Notes: Behold, I have not forgotten this story! I have a full outline for it (a rarity for me), and I hope to write all of it eventually. I can't guarantee the frequency of the updates, but with any luck this won't be the only chapter posted this year. I'm not fully satisfied with this chapter, but I can't determine what else I could add, so I'm throwing it out here now. The next chapter will dive into the action.
And thanks very, very much to Cstan, who pointed out a really awful plothole. I've fixed it now!
A Door That You've Never Opened
The door to a room in the right wing creaked open as Shadow peered inside. The room was furnished—apparently a bedroom—but it was not in use. The curtains were drawn, but beams of sunlight still managed to sneak in at the top and to the sides.
"This used to be little Cream's room."
Shadow turned, looking up at Ella the cheery maid. She was turning a dish towel around in her ample hands, not seeming surprised to find the newest member of their household exploring the upper floor.
"I've missed the days when this house was filled with so many guests," Ella said with a sigh. Smiling, she added, "It's good to have a hedgehog under our roof again."
Shadow grunted, letting the door close. "I'm different from any guest you've had before, hedgehog or otherwise," he said.
Ella nodded. "Oh yes, I know," she said. "But you are Chris's friend too. You will always be welcome here." She turned to go. "Lunch will be ready soon."
Shadow watched her lumber up the hall before turning in the opposite direction. For the last hour, he had been studying every room of the Thorndyke Manor, constructing a map of the layout in his mind. Just in case something did go wrong, with the owner of that mysterious voice or even someone else, he wanted to know that he had each nook and cranny and each square inch memorized. Of course, to anyone who saw him he would appear curious or even nosy, but he did not care. His new goal was the most important thing—and that meant keeping Chris and his family safe, no matter what.
He blinked in surprise at the sudden sound of the front door opening and closing downstairs. He had not remembered that they were expecting anyone, but the voice speaking to Ella was unfamiliar.
Somehow the hedgehog found himself traveling down the stairs to the main floor. He crossed to the living room, standing in the open doorway to observe.
Of all people, he had not expected to see a blonde girl Chris's age gazing out the picture window. She appeared oblivious to anyone's presence as she hummed a tune softly to herself. Then she turned without warning, her ponytail swishing to the side. A welcoming smile graced her features as she saw her audience.
"You must be Shadow," she greeted. "Hi there! I'm Helen."
For a moment Shadow was too stunned to reply. If she were a few years younger, she would bear an eerily striking resemblance to Maria. The long blonde hair, the kind and accepting blue eyes . . . they were so familiar to him.
"Cat got your tongue?" Helen offered, amused. "I know Chris said you were quiet, but . . ."
Shadow snapped out of his reverie. "I apologize," he said. "Yes, I am Shadow." Slowly he advanced into the room, curious and interested now. "Chris speaks of you quite often."
"Good things, I hope," Helen said.
"Very good things." Shadow came to stand in front of her. "He thinks highly of you."
"Well, good," Helen smiled. "I think highly of him, too." She gave Shadow a curious look. "Ella said he's working on merging this world and Sonic's," she said now, "and that he was up half the night trying to figure it out."
". . . He is," Shadow admitted, his voice only thinly-masking his disapproval. "And he was." Chuck Thorndyke had found his grandson slumped over a table in the lab around five in the morning, having dozed off amid a sea of scribbled notes and diagrams.
She studied him. "You don't like him doing that, do you," she said.
Shadow shook his head. "No, I don't," he said. "But I can't stop him."
Helen half-smiled. "No one can, when he gets an idea in his head," she said. "He's stubborn like that. It took him six years to get back into Sonic's world from here, but he didn't give up until he'd done it. And he'll keep trying now even if it takes another six."
But then her expression changed to concern. "Shadow, tell me honestly—is Chris in danger with this project of his?" She looked into his eyes, silently pleading for the truth.
Shadow looked back without any intention of mincing words. "Yes," he said. "It's dangerous not only to him, but potentially to both worlds."
She sighed. "I was afraid of that," she said.
Then, trying to change the subject, she attempted to smile once more. "Do you like it here, Shadow?" she asked.
"'Here'?" Shadow repeated.
"In this house," Helen elaborated. "Chris said you haven't gone out since you came."
"It's quiet," Shadow said. "That's how I prefer it."
Helen nodded. "It's easy to think in the quiet," she mused, "but it can be lonely, too."
Shadow blinked in surprise. Most people did not describe quiet in such terms. And yet there was a stirring in the back of his mind, something that told him he had heard someone speak of it that way in the past.
"Do you ever feel lonely, Shadow? When it's late at night and everything's so still? It feels like we're so small and lost in such a big universe. I like it much better when I can hear everyone walking around and talking to each other."
"Space is a lonely place to be, even though it's so beautiful, too. I wonder what it's like to live on Earth. Shadow, do you think we'll ever go there?"
"I know we always dreamed of going to Earth together, but . . . it looks like you'll have to go without me. Please, Shadow, please promise me . . ."
He grabbed at the sides of his head. The memories rushing into his mind were overwhelming him in their speed and their intensity. He turned, facing away from Helen. At the moment, he was not even thinking that his actions would expose his still-healing wounds to her eyes. The soft gasp he heard next brought him that realization, but he was too occupied with the ghosts of his past to give it much heed.
"Shadow? Shadow, are you okay?"
He came back to the present, glancing over his shoulder at the worried Helen. "I'm sorry," he said. "I have to go now." And he fled the room, vanishing around the nearest corner.
It was all too much to take in at once. So many memories of her . . . of Maria. . . . And this Helen . . . she reminded him so strongly of Maria. When he had recovered from these initial shocks, he would have to speak with her again. He wanted—no, he had—to know more. He had to know how and why they were so alike.
Somewhere behind him, footsteps were going into the room he had just vacated. He paused as the sound of voices reached his ears, wanting to hear what was being said.
"Sorry I'm late," Chris was saying, clearly embarrassed. "I was working on some new stuff last night and I kind of got carried away."
"Yes, so I've heard," Helen said. She sounded somewhat distracted.
"What's wrong?" Chris asked.
"I met Shadow a few minutes ago," Helen said. Her voice was closer now, as if she had wheeled herself to the doorway and was looking into the hall.
"Yeah?" Chris's voice carried a distinct, hopeful tone.
"I like him," Helen said. "But he left so suddenly. It was weird. He grabbed at his head and then told me he had to go. Do you know if he's feeling well?"
"I didn't think he was sick," Chris answered. "I thought he wasn't supposed to be able to get sick. . . ."
"Well, he sure didn't act like he was feeling very good," Helen retorted.
"What happened right before that?" Chris wanted to know.
"I'd just mentioned that the quiet could be lonely sometimes," Helen said. "Then he got this strange look on his face and he acted like he was in pain."
"It sounds like he was acting a lot like he did a couple of times before, when he started remembering some things about his past." Chris stepped into the hall. He was probably looking left and right for Shadow, but the hedgehog was out of sight. And he intended to stay that way. For now, he did not want to be found.
"Do you think he's okay?" Helen sounded worried.
"Yeah," Chris said then. "I'm sure he will be."
Vector was bored.
The check was definitely real, and had been placed safely in the bank, but there had been no further contact from their mysterious employer. True, maybe this was a little too soon to expect anything, but he could dream, couldn't he? After all, they needed work as much as they needed money. They were all getting antsy in here.
Against Espio's advice they had gone out to celebrate last night, using a small bit of their newfound wealth to have their first really decent meal in ages. And when they had returned, Vector had promptly tripped over the still-existing mess on the floor. He had yelled and screamed and demanded that Charmy pick it all up, to which the bee had pouted and said that Vector was no fun. But when Vector had got up today the floor had been visible—so he was left to assume that either Charmy had finally had a change of heart or Espio had lectured him into cleaning up the junk. Whatever the case, it was gone, and Vector hoped it would not come back the next time someone needed to get into the closet.
Charmy flitted into the room, heaving a huge, exaggerated sigh. "Vector, I'm bored!" he whined.
Vector started out of his thoughts. "Well, whaddya expect me to do about it?" he retorted.
"Let's look at that disc!" Charmy said. "There's probably all kinds of juicy stuff on it! And maybe we'd get some clues about where the others might be!"
Vector glowered. "For crying out loud, Charmy! What kind of good, upright detectives would we be if we nosed into our client's stuff? He didn't give us permission to look at his disc, just to find the other four!"
Charmy turned onto his back in the air, looking all-too-innocently at Vector upsidedown. "You know you want to!" he said. "You're bored too!"
"I don't want to!" Vector snapped. "I just want the guy to get in touch with us so we can get going and have something to do besides lay around in here all day!" He stood up so fast that the chair crashed behind him. ". . . Come on, let's look at that disc," he growled.
Charmy threw his hands in the air. "Yay!" he cried. "We're going to snoop!"
"It's not snooping!" Vector countered as he crossed the room to the computer desk. "It's trying to figure out what's going on!" He pulled open the drawer, digging out the CD from the top of the stack inside.
Espio suddenly made himself visible on the couch, his expression filled with annoyance. "You're as curious as Charmy is," he said to Vector, "so you might as well admit it."
Vector either chose to ignore him or was too intent on what he was doing to hear. "Here we go," he grinned, slipping the disc into the CD-ROM drive of the computer.
For a moment nothing happened. Then the drive whirred to life with a series of much louder growls than usual.
Charmy yelped, diving behind the couch. "It's alive!" he wailed.
"It's just taking a lot of memory," Espio said in irritation. He jumped down from the couch and went over to Vector and the computer. "Maybe too much," he added, eying the frozen screen with distaste.
"It's gonna work!" Vector shot back.
Abruptly the monitor went black. All of the Chaotix stiffened. Then, without warning, a strange blue screen appeared.
"'Property of G.U.N.—Top Secret'?" Vector read in disbelief. "What's the deal?"
Charmy's eyes went wide. "'Top Secret'?" he exclaimed, flying up and over the couch. "What's that mean? What's going on? Are we in trouble?"
Espio frowned. "We might be," he said. "Look, this is password-protected." He pointed to a rectangular box in the middle of the screen. "G.U.N. is the most powerful military organization in Chris's world. How did this disc get over here? If someone wants us to find these discs, they're most likely not from G.U.N. And that means we could be aiding and abetting a criminal in getting hold of illegal information."
"Why do you always have to look on the dark side?" Vector said. "Why couldn't G.U.N. hire some intelligent gumshoes to find their missing stuff?"
"Do you really think this is how G.U.N. would operate?" Espio retorted. "Particularly since they're not even in the same dimension as us?"
"Sure, if some lone agent lost the stuff and wanted to get it back without being discovered!" Vector said, crossing his arms. "Maybe they contacted Chris and he figured out some way to help them communicate with our world!"
Espio slapped his forehead. "It's hopeless," he said.
Charmy grinned. "So that means we're gonna keep on with the case, right?" he exclaimed.
"We're gonna find out who's hiring us!" Vector said. "And if it is a G.U.N. agent, will you be quiet about it?" he added, looking to Espio.
The chameleon's eyes narrowed. "If it's a G.U.N. agent," he agreed. "If it's not, and this is illegal, then we're getting out. It's better to be broke than in jail."
Vector muttered to himself. "Okay," he said louder, although his tone was grudging. "You've got a point."
Without warning the telephone rang. Charmy sprang into the air. "It's him! It's our client!" he burst out. "Answer the phone, Vector! Come on, answer!"
"Now, why the heck would our client call us right now, like he knew we were looking at the disc?" Vector said as he hurried over to his desk. Without giving Charmy a chance to reply, he snatched up the receiver. "Hello, Chaotix Detective Agency!"
He froze at the rasping, disguised voice that answered him. "Ah, you've seen the disc, haven't you."
Vector pulled the telephone away from his ear, glaring at it. "Disc? Hey, what are you talking about? Who is this?" he demanded.
"I'm your client. I knew you wouldn't be able to resist a peek. Oh, don't worry about it! I wanted you to see."
Vector's mouth pulled into a frown. "And why was that so all-important?" he wondered. "Couldn't you have just told us what was on the disc?"
"I wanted to make sure I had your full attention," was the reply.
"Hey, you had our full attention with that check!" Vector retorted.
"Then you'll help me find the other discs?"
Vector glanced back to the computer screen, where it was still asking for the password. Espio stood to the side, his arms crossed and his eyes narrowed expectantly. Charmy hovered nearby, also wanting an answer.
"The disc's top secret stuff!" Vector said at last. "How do we know you're not after them because you're a crook?"
"Oh, it's nothing like that!" the voice exclaimed, though it sounded slightly agitated again. "You see, the discs belonged to a relative of mine. They've been lost for years and I vowed to collect them all once more. He was a great scientist and his research should be made known!"
Vector frowned. "It sounds on the level," he said, "and yet something still seems fishy to me. Especially since this disc isn't even supposed to be in our world!"
"That's part of the mystery. Please help me!" the voice cried out. "I don't know where else to turn. You wouldn't want to be responsible for leaving a revolutionary mind undiscovered, would you?"
Vector tapped his arm with his free hand. "Well, when you put it like that . . ."
"I knew I could count on you!" the voice declared. "Now, the only clue I have to the rest of the discs' whereabouts is that they have something to do with music. I can't make heads or tails out of it!"
Vector's eyes narrowed as he pondered on the mystery. "Music, huh?" he said. "We'll get to work on it right away. But you'd better not be puttin' us on."
"I swear it's the truth! I'll be in touch again to see if you've made any headway. Goodbye now!" And there was a resounding click.
Vector dropped the receiver back into its cradle. "We're still in business!" he announced. "If we can just figure out a weird clue, we'll be on our way to finding those other discs and rolling in dough!"
"Yay!" Charmy cheered. "And we can start going out for ice cream sodas again!"
Espio just gripped his arms and frowned. "Something still doesn't add up," he said. "Weren't you the least bit suspicious of that person? He's obviously disguising his voice. That in and of itself is strange. And what is he doing in this world? To say nothing of the disc."
"You just don't have enough faith in me!" Vector said. He crossed his arms and stuck his nose in the air. "I'll have you know that I'm just playing along with the guy. If he's a phony, there's probably some reward for catching him. And if he's on the level, he'll pay us even more to get these other discs. How can we lose?"
Espio narrowed his eyes. "There's ways," he said.
Charmy let out a big sigh. "Vector's delusional and Espio's pessimistic," he said to no one in particular. "Yeah, it's just a normal day."
It was later that afternoon when Shadow at last ventured back to the room where he had met Helen. She was just leaving, idly glancing over a paper in her hand as she pressed the button on her motorized wheelchair. At the sight of something out of the corner of her eye she looked up.
"Oh!" she said. "Shadow, I was hoping I'd see you again. Are you feeling alright?" She took her finger off the button, stopping in the front hall.
"Yes," Shadow said. Now he felt awkward. "I'm sorry I had to leave so abruptly."
"I wondered if you were sick," Helen said. "Chris didn't think you were, but . . ."
"That wasn't it," Shadow said, cutting her off. "I was . . . reminded of something."
He stayed where he was, searching her face and eyes for some understanding of his confusion—but it never came. She was still so much like Maria, yet he could not fully place why—not when his memories were fleeting at best. It was an eerie feeling.
Helen looked hesitant. "Chris told me you don't remember much about your past," she said.
"It's true," Shadow said flatly, not seeing any point in denying or evading it.
"I can't imagine what that must be like," Helen said. "It sounds so hard."
"I'll find out about it someday," Shadow vowed.
Helen smiled. "I'm sure you will," she said. "Well, I'm sorry to run off, but I need to get some errands done." She indicated the paper in her hand. "You'll tell Chris, won't you? He got called off by Ella to take care of something."
"I'll tell him," Shadow said.
"I knew I could count on you." Helen gave him a small wave. "I'll be back tomorrow. I hope we can talk again."
Shadow stepped back to allow her to pass. He offered nothing in response, instead frowning silently as he observed her. There was an ache in his heart when he spoke with her, just as there always was when he thought of Maria.
His eyes narrowed further. He wanted to remember Maria, yet it always hurt so much and overwhelmed him when he did. Still, he hated not knowing, and worse, knowing that some stranger—quite possibly an enemy—knew more about him than he did.
"Shadow? Hey, did Helen leave?"
Shadow started and turned, looking to a frazzled and disappointed Chris. "Yes, she had to go," he said.
Chris sighed. "Great. I knew that mess with the laundry was taking too long to sort out."
"I thought Ella did all the laundry," Shadow said.
"Yeah, she does," said Chris. "But I was tired last night and I . . . kind of spilled something on my lab coat." He looked embarrassed now. "So I tried to wash it myself. And . . . that didn't turn out so well. Ella found I'd put it in with the red tablecloth Mr. Tanaka put in the washer and . . . you won't tell Helen, will you?" he added conspiratorially.
"I don't know any reason why I would," Shadow said.
Chris laughed uneasily, rubbing the back of his neck. "Yeah. . . . Hey, what do you think of Helen?" he asked.
Something unreadable passed through Shadow's eyes. "She's . . . different," he said.
Chris stared at him. "Huh? What do you mean?"
"She's different than what I thought she would be like." Shadow turned away, facing the window.
Now Chris frowned, confused. "Well? Is that good or bad?"
"I don't know." Shadow continued to stare off at nothing in particular, his mind and voice far removed from the present scenario. His knowledge of Maria was just at the edge of his remembrance. He could feel it, but he could not take hold of it and examine it and understand it.
"I want to talk with her again."
Chris started at this statement. "R-Really?" he said in amazement. Then he grinned. "That's great! She said she wants to talk with you more too."
Without warning Shadow changed the subject. "Let's look at the copies you made of Gerald Robotnik's diary," he said.
Chris blinked in surprise. "I thought you weren't interested in seeing those anymore," he said.
"I want to see if there's anything we missed," Shadow said.
Chris shrugged. "Well, okay," he said. "Sure. Come on." He turned and headed for the stairs.
He fell silent as Shadow followed after him. Shadow had talked about getting the rest of the diary from Eggman and said there was something else he had to do. When was he planning to do those things? He had already said he would not necessarily be leaving right away. Had something happened that had changed his mind? Chris still did not know the reason behind Shadow's behavior the previous day. He had been so tense about something.
Chris opened the door to his room and went inside, crossing to the desk and the papers scattered on top of it. He had looked over the notes he had made from the diary just last night, without finding anything that they had not puzzled over before. He gathered them up and turned, handing them to Shadow. "Here you go."
Shadow studied the pages intently, his gaze boring into each diagram and every sentence. "He says that Maria had an illness that prevented her from being able to live in the Earth's atmosphere," he said. "I wonder what it was."
"You don't have any memory of that at all?" Chris asked slowly.
"No." Shadow looked them over again. "I only remember Maria saying how much she wanted to visit the Earth, but she knew she couldn't."
Chris looked down. What had happened to Maria was tragic. How it had changed Shadow was, perhaps, even moreso. He had not even clearly remembered Maria's true request at first, instead believing that he was meant to enact vengeance for her death. Now he remembered Maria's actual wishes, but not much else.
What would happen when he finally did recover his memories? He believed he would have to leave to begin to do that. But he had promised to come back. Would he stay then?
Chris did not want to keep seeing his friends go away. And, dangerous or not, he was still determined to figure out the way to bridge the dimensions. The key was in further studies of Chaos Control. He knew it had to be. If Shadow knew any more than that, he would not say.
He came back to the present as Shadow set the papers back on the desk, clearly annoyed and frustrated. The hedgehog stepped back, hesitant, then crossed to the window.
"There's something out there," he said at last.
Chris blinked in confusion. "Huh? What are you talking about, Shadow?"
"It's something ominous . . . perhaps evil." Shadow glared into the sky. "I felt it yesterday."
Chris's eyes widened. "That's why you were acting so strange," he realized. He shifted nervously. "Do you have any idea what it is at all?"
"No." Shadow half-turned from the window. "It spoke to me. It claimed to know who I am and said that we would meet soon."
"What?" Now Chris's jaw nearly hit the floor. "That's crazy!"
"Nevertheless, it is true." Shadow stared back into the sky. "It's out there, somewhere. It has been coming closer to Earth with each passing hour."
Chris ran to the window to look out as well. "We have to do something!" he exclaimed. "We can't let it just land here if it's going to do something bad!" And then he froze in realization.
"That's part of why you feel like you have to go away, isn't it," he breathed. "To meet it?"
"Perhaps." Shadow frowned. "It may seek me here, whether or not I am actually present. For the time being, until I know something more about it, it would likely be better for me to stay."
Chris stared at him. "It could come right here and hurt all of us?"
"It's a possibility that shouldn't be ignored." Shadow was silent a moment, gathering his thoughts. "It's almost ready to enter the Earth's atmosphere. That's why I'm telling you this, so you can be prepared for what may come."
Maria never had the chance to be prepared, he thought darkly. The attack came so suddenly. I remember that much—the fear, the panic, the people running . . . falling as they were shot.
Chris gripped the edge of the curtain. If this alien or whatever it was showed up here, and it did just want to cause trouble, the worst-case scenario was a repeat of what had happened on Space Colony ARK. That was undoubtedly what Shadow was worried about. And Chris was not ready to deal with such a horror. He would not let his family suffer and die.
"Then we'll be prepared," he said.
Shadow looked up at him in surprise. "Your determination is impressive," he said.
"Hey, I wasn't willing to let the Metarex take over the galaxy," Chris smiled. "And I'm not going to let any other evil guys come here without a fight. You'll see."
"Heh." Shadow's expression was impassive. "We'll see, alright."
He turned back to the window.
We have almost arrived at the Earth. Its blue surface is large, but not imposing, as it is observed from the bridge of my ship. It is an insignificant planet, filled with inhabitants whose only worth will come when we have taken control.
Our creation is down there, living with the pathetic humans. He saved their planet in the past. But soon he will learn the full truth of his existence and join our cause. I know all that there is to know about him—his weaknesses as well as his strengths. And that will be humanity's undoing.
They will regret ever placing any level of trust in Shadow the Hedgehog once he serves us!