At night, the home of the Hedgehogs was far from quiet. Aside from the ever present rumble of thunder outside, the workshop thrummed with powered technology and computers, the air conditioning system pumped an ever flowing stream of soft, cool air to keep their life in the Great barren at least a little bearable. Their floors were a soft sandstone, pliable enough to make a home, yet resilient enough to resist the winds. A fresh coat of protective coating to the outside walls was applied every two or three years to prevent sandstorms from eroding their home away, but otherwise they were nestled safely within a small crevice in a rocky outcropping, high above the common floor of the rest of the Barren wastes. They had running water and never needed for food so long as Sonic could run to town or Shadow could teleport there.
The sandstone floors were swept often, but still managed to be a little dusty and slightly sandy. Chuck's feet shuffled from one end of the kitchen into the other, leaving a soft "Swish, swish" sound in his wake.
Sleep wasn't going to claim him this night, not for another few hours at least until the exhaustion wore him down. Change in the form of a scientific variable or unexpected discovery was easy for him to digest, but emotional change was something else entirely. Emotions were volatile and subjective and he had never liked dealing with the emotions of others. Probably one of the reasons he had remained a bachelor for so long. Committing so much of his emotional wellbeing to the emotional well being of someone else had led to disaster. He could process calculus and identify biological compounds by their molecular components, but women? Feh.
His work tended to take all his attention anyway and with his appointment as Minister of Science, his time at home was about to go back to the time he spent in his dorm room during his college days. The kids were going to have to fend for themselves far more often, but they were of an age to truly branch out onto their own.
In the kids hallway, he saw a soft light coming from under Amy's door, a flash that matched the rumble of thunder outside. He opened the door softly and found Amy sitting by the window, the curtains thrown aside. She stared at her hands, gloves lying on the ground. In the light, she was a beautiful young woman coming into her own, but in the pit of Uncle Chuck's heart, he knew what he had to say to her.
Entering with a soft knock, she turned her attention to him as he shut the door. "Can't sleep, Princess?"
Amy just rolled her eyes, "Uncle Chuck, I'm no princess. Unless you count Princess of the Rocks or something. What kind of princess has hands like this?" She turned her palms up to him and he saw what she meant. Her hands were rough, calloused, with dirt stains seemingly engrained into the crevices of her fingerprints. She did have a point, those were not the soft, dainty hands of a princess.
"Well, you'll get to meet the Princess when we arrive and compare. She's a nice young woman, so I hear. But that's not why I came in here." He sat next to her by the window, taking her hands in his.
"Where we're going, Amy. The Palace. Its different than out here."
"I figured that, Uncle Chuck. Probably less dusty."
He smiled softly, "Yes, well, it's different than just the aesthetics. It's what's known as culture shock. Girls in the palace, even girls who are daughters or cousins of lower dignitaries like me, are different than the girls in Urbantropolis. In the Palace...well, it just has an effect on girls. It's hard for me to say exactly what, but there's a lot more conniving and sniping and stuff that girls your age are good at doing."
"I can handle myself, Uncle Chuck." Amy said, balling up her fist.
Chuckle laughed and lowered her fists down, "I know you can. If only it were that simple. You have to be strong, but not here," He touched her fist and then pointed to her heart, "You have to be strong here, or those girls will hurt you in ways no fist or foot ever could. Your brothers might pick at you, but you know deep down they love you. Some girls will call you names or tell you something and hope that it cuts you in half."
Amy nodded, trying to imagine being told something that could hurt her, but couldn't conjure anything. "How do you know?"
"I saw a lot of this behavior when I worked at the Palace, years before I adopted you youngins. Women who worked around me and so forth. I experienced it myself, too. In the Palace, the Guard are the most numerous presence. They're everywhere, have access to places others don't, and they thrive on their ability to protect. They're also not big fans of use science-types."
"You mean they like fighting?" Amy smiled, only hearing his comment about "Ability to protect" "Then maybe I need to join the Guard, then."
"No!" Chuck started, "Remember what I said about your powers. It doesn't matter in any event, the Guard is off-limits to women. It's an ancient rule that a lot of people disagree with, but most of the Kings feel that doing away with it would cause more problems than it solves, so they just accept it as a royal tradition, something that shouldn't be changed."
"Stupid." Amy spat her tongue out in a raspberry.
"I was subjected to a lot of bullying in my time there. We science types aren't admired much until our contributions start letting the Guards and the Royal Marines do their job more effectively. The King is the same way. He was bullied for being a bit on the scrawny side...eh, don't mention that I told you this, ok? That's another thing about the Palace: try not to spread too much gossip, it can get you in a lot of trouble. Anyway, he worked hard to gain the respect of the Guard and went through a formal military training."
"Very manly of him." Amy smiled, "Better than sitting back on a silk pillow while others do all the work."
"It was mostly a gesture, but it got some of his bullies off his back-especially when he showed how smart he could be. He's a nice man, Amy."
"Then why is he taking us away from our home? I know it's not much out here, but we have each other and we have our freedom."
"If I know Max, then there's a lot he isn't telling me. So let's keep it at that. Think of this as a chance to experience new places, meet new people. Just guard you heart, Amy. At the Palace, there will be a whole new world opened up to you as a young woman. You'll have access to future opportunities, careers, or paths in life that many in the normal population don't have the chance to access. We're just surviving out here, but there we will live a life of privilege. I suggest you do the same thing I did when I befriended Max in the military: treat people how you want to be treated, find a need and fill that need. You know what you're best at doing. All you have to do is find out where you can put that to use and the whole world opens itself up to you."
"Is that why you adopted us?" Amy asked, "A new experience? Didn't adopting us take you away from the Palace and everything you wanted to do with your own life?"
Chuck thought for a moment, as Amy's words hit home harder than her fists ever could, "Yes, I did. I left behind the chance to do everything I wanted. Because when my heart when out to you kids, I wanted for you to have a normal life more than anything I ever wanted for myself. That's true love, Amy. You'll get to meet boys at the Palace, too, so keep that in mind when you meet them."
Amy just blushed, "Okay, Uncle Chuck, I'm totally not having this conversation with you, okay? I can take care of myself against boys and girls."
"I know you can, sweetie. Come here." He wrapped his arms around her, feeling that when she finally let go, he would never hug her the same again.
It took three days for the preparations to leave their only home to be complete. Charles fought against Sonic's sour feelings about riding in a moving hovervan, but their possessions couldn't be moved by hand. And since moving to Mobotropolis consisted of passing other people, Sonic was doubly angered to find he couldn't pass the time by running freely while they rode in the moving van.
The Hedgehogs thought they would be moving most of Uncle Chuck's computers, but he surprised them when he asked Amy to chunk them into the bottom pit of the crevasse where their house was located.
"What about all your work?" Amy asked.
"I only need the data." Charles said, patted a Datapad handily. "And it's already taken care of. I've wiped the computers. They're obsolete anyway. As Minister of Science, I'll have access to the latest technology anyway."
Amy shrugged and did as told, chucking the old computer towers into the endless pit that would swallow the unwary.
Sonic commented as they moved the last of their things that it looked lifeless and empty, "It feels like we're never coming back."
"We're not." Shadow said. "You really think the King will stand for letting Uncle Chuck out of his sight again? Look at the trouble he went through to get Uncle Chuck back. I'm surprised he didn't come himself."
"He could have at least sent the Princess." Sonic smirked, "You ever see pics of that babe?"
"You know damn well I have." Shadow snarled as he grabbed his lone box of possessions.
"Come on, you can't tell me you don't think she's a babe."
Shadow muttered, "I'm not partial to brown fur."
"Pfft. You're too damn picky."
The hedgehog teens would have new furniture and beds in their rooms, but most of the packing was sentimental things: favorite desks, pictures, Uncle Chuck's favorite armchair, equipment that couldn't afford to be left behind, bits of charming, homely odds and ends that made their sandpit house a real home. The rest would be left behind.
When the final day came, they piled into the Hovervan, six seats deep, and drove casually away from the home that had been theirs since they were children.
At five hundred feet away, Charles stopped the van and picked up a transmission datapad. He typed in a few commands and they all looked back as their house was rocked by a series of explosions from within. The house collapsed in on itself and when the dust settled, it was impossible to tell a house had even been there.
The kids watched until the site of their home was gone, leaving a sinking feeling in the pit of their stomachs-the kind of anxious feeling one got when facing real, permanent change in one's life.
It was not the only time during that trip that they had a sinking feeling either. An hour out from the house, they passed Devil's Canyon. They nervously held their breath as Charles took a smoother, longer route away from the canyon towards Urbantropolis. Silently, as one, the teens let their anxious breath out. If Uncle Chuck had gone the other direction, they would have run directly into the fallen body of a slain dragon and that was not something any of them were looking forward to trying to explain.
The Barren Wastes, thought by most to be useless and uninhabitable, did harbor a small population of hardy, resourceful souls. Though none were openly hostile to authority or the monarchy, many were people who lived a simple life and preferred the solitude and personal freedom that came with living in the Wastes.
It was settled on the Western-most edge of the Acorn Kingdom, where the endless barren wasteland eventually gave way to great crags that couldn't be traversed and electrical storms that couldn't be navigated. It was as great a magical and physical barrier that could exist without being man made.
The closest city to the Waste's was Urbantropolis and glamorous it was not. However, the city was not an endless wasteland of dust and rocks, so it was akin to a funhouse for the teens, who had been taking a number of opportunities to sneak out and broach the city in the past few years. If Uncle Chuck knew the truth, they would have been in far more trouble than just a mere reprimand.
Sonic's running had given them away, but they all went and had spent a number of weekends in the city by themselves when Uncle Chuck thought they were spending the night at friends houses. What was a whole day's ride by hovervan took Sonic an hour or so to reach. The kids, whether Chuck liked it or not, were city regulars.
Uncle Chuck pulled into hotel and the teen piled out and proceeded to settle in for the night. They traded idle chit-chat, ate some delivery pizza, and settled down for a movie while they all filed away for bed.
Sonic crept out of the hotel room as quiet and silent as a mouse wearing mittens. Normally, he was blusterous and not concerned about stealth, but when he made the effort, when he really needed to, he was damn near a ninja. So it surprised him when he got fifty feet from the room and Shadow suddenly teleported right in front of him, arms crossed and a scowl fixed on his face.
"The hell are you going?" he demanded to know.
Sonic held up his hands in defense, "Jeeze, Shadow. Give a guy a heart attack why dontcha? Look, I got some business to take care of, okay? Get lost."
"You're not going to party, are you?"
"No. Even if I was, so what? All we're doing is driving tomorrow. So what if I sleep the whole trip? Besides, this is something the main hedgehog has to do solo, so no teleport-ninja-sneaking-following, okay?"
Shadow narrowed his gaze at Sonic, "What are you up to?
Sonic only held up a finger, "My business. Now go back to bed, Shadow. It's not any trouble, but it's something I got to do, okay?"
Shadow watched Sonic for a moment and nodded. Sonic wouldn't be serious unless something really was serious. His brother never asked for much and never gave him a reason to suspect his motives. If he had something he didn't want Shadow knowing about, so be it. It wasn't as if Shadow himself didn't keep things from the rest of his family.
With a near silent paf! Shadow disappeared and Sonic was left alone. He took off at a less-than-sonic speed, taking care not to leave too much wind or noise in his wake.
A few minutes later, Sonic raced into Sol Park, approaching a small copse of trees from which came an orange glow. He stomped through a worn trail in the bushes and emerged on the other side to a small clearing. At the center stood a tall bonfire and surrounding the bonfire was a gaggle of early to late teenagers of various species, all chatting excitedly amongst each other about one thing or another.
Instead of announcing himself to them as was his usual custom, Sonic skirted the edge of the clearing and approached a figure sprawled out on the grass, staring at the sky. Her bright yellow fur stood in contrast to the dark green grass and her amethyst hair, long and in flowing waves, spread out underneath her lithe body like a great cape.
He walked up towards the top of her head and bent over at the waist, staring down into her emerald eyes and smiled, "I don't know whatcha lookin' at, but it can't be half as good as yours truly."
She gasped as a wide smile spread over her face and she scrambled to her feet and leapt into the air. Sonic was quick to catch her in his arms. She smelled of wildberries and lilac, an intoxicating aroma that was unique about her. It encircled his senses as she encircled her arms around his neck and drew him towards her until their lips met.
For a long time, Sonic stood there, holding the beautiful girl in his arms, drinking in her presence as their lips clashed together. When they finally parted, he set her down on her feet.
"Nice to see you too, Mina." Sonic smiled at her.
She squeezed her arms around his neck, hugging him tightly. "I missed you so much, Sonic!" She squealed. "Why didn't you send me a message that you were coming to town tonight?"
"Uh, kinda had a last minute change of plans." said Sonic as Mina's hands dropped into his. Mina was Urbantropolis born-and-breed, lived in the city her whole life. She was one of several mongoose families that had migrated to the city generations ago during the Great Exodus.
She had been Sonic's girlfriend for almost a year.
"Well, I'm just glad to see you." She said, her smile beaming at him. "You wanna stay here or go get a bite to eat or what?"
"Let's just take a walk." Sonic said. He led Mina out of the clearing and back into parts of the park that were inhabited solely by themselves.
After a few minutes, Mina's curiosity couldn't keep itself down. "Something's wrong, isn't it? You hate walking. What are you doing?"
Sonic cursed silently. She knew him really well. Granted, he wasn't a hard hedgehog to read, but even so, it was grating to know that one look and she could tell what he was thinking.
"It's...well, something's come up, Mina." Sonic sighed as they paused at the top of a bridge that stretched over a lake. Below them, a gaggle of sleeping swans were nestled in the waterside bushes. How did he tell the beautiful girl he wasn't coming back?
Mina waited patiently. She could tell he was devastated by something.
"I have...I have to leave." He spat it out.
Mina's bubbly, cheerful demeanor fell and with it, her face seemed to drop hearing him say those words. "Leave? Leave where? Why?"
Sonic kicked angrily at a post on the bridge. "Dammit! My Uncle Chuck works for the King and the King called him back into service, so we're all moving to Mobotropolis."
The words he spoke took a moment to sink in and when they did, Mina's heart landed somewhere in the vicinity of her left boot. She took hold of Sonic's arm and drew close to him, as if he would vanish if she blinked. "No. No, Sonic...you can't go."
"I got no choice." Sonic said, "Royal Law says I can't leave what's considered my home until I'm 20 or it nullifies the adoption treaty Uncle Chuck signed. Which means..."
"You'll be a ward of the State." Mina finished for him, "And that means you'd get drafted into the Royal Marines and get shipped off to war or go to jail if you refuse."
"Worse." Sonic sighed as they continued walking again, "It would nullify my bros and my sis, too. We'd all get shipped off and drafted and who knows if we ever see each other again. I just can't leave, I have to obey the law for another three years."
The two of them walked into a soft patch of grass and followed a trail off the beaten path, one hidden from view from the public walkways. Together, they paused and looked up at the stars together, silent save the sound of their breathing.
Sonic heard Mina sniffle and looked down to see her wiping tears from her eyes.
"It's not fair." She said, burying her face into his shoulders. Sonic held the girl to him, trying to think of something to say, but words failed him. He was always a big talker, but suddenly he couldn't find a thing to say to soothe her. He just held her as she cried over and over, "It's not fair. It's not fair!"
Sonic's mental fumbling reached for a solution that wouldn't lead to Mina's heart being shattered into a thousand pieces. He saw her infrequently over the last year, having met her at a dance club. Her fur and hair had caught the multi-colored lights in ways that made her truly stand out. She danced with an energetic assurance that just drew him to her.
Mina had been a secret he'd kept from even his brothers, though they suspected he was seeing a girl-or girls-on the side. She was nice and fun and every time she saw him, he lit up her life. And now he had to be the bad guy and break her heart by leaving.
"Maybe you could come with me." He blurted out, no thinking.
"I can't. I couldn't do that to mom and dad." Mina sniffled, wiped her eyes with the back of her hand, "Besides, I'm only 15. I'm not nearly old enough to get an Emancipation License and even if I could, there has to be some kind of grievance against my parents. I just can't do that to them."
Sonic nodded, lowering his head until their foreheads touched gently, "I wish I could do something, Mina. But I'm not a hero, I'm just the fastest hedgehog on Mobius."
Mina threw her arm around him and hugged his neck. She planted a gentle kiss on his cheek. "You'll always be a hero to me, Sonic."
Mina drew Sonic to her lips and held onto him tightly, as though he might vanish the instant she let go. He was here and he was all she wanted, all the thought about in the past few months. He had dashed into her life from out of nowhere and now he was about to dash right back out as if he had never been there.
She had never met a boy as exciting, funny, and dashing as Sonic-even before she knew about his super speed. Hardly a ladies' man, Sonic was more full of life and energy than anyone she had ever known and the ways his kisses left tingles down her spine was not something she wanted to give up.
As the minutes passed into the still of the night, Mina and Sonic shared the next hours together, each one desperate for the others embrace. The only sound in the park was the chirping of crickets and the sound of their kisses as they lay in the grass.
Sonic felt a tug on his arm and yielded cautiously as Mina began to slowly pull Sonic on top of her, spreading her legs as she did so.
Sonic paused, "Mina...We've never-"
She silenced him with a finger to his lips. "Please." She begged, "I want it to be you."
Sonic felt a nervous knot in his stomach, but when he saw the gorgeous girl in front of him, her eyes pleading, her body begging, he felt his will draining and under the night of the full moon, he made love with the girl who cared for him more than anyone else did or ever had. She whispered his name over and over, hoping beyond hope that this night would never end.
But end it did and as they lay together in the grass, basking in the afterglow, Sonic planted a small kiss on her lips as sleep took Mina and within five steps he had raced out of her life forever.
When Sonic got back to the hotel, Shadow wasn't waiting for him. Shadow always waited and scolded him or bragged about being right about something he told Sonic not to do. Tonight, Shadow was nowhere to be found. Meaning he had probably followed Sonic.
Sure enough, he saw the outline of Shadow's quills as he stood with his back against a nearby potted plant. Anyone else besides Sonic would have missed him, but Sonic knew how to spot his brother when he was hiding. His eyes met Shadow's eyes.
"Well?" Sonic spat defensively, "Got something you want to say?"
Shadow only stared ahead, "No."
Sonic seemed taken back, but let it go and went inside to collapsed on his bed. Shadow continued to stare into the night, seeing dawn's approaching glow in the distant. When Sonic was well out of earshot, Shadow said to himself, "I'm sorry, brother."