight more memory lapses since his first. That worried Labris, even if each incident had been relatively easy to reverse. Again he opened the file, flipping directly to a CAT-scan they'd taken.

'There's no reason he should be suffering memory loss, even considering his dad. So why IS HE?' Quietly the large Mobian opened his desk drawer, pulling forth a bottle of cognac and a small shot glass. Though he didn't often indulge, Dr. Labris did find that a small nip did help him focus on his harder cases. Pouring a glass, the wolf tossed it back into his maw and then put the glass and bottle back in their previous home. No sense in letting temptation go where it was not wanted.

A groan escaped his lips as he ran his paws through his head fur and looked down at the scans. Time was running out. Miles could not stay here indefinitely, he had a company to run and sooner or later speculation by outsiders would cause him more harm than staying here did him good.

'This is the worst kind of problem,' Labris thought. 'One that doesn't show any signs it's there until it's too late to stop it.' Again fingers massaged scalp.

"Dr. Labris," a voice called, causing the wolf to look up. A skinny looking chinchilla in a white lab coat and glasses that seemed to only enhance the mousey quality of his face was standing in the doorway, shuffling nervously on his feet.

"Yes?" Labris asked as he tried to place where he'd seen this Mobian before. Memory told him that this was Dr. Dorian, a young pup just out of residency, and someone for whom the wolf had little time. Still, it wasn't as though he could just send the guy away and ignore him. "Was there something you wanted?" the wolf asked when the chinchilla seemed unable to continue.

"It's… It's about the Prower case," Dorian managed to stammer out. Automatically Labris's ears perked up. "I've been doing an independent investigation into Mr. Prower's situation you see and…" Wolfish eyes narrowed as they stared at the chinchilla.

"And just who told you to do that?" Labris asked suspiciously.

"I did it of my own accord," the surprised chinchilla responded, somewhat surprised at the question. It was then that he noticed the annoyed look he was receiving from the elder doctor. The last thing Labris needed was some young turk trying to make a name for himself. And if Dorian had not been careful enough with his inquiries, who knew how much unwanted attention he'd attracted to the case. Still, what was done was done and if the pup figured he'd found something while Labris's own well was dry, nothing productive would come from not hearing him out. At the very least he had eliminated a potential possibility.

"Fine, what have you discovered?"

"Well, since none of the tests so far have given any definitive information on what's going on, I decided to take another look at the cause."

"The residue's been inspected every which way but Sunday," Labris pointed out. "It is chemical junk."

"Well, yes and no," the chinchilla answered back. "It's junk, but it isn't junk that has any reason to be present."

"Say again?"

"Well, the stuff we found, it doesn't correspond to any mixtures we know of. Outside of someone actually putting them together, the chemicals have no business being together."

"Interesting, but what does that have to do with Miles's memory losses?"

"Uh… Nothing. At least by itself. But then I remembered that the supposed gas Mr. Prower's son saw and the ampoule on which we found the residue were originally inside a puzzle box that Mr. Prower had originally been trying to solve for some time. And the origins of the puzzle box were…" At this the young doctor held out his hand, as if prompting Labris to speak. And speak he did.

"I deplore guessing games, Dr. Dorian, and am in no mood for exuberance." Dorian took the hint.

"It came from Little Planet." This bit of information came as no surprise to Dr. Labris. After all, he'd known the puzzle box's origins even before this whole fiasco had started. But his colleague seemed to think this bit of information was important for some reason.

"Miles's mother did a lot of archaeological work on Little Planet, which is where she got the box before giving it to her son." Dorian's face immediately brightened at the mention of the late Mrs. Prower.

"Oh yes, Dr. Evelyn Gray, well I guess Evelyn Prower. I must admit Archaeology is a bit of a hobby of mind and I would have loved to meet the Doctor and pick her brain about…"

"Ah-hem!" Labris pointedly coughed, snapping the fuzzy newbie out of his geek-out.

"Right! So anyway, upon finding that out where the box came from, I decided to make some discreet inquiries into any other relics from Little Planet being attached to strange cases of memory loss. And I found this." A new file seemed to magically materialize on the wolf's desk, its only saving grace being that it was a thin file and would take little time to look at. Inside Labris found what basically amounted to fifteen case studies, each only a page or two long, but very concise. "The first one is Alexander Veltchman. He was a part of the team led by Duke Bellin, and the first man to set foot inside one of the sealed buildings at the site a little more than two hundred years ago during the first modern expedition to Little Planet. It was very hard to find that one. And further on we have a Mr. Yu, who was a night watchman at the ?Xian?Museum of Antiquities before it was discovered he was pilfering exhibits. And then we have…"

"Can we hurry this along?"

"All these people came in contact with a green mist and then began to suffer sporadic memory loss. I think the same green mist was in the puzzle box Mr. Prower solved and accidentally opened." Labris grunted, flipping through the files once more, suddenly regarding them in a better light.

"Okay, so whatever happened to Miles also happened to these guys. There's a connection. All we have to do is find out what they had and…"

"I already have a theory on that," Dr. Dorian said. This time it was a thick, hardbound book that slammed onto Labris's desk, leaving the wolf to wonder just where the rodent physician was keeping all this stuff that he couldn't see it. "I did some research, both on these patients and on Little Planet, and what I found seems to fit the pattern, both where Miles…"

"Mr. Prower."

"…Uh right, Mr. Prower's condition is, and how it progressed in the fifteen previous cases. I believe he's caught something called 'Merlin's Disease.'" Labris looked at the chinchilla.

"Merlin's Disease? Sounds like something from a science fiction novel."

"Please, sir, hear me out." Dorian opened the book, flipping right to a page that had been marked by a neon orange tab. Quietly he cleared his throat before beginning to read. "'While one of the great many mysterious surrounding the Little Planet is how it came to gain it's out of time status, no less a mystery is the ultimate fate of its native citizenry. It has been theorized, and studies made of the ruins seem to indicate, that the planet fell subject to a civil war, the root cause of which may been the use of the legendary "Time Stones" said to reside on the planet. Several of the artifacts recovered from Little Planet seem to indicate an acute mastery of temporal mechanics. Theories abound as to the kinds of weapons a culture possessed of such knowledge could create to fight its wars with, but in all likelihood, these were what led to the demise of the civilization on Little Planet.'" The chinchilla looked at the wolf quietly for a moment or two before continuing. "Sir, I've been looking over the neurological data that you collected on Mr. Prower over the past few weeks. Comparing the older and new ones."


"And, from what I can see, the reason his memories are getting so fuzzy, so hard to recall, is that his neurological pathways, the neurons that store his memories, and everything that supports them, are disappearing. Or, if I may, they're being unmade. I'd imagine a comparison of his tissue samples over this course of time would reveal younger cells with longer, more unbroken telomeres."

"You realize this sounds like the ravings of a madman," Labris pointed out, though his tone held no such accusation. If this was indeed the disease that was afflicting his friend and patient, then they couldn't afford to waste too much time making their case for treatment.

"I know that, sir, that's why I wanted to run it by you before committing to more tests. You know, to keep from walking down the wrong path." Labris picked up the files Dorian had given him and got up from his desk.

"Then I think we best go inform the patient of our suspicions," the wolf said, ignoring the pleased expression that came over the chinchilla's face at the word "our." Now all they had to do was convince Miles.

"What in the world are you wearing?" Miles laughed, almost falling out of his bed as he stared at his frustrated son.

"My new school clothes," the hedgehog said through gritted teeth, trying his hardest not to strip right there in front of everyone. If Sonic had thought the sailor suit Sam had previously put him in had been embarrassing, the outfit Mrs. Axelby had gotten him into made him simply want to drop dead.

That the little monstrosity required a small bow-tie as an accessory did not help matters in the least.

"Oh come now, I think Sonic looks quite dapper," Mrs. Axelby chimed in, reaching down to pat Sonic on the head before removing a speck of dust that had apparently decided to sit on his shoulder.

"Indeed, it might be prudent of you to get used to such an ensemble, Olgilivie," Mr. Cervid pointed out. "After all, if one day you should happen to take your father's place as the head of Prower Aerodynamic, you will be expected to know how to dress... smartly."

'Oh sure, now Mr. Cervid decides to make jokes,' Sonic thought darkly, wishing the deer's antlers to spontaneously fall off.

Quickly Sonic walked over to Miles's bedside, the clicking of his new dress shoes reminding him he was unable to run for the moment, before plopping himself down on the nearby chair.

"Okay, so besides my new duds, what's new?" he asked. The fox's ears drooped a bit.

"Robert still doesn't have any idea what's wrong with me, though he's still insisting I remain under observation." It was at that point that the door to the hospital room opened, and Dr. Labris stepped in, followed closely by chinchilla none of the assembled had seen before. "Speak of the devil."

"Miles," the wolf said, then took note of the company he had, "everybody. This is Dr. Dorian." Suddenly he turned to Sonic specifically, a paw reaching into his labcoat's pocket. "Hey kiddo, how about you go over to the candy machine and get yourself something, my treat." So saying he offered the hedgehog cub a clean, crisp dollar. Immediately Sonic's guard went up. This was almost a textbook way to get rid of a kid deemed "too young" to hear any bad news and he was well aware that Dr. Labris didn't exactly want to keep him in the loop. Quietly emerald eyes glanced back at their father. Miles's head nodded slightly, silent request not to make a scene.

Quickly Sonic took hold of the dollar and exited the room, shutting the door behind him, all the better to prevent the adults from noticing him listening in anyway. While no doubt Miles would fill him in on anything important, first hand information was always preferable.

"All right Robert, what have you found?" the voice of Miles Prower asked.

"Nothing solid yet, though I'd like to perform a few more tests," the wolf admitted, causing a groan to arise from his audience.

"Really Dr. Labris," Mr. Cervid began in his gruff voice. "I can understand erring on the side of caution, but Mr. Prower does have a life to get back to and a business to run."

"I understand, I understand, but something new has come up," Labris intoned. That was when a new voice entered the conversation, a soft one Sonic had never heard before and could only conclude belonged to the chinchilla.

"I've been doing some research, comparing your test results to some other case studies and, well…" The voice trailed off, and for a second Sonic thought the conversation had become too quiet to hear through the door. His fears were allayed by the sound of his father's voice asking the obvious question.

"And what you found was…?"

"We think you may have contracted something called Merlin's Disease," Labris continued for his quiet companion. Again there was silence, no doubt the others considering this news.

"I've never heard of this 'Merlin's Disease,'" Cervid said, ever the skeptic.

"Me neither," Miles concluded.

"I'm not surprised," the new voice of Dorian explained. "It's a rare disease, mainly because it's connected to the Little Planet. Like I told Dr. Labris, there have only been a few cases confirmed over the past few centuries. But they all have the same start, a sudden, unexplained loss of memory, temporary at first but gradually…"

"It becomes harder and harder to undo," Labris finished. "But it's more than a simple loss of memory. The victim's body begins to… rewind through time, getting younger and younger as the disease progresses.

"This… This is preposterous," Cervid said. "This sounds of more sorcery than science."

"There's a saying that the most sophisticated of sciences is almost indistinguishable from magic to someone who doesn't know the secret." This came from Miles, and Sonic could almost imagine him holding his chin in his hand as he contemplated the news he'd been given. "And Heaven knows our grasp of the things on Little Planet is moderate at best. It's quite possible an artificial virus could have been created there that would defy anything we know." There was a pause. "Which really doesn't bode well for the possibility of a cure, does it?"

"We… We don't know for sure that this is even what you have Miles. Like I said, we're going to run a few more tests to make sure…"

"But if I have it, what are the chances for a cure?" A huff of breath was heard, and then Dr. Dorian spoke.

"Not good I'm afraid. Of the fifteen cases I studied, none survived, though to be fair none actually succumbed to the disease itself. Like a virus that attacks the immune system, it would seem Merlin's Disease sets the stage for opportunistic infection and such once the immune system has lost its guard."

"I see. And how long would I have?"

"Well, that's the good news. It appears to be a slow acting virus, so we have time. I'm sure with the proper study, we can find some way to counteract the effects and hopefully, ultimately find a cure." More silence.

"I'm sorry we don't have better news for you Miles, or even more complete news than we have.' It was at this point that Sonic moved away from the door, moving as fast as he dared to over to the vending machine. Quickly he pushed the dollar into the machine, roughly punching the buttons and waiting impatiently for the chocolate bar he'd selected to fall. Though not a doctor, Sonic was perfectly aware of what the words "disease" and "no cure" usually meant together.

As the candy bar fell, emerald eyes squeezed shut to hold back the tears.


Back in the city, the place looked like a wreck. Fires were everywhere as buildings crumbled under the Battle Birds' assault. Here and there city defenses attempted to strike back, often scoring hits by surprising the enemy by their presence, only to be destroyed a few minutes later when the avians regrouped to attack again. The ground forces were doing moderately better, the War Tengu had never been known for their strength on the ground, but it was clearly not enough with the constant harassment of both the planes and the bombs coming from the gigantic ship that even now dominated the sky over Eggtopia.

Of course the irony of all this was not entirely lost on Dr. Robotnik. As the rotund scientist sat in his command chair, his eyes "treated" to the sight of yet another launched Buzz-Bomber squadron being shot down almost as soon as they left their hanger, he couldn't help but consider just how much less fun invasion was from this side of the campaign.

"Dr. Robotnik," one of the technicians in the room with him yelped. "It looks as though the birds are releasing yet another group of ground forces in Sector V. Uno says he can't repel them for much longer if he doesn't get help." A single finger pressed a button on the command chair's armrest. One of the room's video screens changed to show a skinny gentleman in a labcoat hurriedly welding something.

"Beatles, are you finished arming the new troops?" Robotnik asked.

"Jes finished 'em Doc," the man said, his short blonde hair frizzing a bit from static as he punched a button to send the robot he'd been working on off to join its mates. "I was jes about ra send 'em on their way."

"Then do so man. We don't have time to waste," Robotnik yelled, dismissing the link before returning attention to the technician. "Tell Nigel his re-enforcements should be on the way, but it is absolutely vital he retain control of Sector V. Without the generators in that sector, the city's entire power grid could be compromised."

"Sounds like you're really takin' a beating," announced a voice that caused the egg shaped human to look behind him. Sure enough, Sonic the Hedgehog stood in the doorway, his hands on his hips as he waited for a response.

"Here to gloat at my misery, rodent?" Eggman responded, a touch of bitterness in his voice. "I didn't think it in your nature to kick a man while he was down."

"Actually Doc, I came ta see if I could help," Sonic pointed out. "I do have a bit of experience in thwarting geeks with delusions of world conquest." Robotnik's fingers came together right in front of his nose as he contemplated this offer.

"The Battle Birds have captured Tails, haven't they?" he surmised. "That's the only reason you're offering to help me now."

"Not the only reason," the hedgehog pointed out. "I'd like to think I'd also help just to protect those people here who don't deserve to have their faces stomped, no matter how much of a creep their chosen leader used to be." Robotnik snickered at that. If Sonic was hurling insults, it was a good sign. It mean the hedgehog was feeling confident, and from personal experience Robotnik knew a confident Sonic was absolutely devastating to anyone he considered an enemy. "All you need to do is get me up to that flying fortress, and I'll put a stop to this whole invasion for you." Of course there was something to be said to the detriments of overconfidence.

"And just how do you expect me to do that, Sonic? Anything I send up will just get shot down by those insufferable planes of theirs. Or the guns of the very fortress you seek to invade. Best to wait now until we can find some way to counteract their air superiority."

"By then they'll have pounded us so far into the ground we'll be in Downunda," Sonic bit back. "Don't you have anything? What about that Stealth Metal Sonic you were so keen to show off to me a few hours ago? Don't you have a few more of him?"

"THE Stealth Mecha is already occupied putting out various fires throughout the city. I don't mass produce such robots easily, Sonic, especially if I'm not actually planning to use them in battle."

"What about the Incursion Shells, sir?" one of the techs asked, causing his overlord to visibly blink. The Robotnik began to rub his chin thoughtfully.

"The Incursion Shells? I'd forgotten all about them."

"Incursion Shells?" Sonic asked, lost in this conversation.

"Artillery shells possessed of conical, drilling heads to allow them to penetrate thick plates of armor. They're hollow inside to all them to carry various… payloads, most specifically active attack bots. When the shell gets inside, say, a bunker's armor, the robots are released to attack the inhabitants." Though tempted to ask when the doctor had intended to use such ordinance, Sonic pushed his suspicions aside. They needed to work together to reach their goals and throwing around accusations right now would get them nothing. "Do we have anything left capable of using those shells to hit the Battle Birds' ship?" The technician typed in a few keystrokes to his computer, looking for anything that could help.

"There are five long range cannon batteries on the south end of the city that have not been destroyed, mainly because they haven't fired a shot."

"Sounds like my ticket. Load me up," Sonic said

"Wait a minute, nobody said anything about you." Eggman countered. "Even assuming you could survive being shot out of such a high powered cannon, the chances of your flesh and blood body surviving the impact with the Battle-Birds' ship in anything resembling fighting shape are microscopic. I'll send in some of my robots to cause a stir and distract those feathered hooligans, get their planes and air forces distracted long enough to fly you up there." For a brief moment Sonic thought about this. Then he shook his head.

"Nuh-uh. I'm goin' up. And if I have to run up the side of one of those cannons and hitch a ride, you know I can do it." Eggman looked at the blue hedgehog for a moment, the tenseness of his body indicating quite well he was ready to carry out his promise.

"Very well," the doctor finally relented, standing up from his chair. "I know better than to argue with you when you get like this." The reformed villain turned towards his technician. "Scrape together whatever forces you can to accompany me to those batteries and find a way to transport the shells with us. We'll need to find some way to make the trip survivable."

"Are you sure this is wise sir?" the technician asked.

"No, just the opposite. But I'll not allow Eggtopia to fall to those chirping idiots without exhausting every single option available. Now do it." The man nodded to his overlord and began typing in all sorts of commands to the computer.

"Incoming!" Sonic yelled only a half hour later as a trio of Battle Bird planes dove at their small convoy, opening fire upon them. With reflexes better than contemporary soldiers, the E-series robots that were traveling with them opened fire as well, trying to destroy the aerial machines, or at least drive them off. Sonic raced to the top of one of the two trucks they had and made a leaping spin attack as well, ignoring any friendly fire that came his way as he managed to cut into one of the planes, opening its fuselage and causing it to leak. A second buzzsaw wizzed past the hedgehog, aided by what appeared to be rockets, as Stealth Mecha Sonic mimicked his namesake, completely destroying one of the other two planes. "Showoff," Sonic muttered as both landed. Though he had to admit Robotnik's newest copy of him was pretty good.

"Hurry up Sonic, or we'll never get there," Robotnik called from his seat in the truck, protected thanks to the vehicle's armor plating. The formerly evil scientist was busy running calculations through his head for firing the canons they were heading towards. Snidely his hedgehog ally hoped he was sitting on an unpadded spring. Still there was nothing to be done for it as Sonic pressed forward, latching onto the back of the lead truck to conserve his energy as the guard of robots trudged onward.

It felt strangely odd, this situation. How many of these same model robots had Sonic torn through over the course of his life? And now here he was, using them as back-up against someone else? Idly Sonic's eyes drifted skyward, to the battle fortress where he knew he had to go was.

A question had been forming in the back of his mind ever since this invasion had started. Just who was commanding the enemy forces? There was no way Tails's kidnapping had just been a random addition to their plans. The Battle Birds had held off revealing themselves until they could snatch the fox without any interference. And more likely the robots that had drawn Sonic and Tails to this island had been planted by the Tengu themselves which made the likelihood of this being a trap even more positive. Someone had wanted them here; someone had planned to attract Sonic's attention.

'But who? The only Battle Bird Tails and I ever had a connection to was Kukku, and he's dead,' Sonic thought. For a brief moment the cobalt quickster considered that this might not be, but shook it from his head. 'Tails slammed the Tornado into that psycho's plane, he got Kentucky fried. G.U.N. couldn't even find enough uncharred feathers to make a duster, let alone a bird. So who's commanding them this time?'

"Penny for your thoughts," a metallic voice droned, surprising Sonic out of his trance. Beside him, Stealth Mecha also clutched the back of the truck, his thrusters silent as he rode.

"You gotta stop doing that. Not for nothing, but given my history with you 'Sonic' series robots, it's not smart to keep sneaking up on me." Red optics flashed for a bit, a clear sign that the robot was processing what it had heard.

"You refer to your continuous conflicts with the mark four and lower versions? They were built to destroy you and programmed to hate you. I am merely modeled in your image. To me, you are simply a curiosity I wish to understand. From your file, I would have bet… 'dollars to donuts' that you would ignore any pleas for help from the Doctor. Not even considering actually volunteering to help him."

"Why are you talking like that?"

"I am attempting to understand and integrate metaphoric devices such as euphemisms into my speech patterns. Some are working better than others."

"I guess that's cool," Sonic responded, though he wasn't really interested in carrying on a conversation with what he considered a walking toaster oven. Unfortunately, Stealth Mecha seemed less inclined to leave him alone.

"'Cool?'" Red eyes flashed again. "Ah, slang. That will be the next device I try to integrate I think. Then I shall be 'jive,' 'hip,' 'funky, funky fresh' as well."

"Please stop that," Sonic said flatly, just a little creeped out. "Why do you wanna use slang anyway? Most robots I know prefer being short and to the point."

"I began this conversation asking you a question, and was in turn asked a question myself which I answered, yet received no answer for myself. Is it not considered 'rude attitude' to not answer another's question?"

"What, you mean why I'm helping 'Buttni… Robotnik? You were serious about that?" The metal hedgehog shook his head. "Well, for one thing the featherheads kidnapped my best friend, but even if that wasn't the case I'd probably be here diggin' Eggman out of trouble. Just because he was a bully a few years ago doesn't give the Battle Birds the right to bully him."

"Interesting. You apply your sense of right and wrong to all cases, even to one who obviously would not honor such a sense in his own way," the robot surmised. One of Sonic's eyebrows rose at this statement.

"You're rather free with decrying your creator. I don't think I've ever heard one of Robotnik's creations condemn him like that."

"You misunderstand. I do not condemn the Doctor for his practicality; I simply find your willingness to put yourself through such straits to be interesting. I wonder if it is a habit learned or simply a part of your own programming."

Past (11 years ago.)

Miles's head hurt.

It more than hurt, it was throbbing.

Throbbing so badly he could barely think. Not the best of state of mind to be in given his mood. Quickly he reached over his desk to open the small bottle of aspirin he kept there, popping two of the gel pills into his mouth and swallowing. Then he placed his head in his hands and waited for the medicine to take effect.

It had been a rough year, all things considered. Speculation as to the reason for the fox's extended stay in the hospital had caused Prower Aerodynamic's stocks to falter. Thankfully no one knew exactly why Robert had kept him for so long. Miles didn't even want to think about the panic that would set in if the fact that the company's CEO was regressing into a little baby was discovered. That didn't stop people from wondering if perhaps he hadn't been diagnosed with some sort of terminal disease. The only way around that was to keep active in the company, to let no one think he was passing the reigns off to someone else, even for a moment.

But that didn't mean nobody knew. G.U.N. had found out, much to Dr. Labris's fury and Miles's consternation. Apparently it was G.U.N.'s prerogative to keep tabs on civilians they worked with. And of course their curiosity had led them to ask the obvious question, if Miles was in danger of losing his memory, how could he be trusted to run a company as important as Prower Aerodynamic?

The fox growled a bit at the memory of that. No doubt he would have to work doubly hard to get the new contracts from the military. That could mean a serious dent would be put in the company's overall finances, unless he could make up the potential difference through more private contracts. Such as the one from MeteoTech. Miles cringed at the thought of having to take up that company's business again. He still didn't feel right about their technology that turned living creatures into machines, even if they were calling it medical in nature.

All this paled before the biggest problem in his life, Sonic. The boy hedgehog had been becoming more and more of a delinquent as of late, skipping classes, getting into trouble, and basically causing all sorts of problems for himself. Even tonight Miles was expected to show up at his son's school for a meeting with the Principal. Sonic had apparently attacked a classmate.

The fox shuddered. He really wished Sonic had chosen a different time to enter his rebellious phase.

"Mr. Prower," Michael Cervid said quietly, announcing his presence even as he had silently entered his employer's office and strode up to his desk without Miles noticing. The deer's massive hand placed a stack of papers on the desk. "Here are the reports on the new project the labs have been working on."

"That 'Magness Generator' thing they were talking about?" Miles asked as he lifted the papers up to look at them. His brow furrowed as his mind worked to understand the technical jargon that had been thrown into the report. "So the preliminary tests went off without a hitch?"

"The theories behind the device seem to be sound, sir. It will only be harnessing them to create the desired effect," Cervid said. "They would very much like your input on the project."

"I'll… try to make time," Miles responded, putting down the report. At his response, the fox's loyal assistant grunted quietly, causing the vulpine to look up. "Problem?"

"Not as such, though I would point out that there was a time you would have leapt at the chance to go down into the labs. Now you seem less than interested at the prospect."

"Gee I wonder why?" The giant deer opened his mouth as if to respond only to be stopped by the fox. "I understand your concern but you don't need to be. I'm merely being cautious."

"'Cautious' and 'Miles Prower' are virtually antonyms, sir," the deer stated. "I'd like to again suggest you take Dr. Labris's advice. It might be beneficial for you to seek psychiatric help with this."

"Absolutely not," the fox barked back. "I'm not about to let this become a circus."

"I'm sure I could find a doctor who would be discreet," Cervid assured him. Miles simply shook his head.

"No. That's my final word on the subject." The personal assistant bowed his head in acknowledgement of this.

"Very well. I should remind you you have to be at Olgilvie's school fairly soon. It would be prudent of you to finish up whatever business you are currently working on so you are not late."

"Thank you," the fox said as he pulled out a folder to put the report he'd been handed into for later reading.

"Olgilvie has always been a spirited boy, Mr. Prower," Mrs. Magpie said as she stared at the fox from behind her desk. Nearby, the hedgehog in question sat by his father, his arms crossed as he scowled at the avian. He did not want to be here, and he wasn't about to hide that fact. "Very full of energy, very willful, but ultimately a good boy all the same. I'll admit to a few of his teachers becoming rather exasperated with him, just as I'll admit to there being conflicts between his actions and a few of the school's rules. Still there isn't a faculty member here who didn't also have good things to say about your son. But his behavior over the past year has gone beyond the pale of simple childhood mischief." The principal looked at Sonic, as if checking to make sure he had not made use of his super speed to jet off. Not that that was possible. Miles had forced his son to wear normal shoes for the night just for that reason.

"I can understand your concern, Mrs. Magpie," Miles stated. "And rest assured my son's activities of late have been a concern of mine as well." Miles looked down at his son, a look on his face that told the scowling cub to behave. Sonic "hmph"-ed at this but stopped his glare, simply choosing to look away from his principal and over at a corner in the room. Mrs. Magpie got up from her chair just long enough to open a file cabinet behind her and pull out a folder before sitting down again.

"Be that as it may, I feel I should point out FIGHTING is severely frowned upon at this school." Again Sonic was favored with an angry glare by his parent. Oh yes, there would be more words on this subject even after this meeting was over.

"It's not like it was my fault, you know," Sonic finally spoke up, attempting to mitigate punishment by defending himself. "Ryan was the one who wouldn't shut up. So I shut him up."

"Ah yes, Ryan Korzinsky was other side in this little fracas. According to your son, the young man made some disparaging remarks to him, for which Sonic felt the need to assault him in return."

"And what did this Ryan boy say to that accusation?"

"The boy was crying through a black eye, a bloody nose, and a swollen lip. He was in no condition to do anything but go to the nurse's office and then home." Seeing that Sonic was about to protest what he would obviously interpret as preferential treatment, Mrs. Magpie held up her feathery hand. "Rest assured, Olgilivie, I do plan to have words with Ryan AND his parents about this. That he has a history of verbally abusive behavior is not unknown to me, but it is also beside the point."

"What, so it was all right for him to call me a freaky little pincushion?" the indignant hedgehog asked. Miles's eyebrow rose at this. It had been a while since Sonic had felt the need to defend himself against such a slight. Mrs. Magpie looked aghast.

"Certainly not, Mr. Prower, and as I said I shall be having words with him about this as well. But the fact remains that, in this school, in civilized society, we do not respond to such things by beating up on the aggressor. You could have informed the lunchroom monitor, your teacher, myself, or your counselor. You could have even waited to speak with your father here and then Mr. Korzinsky would be the one in trouble right now, not yourself."

"Bet you wouldn't feel the same way if you were in my shoes," Sonic huffed back, once more crossing his arms as he looked away. Mrs. Magpie let out a sigh.

"As you can see, your son shows absolutely no remorse for his actions. For that alone I have no choice but to place him on suspension for three days."

"Suspension?" hedgehog and fox said in unison, though the tones of their voices were markedly different. While Sonic was excited at the prospect of have three sanctioned days off from school, Miles was clearly displeased.

"Isn't there some way to avoid such a punishment? I would hate to see Sonic's record marred by such a thing as a suspension," he asked. The principal shook her head.

"I might have considered something else had he seemed genuinely sorry for what he'd done, but the fact that he doesn't seem so means I have no choice but to issue the full penalty. I'm sorry, but that will have to be my final word on the subject." Miles let out a growl as he shook his head, a hand rising to cover his eyes as he contemplated this.

"Very well, if that is the last word, so be it," the fox finally said in an even tone.

"I should also warn you that if this type of behavior persists, Sonic could face expulsion."

"Oh I guarantee that will not happen," Miles suddenly sprang up, casting a warning look at his hot-tempered son. "If I have to send him to school in a straightjacket and muzzle, I guarantee it." Sonic's eyes widened at this prospect, wondering just how much his father meant such a declaration. It was shortly after that the meeting ended and both Prowers were seated in the back of Miles's car, his driver taking them home. It was a quiet trip, eerily so, and it stayed that way until they reached Skytop Towers. Even George the doorman could tell something was up and wisely refrained from asking any questions.

As soon as they were in their apartment, Sonic quickened his step, making a beeline for his room. Miles was not about to let him slink off so easily.

"Hold it right there young man," the fox said in his most authoritative tone. "We're not done." Sonic let out an exasperated sigh, conveying exactly how annoyed he was with this whole business. Like lightning a hand grabbed his shoulder and roughly dragged him back over to the couch, forcing him to sit.

"Hey!" Sonic yelled, more than a little upset over being manhandled in such a way. "Yeah didn't have to do that you know!" he spat at the fox, angry now.

"Cut the attitude Olgilvie," the fox snapped, a finger in extended to point at the hedgehog's face. Sonic's eyes widened, more from the use of his real name than from the finger. Miles rarely called his son Olgilvie, but it was one of the signs indicating the fox was angry. "You have no idea how much trouble you're in."

"I got suspended, I get it," Sonic responded, trying to regain some of his cockiness. "So I'll stay home for a few days and 'think about what I've done.'"

"No, you don't 'get it.' Suspension is just how much trouble you're in with the school. Now you get to hear my feelings on the subject." Miles turned away from his son, composing himself as he thought about what he wanted to say. "First, I wanna know what you were thinking when you beat up that boy."

"Nuthin'," Sonic responded, crossing his arms and looking away. Miles rounded on him.

"Nothing? You weren't thinking anything?" the fox didn't so much as ask as accuse. "So this was just an act of mindless violence on your part? No more than a savage beast attacking a little kid?"

"Hey, he wasn't exactly the innocent you seem to wanna make him out to be!" Sonic bit back. "He was the one who was calling me names. I couldn't just let him get away with that."

"Yeah, and how's that working out for you?" Miles retorted.

"Bet he won't be calling me a freak again."

"Only when you're there. When you're back is turned, he's gonna have no end of nasty things to say about you. And the only one you'll have to blame is yourself."

"Dude, why are you taking his side?" Sonic yelled, jumping to his feet.

"I'm not. He had no right to call you names, you are right about that. I am furious at your lack of good judgment in resolving the situation though, a judgment you seem to have been lacking for most of this year."

"Says you." Miles let out an angry growl.

"Yes says me! Yes says your teachers! Yes says virtually everyone you know! Do you know Ray's Grandmother doesn't want you around him anymore? She says you're turning into a hoodlum. And don't even get me started on Mighty and Carl's parents."

"So! Who cares? I don't!" Sonic bit back.

"I do! And so should you! What do you think is going to happen if you keep going like this? They'll lock you up like some wild animal. Is that what you want for yourself?"

"Better than the alternative!" Miles blinked as he heard this, not quite sure if his ears were working correctly.

"What are you talking about? What alternative?"

"Oh like you don't know," Sonic bit back. "You're dying, that creep Labris as much as said so. And he doesn't know when. Neither do you. But when it happens, I'm done too." An alarmed look crossed the fox's face as he took in this speculation. It wasn't as if Sonic knowing Miles was sick was a surprise, but the adult Prower had not realized his hedgehog son had been thinking about it so hard. Especially since Miles himself hadn't.

It wasn't as though Miles didn't care, quite the opposite. Sonic more important to him than anything else. But the hedgehog had a point. If Miles was suddenly gone, or even taken to a point he could no longer feasibly be considered there, Sonic would be all alone again, in a world that might not be overly willing to cut him anymore breaks. Even as he considered that possibility, the fox got a nasty taste in his mouth. Thinking about this felt too much like just giving up, like he was surrendering to the inevitable.

Like he was going to die.

Furry shoulders shuddered as that thought moved through Miles's mind, and he shook his head to bring himself back to reality.

"Is that what you think?" he asked, his voice even and neutral. "Do you honestly think I'd just leave you in the lurch like that? That I'm so callous?" Sonic's eyes darted away, unable to look into his father's blue ones after such an accusation. "I would hope, after all this time, you'd trust me, to have your best interests at heart."

"It's not just that. I don't want to just be 'taken care of.' I don't want to just have someone to raise me. You said we'd be together forever. But now we're not. It's not fair!"

"Life isn't fair."

"Tell me about it," Sonic growled, a small tear forming in his large eye. "It wasn't fair when I lost my real Mom and Dad. It wasn't fair when I got born a mutant. It wasn't fair when I got stuck in that stupid orphanage. It wasn't fair when everyone kept treating me like a freak. And it wasn't fair when that nutjob Kukku tried to kill me. But at least I got you out of the deal and I thought maybe, just maybe that made up for everything else." Sonic took a breath. "And now I'm gonna lose you too. Don't tell me life isn't fair, I know it." Miles really didn't have an answer for that. He was not in the habit of making promises he couldn't deliver, especially to his son, and the sad truth was, he didn't know if he could beat this "Merlin's Disease." Wasn't that the reason he was reluctant to get involved in the new projects going on at his company? Fear of not being around to finish it.

'And if I'm afraid of not being around to finish some stupid project, where does that leave Sonic?' he thought to himself. First he had other things to deal with.

"Well be that as it may, life is about to get a little less 'fair,'" the fox said to the hedgehog. "First and foremost, you're not gonna be staying here during your suspension. I'm not about to leave you unsupervised after getting in that much trouble."

"Fine, so I'll be with Axelby. Big whoop."

"MRS. Axelby is out of town visiting friends. And I'm not about to inflict you on any of the building's other inhabitants in the mood you're in. So you're coming with me to the office."

"Argh!" Sonic groaned. "There's never anything to do there."

"Oh don't worry Olgilvie, there'll be plenty of things to do tomorrow, I'll make very sure of that. And that's not all," Miles continued, pulling a pad of paper and a pen from Sonic's backpack. "You're going to be writing an apology to that boy you beat up. And it's going to be a sincere apology, chalk full of 'I'm sorry'-es and 'forgive me'-s. And, until I'm convinced you are sincere about it, you can kiss those running shoes of yours goodbye."

"You already took 'em away from me, remember," Sonic snapped back.

"As a matter of fact, I haven't," Miles retorted. "Since you were already supposed to be without them for a week, I'll just suspend that little punishment until you're done with this one. That way, once you get your letter done, you'll only have four more days to wait until you get the shoes back."

"That's not fair!"

"I refer you to our previous discussion regarding fairness and life in general. And I might point out that you could be spending a night in Juvenile Hall for assaulting someone, so this is actually more than fair." The fox paused for a moment, allowing that to sink in. Sonic merely glared at his father, though in the back of his mind he wondered just whether or not the elder Prower would really allow him to suffer such a fate. "Now then, I suggest you get to bed. We both have to get up bright and early tomorrow, and the only ones allowed to sleep during the day in my building are the night watchmen." Sensing he'd been dismissed, the petulant hedgehog hopped up off the couch and stomped his feet angrily as he went to his room, grumbling under his breath as he did so. As he watched the spiny blue tail disappear and the door slam shut, Miles could only let out an exasperated sigh.

'What am I gonna do with that boy?' he thought, rubbing his head.

To be continued…