{{Author: Hi Guys! Oh my, I'm so sorry for such a long wait! I added new chapters like every couple of days and then I disappeared for a month. I know. Bad. I was busy moving in to college and packing and being STRESSED. But now I am settled in, for the most part, and I HAVE NOT forgotten about this story! In fact, I've been thinking about it a lot.

So please Enjoy! I apologize, this chapter is not at...cohesive as the others in my opinion. Because rather than sitting down and writing it all out I spaced out the writing. I don't do well when I do that. I swear more is on the way! Just perhaps not as quickly as the first 6 chapters were. Thanks for being patient!}}

Chapter 6: The Long, Not So Forgotten Road

"I can't believe I'm doing this…" Sonic groaned, clenching his teeth together as the needle pierced his flesh at the bend in his arm. A steady stream of red began to flow through the transparent tube and into a large vial. Weldenburg stood there next to the hedgehog, eyeing the substance greedily, as an oil man might look down into his well of black gold. When the vial was full, he removed it from the tube and placed it into a cold container. Then he pulled the needle from the hedgehog's skin and placed a cotton ball on it.

"Hold that," He said in a distracted voice, and the hedgehog held the fluff against his arm as the geneticist turned around and began adjusting the controls on the container. Before Weldenburg closed it Sonic counted six other glass tubes full of blood samples, three of which belonged to him. One for every week the humans had been here.

Why this man needed three whole vials of his blood Sonic didn't know. Science always took forever and required so many tests, but then why only take one vial of blood from the two 'normal' volunteers?

"Once again, thank you very much," the human said, turning around and shaking the hedgehog's hand. Sonic nodded and got up from the chair he had been sitting in, then walked to the exit of Rotor's lab. This was where Weldenburg had set up shop, since the two were working on this project together.

"Also, Sonic?" Weldenburg asked from over his shoulder. He was writing something in his notebook, and had his back turned, "Are you and your Freedom Fighter friends still going on that raid mission?"

"Yeah," Sonic replied, massaging his pinpricked arm, "Sal said for you to come to the briefing tomorrow night."

"Excellent. Thank you, that will be all," Weldenburg said, waving the hedgehog away. Sonic blinked at the man for a moment, then wrinkled up his nose and left.

That Overlander was getting on his nerves, the hedgehog thought idly as he walked through the heart of Knothole Village. He acted as though he were some royal guest, and that his work was more important than anything else going on here. Sonic had cooperated with the blood tests, so that Sally wouldn't have to argue with the man. But then he started asking Sally for more favors. Power cables, pieces of valuable metal, and even permission to study the Chaos Emeralds. Rotor had blurted out during dinner one evening that they were exploring the possibility of Chaos Mutations in the bloodstream, resulting in the abilities Sonic and some other Mobians had acquired from birth. Now, of all things, the geneticist wanted in on a mission in order to see the team 'in action'. Sonic had a feeling he'd be watching only a particular part of the team, and that particular part would be him. Creepy.

Sonic hated being the object of someone's strange curiosity, and he hated even more the idea of his speed being labeled a genetic mutation. Thoughts raced through his head of all the people that would want to study him, take blood samples, maybe even lock him in a cage…

Sonic shook his head, keeping his imagination from running wild with thoughts of chains and surgical tables and icky white hospital rooms. Sometimes he just couldn't stop his mind from racing at seven-hundred miles per hour. He smiled. Well, at least everyone would be gone today. Bunnie and Antoine were taking their guests to South Island, a highly populated urban area, at the request of Mary and Brent. Chris, Chuck, and Helen were all going, Jen was with Tails in the forest, collecting samples of the plant life, and Weldenburg would be cooped up all day in his makeshift, mad-scientist lab. Sonic could get a breather.

"Sonic!" There came a shout from the other end of the village. Sonic squinted to see the ground squirrel walking towards him, looking angry about something. Then he remembered: it had been his turn to help out in the Mess Hall the night before. Uh Oh. He revved up his legs and sped off into the forest, leaving the squirrel cursing in the dust. She could yell at him later. As he cleared the dense forest and came to a large plain he poured on the speed, rocketing past the sound barrier. He leaned forward and let his arms hang, the force of the wind keeping him from toppling head over heels. The objects around him melted away into thick blurs of color, and the summer heat vanished with the wind current. Sonic breathed in freedom and continued on, quickly forgetting about Knothole and its strange guests…

South Island had got to be up there with one of the most beautiful cityscapes Chris had ever seen. It was, indeed, an island, and an island within an island at that. The earth rose out of the ocean in a cliff-like form, and then flattened out into a mountainous landscape surrounding a giant lake. In the center of this lake was another island, much smaller, a strange mountain constructed out of old, and decrepit machine parts. The place, from a distance, looked over run with trees, vines, and plant life. Unlike Robotropolis, it had a strange beauty to it.

At a harbor on the West side of the lake there stood a thriving citytown (for it was not metropolitan enough o really be called a city, but too populous to be considered a town). From the Ferry station that boated tourists from the mainland, a cobblestone road lead into the main shop area next to the docks. It was here that the humans stood with Bunnie and Antoine, staring in awe at the sheer amount of species surrounding them.

"Look at all the Mobians!" Helen exclaimed, watching the civilians as they strolled down the pathways. "There are so many!"

"And of an utmost amount of different species and races…" Brent said, pulling out his notebook. In the three weeks they had been here the anthropologist's arm had pretty much healed, and he could once again take notes at an amazing speed. "Curiouser and Curiouser. This establishment seems to function exactly the same as a human town. I find it increasingly amazing that such different races as Humans and Mobians have developed so similarly. "

"Well, maybe it has somethin' tuh do with the fact that Overlanders and Mobians exist togethuh, Sugah," Bunnie said, exasperated.

"You know, for amazing theenkers such as yourselves, I would be thinking you would be making less obvious…observations," The coyote, Antoine said. Chris had trouble understanding him sometimes, because of his accent, and because of his rather arrogant, pessimistic attitude, except when he was talking to Bunnie. Helen had pointed that one out. Chris sighed, chuckling inwardly. She was a relationship guru, instantly knowing who liked who and whatnot. Good thing to, because Chris was absolutely clueless.

"Well, I didn't come here to just sit and watch from the edge of the town. Let's go window-shopping!" Helen said, grinning. "Unless they can exchange Earth currency."

Chuck began to beam, "I wonder if they could? I could buy some upgraded parts for my project back home…"

"Grandpa, we're not allowed to bring anything back!" Chris said, bringing his palm to his forehead. Already everyone had begun to split up.

"Ahright, fellas! Antoine, you go with the science bunch and Ah'll go give these folks a shop tour. Ya'll meet back at the Cottage Bar at the end of the day!" Bunnie said, and grabbed Helen's wheelchair, "Ohhhhh, Ah've got a store in mind that sells beaauuutiful hair clips! They would look so good on you!"

Before Chris knew what was going on, Bunnie was halfway down the street with Helen, her one floppy ear bouncing above the heads of all the other Mobians. Chris grinned and followed his grandfather, who was staring into the window of a mechanics shop, beaming. He pushed opened the door and the two of them went in. Chuck immediately disappeared down towards the engines, where he was without a doubt searching for an updated engine to one of the planes he was building. Ever since Tails had left Earth his Grandfather had gotten in to planes, trying to build them faster and more durable than any other thing on the Earth. His work had gotten him multiple grants from the Nation's Air Force.

Chris looked around and found a lot of random metal parts he had never seen before. Some kind of strip on the wall in front of him looked like it was solar powered, perhaps a weird skateboard or something. What seemed weird was that there was a lot of advanced technology in this world, but the majority of the household items were primitive compared to the things on his world. T.V. did not exist here, as far as he could tell, though face-to-face communication through satellite video was state-of-the-art. Computers were at least twice as powerful here, but the people in Knothole Village had no electric stoves, or microwaves. In fact, Chris didn't even see one here. All he saw was an in-wall oven in the back behind the cashier's desk, with an iron pot of coffee hung inside. Quite strange.

Staring at the oven, it took Chris a while to notice the cashier. He was a blue Iguana, dressed in a maroon, button-down work shirt with a nametag that said "Fezt". Down his back were droopy spines that doubled for hair, and his eyes were a sinister yellow color. Or maybe they looked sinister because he was glaring at Chris. Chris blinked, and avoided eye contact, looking down into the store racks. But he still felt eyes on his back, as if the cashier were burning a hole in the back of his head. Chris walked towards the back of the store, passing a yellow Canary on the way. She glanced at him, angrily it seemed, and then kept walking. Chris, sensing a pattern, looked around. There were maybe ten people in this shop, discluding the shop keeper, himself, and his grandfather. All of them had their heads down, and once in a while wary, cold eyes crept his way.

"Grandpa," Chris said, walking up to Chuck and tapping his shoulder, "Let's get out of here."

Chuck blinked, looking up. "What? Why?"

Everyone seemed to be staring at them now. Chris felt tense, his shoulders bunching up, "Please, grandpa."

Chuck glanced about, sensing his grandson's nervousness. He quickly spotted all of the Mobian eyes on them, and frowned.

"Alright, let's go…"

Helen raised her arms and caught the scarf that Bunnie had thrown at her, her back turned, as she rummaged through the hangers in the store. The rabbot was going absolutely berserk, shoving half the items in the store at Helen to entertain her many fashion ideas.

"Ooo! Wouldn't this look faaabulous? Heah, hold it real quick," She suddenly said, another scarf in her arms. She wrapped one around Helen's neck, and the other over her head like a headband. One was a burnt orange, the other a deep sea blue.

"Ah'm so jealous!" Bunnie said, stepping back and looking at Helen, "Everythang looks so beautiful on you! Oh, you've got to let me do your hair sometime…"

Helen chuckled and pulled the scarves from her head and neck, handing them back to the rabbot. She also took out the various clips and pins Bunnie had snapped onto her head while they were in there, "Alright, sounds great!"

Bunnie took the handful of hair stuffs and placed them back from whence they came, then pressed her hand to her cheek, blushing. "Oh, Ah'm sorry, sugah. It's just, you are so beautiful and have such precious gold hair, Ah just can't stop imaginin' you all done up. Nobody in Knothole has hair as pretty as you."

Helen beamed and picked out a lock from her pony tail, eyeing the individual strands of her warm blonde hair. She had always pulled it back, because she felt it got in the way during class. Yet, she never had the heart to cut it short. "Aww, thank you, Bunnie. That's so sweet of you, but I don't think I have the prettiest blonde hair in Knothole. You definitely take the cake."

Bunnie grinned, and twisted her locks in her fingers. "Aww, shucks, sugah. Ya'll gonna make me cry. Ah work and work to keep this hair up. Fightin' a rebellion takes its toll on a girl's follicles. Still, Ah can't play with mah own hair and Sally only lets me mess around with her's once in a while." She paused, seeing another clip. She began to reach for it, then with obvious hesitation, withdrew her hand. Helen breathed a sigh of relief. The rabbot turned, hands on her hips, smiling at the human girl.

"It's not just that, though," She said, "Ah like you, Helen. Ya'll have a good heart and Ah noticed that you notice thangs. Gossip thangs. Lemme tell you, girl, that's mah speciality!"

Helen clapped her hands together and rubbed them back and forth, as if rubbing imaginary 'dirt' between her fingers, "I'm the queen back at the university, but I'm tasteful about it. I make it a point to know, not to tell. So speaking of which, is there anything going on between S-" She was cut off by a female tiger passing in front of them. The Mobian's big paws kicked the footrest on her wheel chair, and the girl was spun halfway around.

"Sorry, excuse me," Helen said, apologetically. The isles were small and her chair took up a lot of space.

The tiger looked at her gruffly, then flared her nostrils, "Yes, excuse you. You nearly tripped me with that contraption of yours."

"I said I was sorry," Helen said defensively, "I'll try to find a corner so I don't take up so much space."

"Hmph. Maybe instead of taking up an entire isle, you should wheel yourself to a place made for your kind."

Helen, taken aback, stared at the tiger wide-eyed. Bunnie, at this point, stepped in front of the tiger and pointed a steel finger at her, "Looky here, missy, she can't help that she's handicapped. People with disabilities have every right to be in a store same as you." The rabbot glared at the tiger, who gave her a smug smirk.

"Of course they do," she replied, "But humans are a different story."

Bunnie frowned, and couldn't come up with a reply before the tiger turned and walked out of the store haughtily. Then she turned back to Helen, a sad look on her face.

"Ah'm sorry, Sugah. Don't listen to her," Bunnie said, shrugging. "Some people are just prejudiced."

Helen felt heat rising to the surface of her face and igniting the skin of her cheeks. She looked around her and realized that their altercation had grabbed the attention of everyone else in the small shop. All Mobians, all looking at her weird. Some of them held her gaze more malevolently than others. Still the message she received from their eyes was the same. Outsider.

"Can we leave?" She asked, her voice faltering. Her vision blurred with the tears she fought to hold back. Stupid, really.

Bunnie immediately grabbed her wheelchair and headed for the door. "Sure thang, Helen. Sure."

"We really should be walkeeng back now, not forward," Antoine said desperately, trailing the two 'experts' in front of him. So strange, these people were, asking questions which had answers that were right in front of them. What types of music did Mobians listen to? All types. What was city life normally like? Like this. How did people cope with the war? All types of ways, all of which they were viewing right now. Antoine sighed and rubbed his fingers to his temples. These humans were too busy searching for the differences between their culture and his own. So busy, in fact, that they barely recognized the similarities. Or perhaps these similarities weren't as important to them.

"Excuse me, Antoine," Brent asked, leaning up against a cobblestone bridge. The water beneath them moved calmly towards the lake, collecting the last of the past winter's melted snow, "But I've noticed that despite technological advancements far superior to our own, there is a certain primeval nature to the Mobian culture. May I ask why Mobians, with the ability to improve their standard of living, choose to live in huts and small cottages rather than larger houses? Have markets and shops instead of corporations and global sales?"

"Apart from ze fact that we are in a global war and do not have many resources, let me just say that we prefer not to follow in ze footsteps of our human predecessors," Antoine answered, already annoyed. Brent looked at him curiously, as did Mary.

"I can understand Knothole's predicament, with the lack of supplies and such, but still: this place, South Island, has the potential to move up into a thriving metropolis. And even back before the war, when Mobotropolis existed, I understand that technology was not a priority until The Great War. Also, you have no real predominant Gods or religions that would hinder this sort of progress. Is it simply contempt for the human way of life as a result of the Great War?"

"Perhaps you could be saying that," Antoine said, "Ze people of Mobotropolis were happy as they were. We had no need for theengs such as skyscrapers and corporations."

"But it provides freedom and capitalism," Brent argued, tapping his pen against his clipboard. "At least for humans it does."

Antoine walked up to the bridge's ledge, and placed his hands upon the rough stone. His eyes shown out over the water for a moment, and he sighed as if trying to rid his himself of this annoyance.

"Look at your human way of life," He said calmly. "You create situations zat aid you but hurt others. You build grand cities with cement and pretty sculptures, but you plant no trees other than for decoration. You have mass markets that make people money, but on ze other hand you have people zat are immensely poor. You become mighty and you take what you want. You say eet is for 'equal opportunity', your 'capitalism', and then you are throweeng your own kind out. Our kind as well."

There was a moment of awkward silence between the three as they stood on the cobblestone bridge, staring at one another. Brent, for a moment, held the coyote's stare, but then looked away. Mary, on the other hand, looked him straight in the eye.

"It sounds like you have a personal problem with humans, because of what occurred in the Great War."

Antoine crossed his arms, and huffed at the woman, "Aye do not have a problem with ze humans of deez world. Rather, aye have a problem with the lifestyle that destroyed my city and harmed ze royal family."

"But not just the royal family," Mary dug.

"No, not just ze royal family," Antoine said, looking down. Mary gave him a sympathetic look, while Brent kept his eyes glued to a restaurant down the street. As an anthropologist, it was his job to study cultures. Many times he had journeyed to different countries on his home world, studying more primitive cultures whose customs were different than those of his own. Still, coming here was different somehow.

"Eet iz just, you are looking at ze things that do not matter," Antoine finally said, breaking the silence. He looked up at Mary, and finally at Brent, who stole his eyes away to have a see, "In a way, you are just like them. Wanting to understand, and yet not wanteeng to be a part of eet. Humans are very scientific, and Aye have heard zat Science is ze King of apathy. Do you not agree?"

Mary bit her lip for a moment. She broke her gaze with the coyote and looked around at the landscape surrounding her, the people that moved through the cobblestone streets. Some looked at her strangely, which she had been trying to ignore all day. Others didn't seem to mind, though there were less of them than those who did. "I…"

"Eet was meant to be rhetorical, a thinkeeng question," Antoine said, "Let us be leaving, we have to be catching up with Bunnie and ze others at ze Cottage Bar soon."

The two humans nodded and followed the coyote as he took off back the way they had come. Though her legs were twice as long as the coyote's, Mary fell behind. Her eyes stared off into space, down through the ground they were pointed at. Suddenly she felt a hand on her shoulder, and looked up at Brent's smiling face. It was his cheer-you-up face.

"Quite amazing, isn't it?" he asked, "I never imagined a society of animals to be just as complex and intelligent as our own."

Mary's frown didn't falter. She glanced around at the thriving town around them, then looked back at Brent. Her eyes were fierce and scared.

"Are we making the right choice?"

The cheer-me-up face dropped right off Brent's nose, and they stopped walking, two humans paused in the midst of the Mobian community. They didn't seem to notice the stares they were getting.

"Oye! Are you two goeeng to be standing there all day?" Came Antoine's voice, "How does ze hedgehog say it? Be comeeng,, slo-moes!"

Brent sighed, and turned, leaving Mary behind with the unanswered question lingering in the air.

The Cottage Bar was a quaint little cobblestone building nestled up against the lake. It stood at the edge of town, across the way from the Cottage Inn, and the pair frequently hosted travelers who used this place as an out-of-the way stop (and who needed to wash away their worries). From the outside, it looked like a friendly place. The inside also did, some days. Some days it didn't.

The chatter stopped when Antoine opened the door, indicating that the atmosphere was already tense. He glanced to the side and saw the corner of room. Shrouded in darkness and a heavy ploom of smoke there sat a large bulldog, dressed in a heavy black coat. Others sat around him, species intermixed, but it was he was the ringleader. Antoine gulped.

"Howdy, ya'll," Bunnie said from the barstools in front. "We've been waitin' heah almost hour."

"My apologies," Antoine responded, as Brent and Mary came in. The two were wrapped in a stony silence, Antoine decided, as a result of his comments earlier. He hopped on a barstool next to Bunnie and Helen. She was sipping a glass of water idly, and staring at the countertop. Beside her, Chuck and Chris sat, looking uneasy.

"Ah think we best get outta heah," Bunnie said softly. "Ah didn't realize that the people of this place would take so unkindly to a couple uh humans walkin' round."

"Eet has definitely been a stressful day," Antoine agreed.

"What'll you have?" Asked the bartender, a short badger with the beginnings of a beer-belly cradling his mid-section. His less-than-white work shirt illuminated his name tag, MARTY, in bold, capital letters.

"Nothing, thank you," Antoine said.

"Then ya gotta leave, buster," he said frankly, shrugging. "It's my policy, sorry, keeps unwanted people out."

At this point the bulldog got up from the table and walked up to the bar. He was obviously drunk, and seemed rather annoyed with one of his 'co-workers' he had left at the table. He pushed himself in between Bunnie and Helen and slammed his fists on the table. Helen gasped and dropped her water. It crashed to the ground and shattered.

"MARTY. 'NOTHER PINT!" He shouted, and the bartender looked at him with an annoyed glance.

"I'm right here." He said, and bent down, picking up a huge glass from below the counter. He filled it with brew and shoved it back at the dog, who downed half of it right there. Then he slammed it down on the counter and wiped the liquid from his mouth, before looking at Helen, who immediately glanced away. He huffed and turned to the Bunnie, who had moved a few steps away and was wrinkling up her nose.

"Hey, gorgeous," He said, grinning, and moved his hand to touch her hand. She raised her metal one and grabbed his wrist, frowning.

"No thanks," She said, "Maybe if you didn't smell like a garbage heap in Robotropolis on uh mid-july afternoon."

The dog glanced at her metal fist, then huffed and retracted his hand. He looked behind her and glared at Antoine, who gulped, then set his sights on Brent and Mary.

"Hey, not getting' anything? The man said to leave, ya here? Lousy humans, think they can parade around everywhere. Well, I'll show ya, just the way I did back the day. Pickin' 'em off one by one." He grinned and pointed his index finger at them, his thumb in the air, making the shape of a gun.

"Bang," He said, then grabbed his pint and walked away.

From the corner of Chris's eye, he could see a tear slide down Helen's cheek. Marty the bartender said 'it's okay, miss' and began to walk around the counter with a dustpan. He gave the group a warning glance, letting them know it probably wasn't safe to be here.

"We're leaving." Bunnie said gruffly. She grabbed Helen's chair and wheeled her out. The rest exchanged heavy looks, before following back towards the edge of South Island, and the beginning of the Great Forest.

The glass resonated with a light clinking sound as it made contact with the plastic container. A curse word followed from the lips of the geneticist as his fingers slipped, losing contact with his precious sample. He made for it, quickly, but not quickly enough, and the glass shattered upon the work bench, spilling its red contents in all directions. The man jumped up and slammed his fists on the ground, sighing.


The scientist growled as he turned towards the door, looking for some form of paper towels. No, of course not. They had no such thing here. "Jen," He said, eyeing the biologist from his squared spectacles, "Don't start with me."

Jen smiled and walked in, looking around the Freedom Fighter Headquarters that Weldenburg had set up shop in. "Was the walrus's lab not big enough for you?"

"No, no," Came the reply, and a rummaging sound as the man disappeared into the other room. He appeared with a tattered rag in his hand, and pulled off his glasses to clean them off. Small flecks of red dotted it, "Rotor's lab is more than sufficient. I just…needed some time to work on my own little project."

Jen watched him carefully make his way back to the workbench, bending over to pick up pieces of the glass vial that had shattered. She looked back towards the stained wood, covered in red. It was rapidly spreading across the table, already pooling around a cylindrical glass container on the lower right hand corner. The rest of the table was littered with papers (stained), genetics equipment, and illuminated slightly by the green chaos emerald.

"Veering off from your orders to pursue your own interests as always," She said, "And this is…?"

"The hedgehog's blood? Yes." Weldenburg said calmly, cleaning off the glass. "My work was to determine the differences between human and Mobian blood. Well, it's pretty much the same, you see. Boring stuff, really. Only a few strands of code that are different, really, and the print-out code can be examined back home. Since that work is done, really, I began focusing with the walrus on my other interest, my real reason for being here." He paused, glancing at Jen, and then turned back towards the console, "Which, as you know, goes hand-in-hand with my other orders.

"He really is extraordinary, this creature. His abilities, his immune system, his strength, all could be used to do amazing things if the right genes could be isolated. I just wish I had more time with him…"

Jen's expression was becoming more and more disturbed, "…Thomas."

Mr. Weldenburg turned, looking back at Jen. "What?"

Her eyes narrowed, and she took a few steps forward. Her hand reached out and rested upon his shoulder, "Don't get too attached to this."

The dim light from the table illuminated his glasses as he placed them back on the bridge of his nose.

"I know," He said, and a stony silence passed in between the two humans. The darkness persisted like a solid wall that was pressing down upon them, until it began to vanish in a green hue. Weldenburg's frown deepened and he turned around to explore the source of the light. "What the…"

The blood had found its way to the Chaos Emerald, and was now pooling around it. The emerald itself was glowing furiously. It illuminated the dark room almost as brightly as a light bulb would have. The stone seemed to be reacting to the blood somehow. The two humans gathered around the table and watched as suddenly tiny points of light seemed to flow through the red liquid, across the wood, and into the cylindrical container. The energy seemed to collect within the container, centering around a large filament within the glass. Then, all at once, the container acquired the same glow as the chaos emerald. Weldenburg reached forward cautiously and lifted the cylinder from the table. The red liquid slipped down the glass and collected around his fingertips. He held it so that it illuminated the heavy wrinkles in his face and the worry lines in Jen's.

"It seems like your original hypothesis was correct," She said flatly.

"Yes, it appears so," Weldenburg replied. He placed the container back on the wood, out of the way of the hedgehog's volunteered DNA. Then he reached up and wiped the sweat from his brow. "Damn."

However pleasurable it was to be out of South Island, Knothole was not on the top of Chris's list of places he wanted to be that night. The group returned exhausted, and the prospect of the sleeping in straw-stuffed beds was not a particularly appealing one. Chris stumbled into the community hut and plopped down on his bed, sighing. His grandfather and Brent did the same. The evening brought a light breeze that floated in through the windows and made its way to Chris's nose. It was refreshing, and heavy with the scent of pine and earth.

Still…however beautiful, it didn't erase what had happened today.

He sat there for a few moments longer, letting his muscles relax. In his mind he replayed the moment in the store when he realized everyone had been staring at him, and the conflict in the bar. He played back the images of Mobian eyes, glaring fiercely at him. The feeling of dread crept back into his head and started to wrap itself around him. Suddenly he felt as though he understood how Sonic felt in cramped places. He wanted to run. He sat there for a few moments more, until the ache in his feet ebbed, and then he was off hut was too suffocating. He needed to be outside. He walked towards the edge of the village and then began circling the perimeter. He listened to his footsteps pat down the dirt, crush the grass beneath his soles. The light breeze continued to blow, and it passed through his hair, drying the sweat from the long ride back. Circling, circling, it didn't do much to help. He always ended up right back where he had started.

On his third trip around the village, he spotted a hut with a lighted window. Whether it had been lit before, he did not know. Still, a sound from within caused the boy to move towards it. He arrived at the door, which was slightly ajar, and paused to peek inside. It was Bunnie's hut, he realized, and there she sat, her flesh arm wrapped around Helen's shoulders as she wept into her hands. The princess stood in front of them, leaning up against a round table and chair set. Chris bit his lip and lowered his head, sighing. The gesture must have been loud, for Sally's ears perked up and she turned to look out the door. When she saw him, she motioned him inside.

A lamp had been fixed to the ceiling and hung down, lighting the hut in dim, golden glow. Chris ducked to enter the doorframe and stood next to Sally. The furniture around him looked miniature and his height trumped the ground squirrel by a mile. Feeling awkward, he sat down in one of the wooden chairs, and looked at the ground. Helen's face peeked out from behind her hands, and she wiped the tears from her eyes immediately.

"Oh, Chris," She said, in an embarrassed tone. She didn't look him in the eye, but stared off in shame, "I'm sorry you have to see me like this."

Chris shook his head, gesturing to her that it was fine. "No, no, Helen. I get it. That creep was scary."

Helen stared at him for a moment, and then looked down. Her bangs covered her eyes and made it impossible for Chris to make out her expression.

"No, it wasn't that…"

Silence dragged on into what seemed like an hour to Chris, for he really didn't know what to say to Helen here, in the presence of Sally and Bunnie. He himself had doubts about what they thought about…about them.

"…When I was a little girl, my father was constantly going on about the 'human problem'," Sally said suddenly. She had her arms folded, and she was looking off to the side. The light glow of the overhead lamp brought out the red in her hair, and her expression seemed warm as she became wrapped in nostalgia. "He wasn't always like that, but as the war became worse his outlook toward the human race grew dark and bitter. My mother, on the other hand, had only nice things to say about humans. She told me never to blame them for what happened. There were a lot of times when I forgot that she had told me that. And when Sonic came back and told me about what he had done in that strange world I admit I was less than thrilled about his view of you guys." She shook her head.

"But after all the stories Sonic told me – how he described you - I realized I was wrong, and I remembered what my mother said. Not all people are wise enough to see past their own prejudices. Still, it's something you have to live with, if you want to be a part of this world, the same way we have to live with it when we travel to human cities."

Bunnie nodded, squeezing Helen's shoulders lightly. "Yeah, it's kinda how like Ah had to get used to all them stares Ah get when Ah go to different places and people see mah arms 'n legs. People don't always take very kindly to me."

Helen shook her head slightly, still staring at the ground. Chris sat still, his hands folded over his knees. He nodded slightly at the ground squirrel's words.

"I've just…" Helen's voice was small and wavering. "I've learned to deal with stares, and people whispering, being in a wheelchair. When I was little it was the worst, but I got used to it. I did it by thinking that they were looking at the chair, not me. They didn't understand. But I've…." She paused as her voice faltered. She clenched her hands together and bowed her head, sniffling.

"I've never been hated…simply for existing…"

Bunnie tightened her grip on Helen's shoulders as her face disappeared behind her hands again. Chris looked up at Sally, who was gazing down at Helen sympathetically. Then, cautiously, he reached forward, across the space between him and Helen. His fingertips found their way to her knee, and he rested his palm against the fabric covering it, brushing his thumb gently over the fibers. They stayed like that for a while longer, the four of them, united through experiences that had previously served to divide their two cultures once and for all.