The Blue Blur's voice went unheard in the void of outer space.
Same as with Shadow, his golden sheen fading back to his normal black...
There was no need for Sonic and everyone else to worry.
The Ultimate Lifeform had achieved his true purpose at last.
'Maria...this is what you wanted, right?'
Yes, to have only seen her sapphire eyes and glowing smile beam at what he had just done...
Her promise fulfilled after so many years...
Now...now Shadow could finally rest in peace.
"Alright, people, move it up! This guy can't hit!"
Normally, most kids Arnold's age would have likely responded to such a scathing remark with either a searing comment of their own or just a potent glare.
Fortunately, Arnold didn't exactly act like most folks his age.
Oh yes, he had fun and simply loved the taste of ice cream or the thrill of a good game just as much as the next kid, but he was also what people may refer to as the "golden boy." He never got into fights; he stopped them. He never got a temper; he cooled down tempers. And he never lost his cool; he made sure people got their cool back.
Of course, when you've dealt with a certain, quick-to-temper, and hard-to-avoid blonde ever since preschool, you do tend to have your moments.
Regardless, the football-headed boy, dressed in a tiny, sky-blue hat, blue shirt, plaid undershirt that peeked out from under the first shirt (thus easily—and unfortunately at times—leaving much room to be mistaken for a kilt), blue pants, and black shoes, gripped the baseball with firm focus.
The pitcher before him—a scowling, pigtailed blonde dressed out in a red-striped pink dress with a white undershirt and shoes, and a carnation bow—was not to going to have his goat again.
Especially when his own team was just a few homeruns away from winning the game...
So with steely determination set in his forest-green eyes, Arnold readied himself for the incoming ball...Helga threw...time seemed to grind to a halt for a few moments...then somewhere between the pitch and the second Arnold made contact with the projectile, his mind just seemed to go on auto-drive.
The golden-haired fourth-grader didn't even remember shutting his eyes before making the hit and keeping them shut for a few moments afterwards.
In fact, after opening his eyes back up, Arnold, even though he knew for certain that he had at least swung the bat, simply stared out into space for a few moments. Lowering his arms and the bat to his sides, the football-headed boy turned his head left and right, a blank expression on his face, almost expecting the ball to have passed him by and be laying somewhere on the dull green grass or the coarse brown soil.
He did not see what he expected to see.
What he saw instead was the sight of his classmates no longer concentrating on him, but rather on something in the sky.
'Wait, did I—'
Raising an eyebrow in perplexity, Arnold turned his sights skywards...and tried his hardest not to break his own face in half from the massive smile threatening to spread across his oblong face.
Sure enough, he could just make out a tiny, light grey and red dot in the sky. The dot soared high in the air, its destination apparently to be somewhere behind a building on the next street.
Arnold felt so proud of himself.
Granted, that ball would most likely cause property damage by smashing into a window or, worse, conk someone right on the head (darn Dangerous Lumber), but right now Arnold felt too much childlike elation to worry about the consequences at the moment.
Now, young Arnold wasn't the kind of person that preferred to brag (being as it was very unsportsmanlike), but one had to admit that he at least needed some kind of outlet to let out the excitement at this latest accomplishment. That ball had flown higher and farther than any he had been pitched yet!
"Wow! Gerald, did you see—"
But Arnold didn't see a look of admiration when he turned to his dark-toned friend. He saw awe in Gerald's eyes, as well as in those of the other fourth-graders surrounding him, yes, but also confusion...and perhaps slight fear?
They didn't even seem to be staring at the soaring ball...
No, their focus seemed to be on something further out than the baseball.
And after a few moments of straining his eyes in a fruitless searching of the skies, Arnold discovered the cause for everyone's stunned stupor.
His mouth went agape!
To Shadow, the time he descended down Earth's atmosphere felt like an eternity (or at least would've seemed like an eternity to him after he wakes up—if he wakes up).
Any memories he'd have of falling, if he'd survive, would be blurs for the most part.
However, there was one sight in particular he'd probably remember seeing before closing his eyes to await the end...
Its color stood out the most amongst the dull greys and neutral hues of the city around it.
A little, cherry red building...
A sudden flash in the sky...
That's all Arnold remembered seeing before the light became too bright to look at anymore.
No, our football-headed hero was still conscious, as were the rest of his eccentric classmates.
However, no one could deny what had just taken place: a meteor had just struck Hillwood!
And as expected, every person who had just seen the odd event take place, including Arnold and friends, burst into frenzied discussion.
"Did you guys just see that!" shouted a portly, bulking boy in a blue cap, blue T-shirt, and brown shorts, as well as in a white T-shirt that stretched over his massive pot belly. Of all the fourth-graders present, he stood the tallest—and widest— among them all.
"Boy howdy, Harold, I sure did!" exclaimed in response a boy in white Beatles boots, blue jeans, a white T-shirt, a black leather jacket, and a green cap that concealed his stringy black hair.
Right beside Harold, a gangly boy, brown-haired and flat-topped, donned in a simple green shirt with dark blue jeans, studded spike wristbands, and black/white shoes, turned to his companion in the green hat incredulously but sincerely.
"Tarnations, ya'll have to be downright blind not to have seen sumthin' like that!"
"Seen? Criminy, Stinky, we could practically feel the impact from right under our feet, for crying out loud! Heck, I'll even bet you a Mr. Fudgy Bar that the rats in the sewer felt it!"
That response had come from none other than Helga G. Pataki (the pigtailed blonde). This chick gave off her all-famous (or rather infamous) scowl at the obviousness of the boys' statements.
"Guys!" called out Arnold's firm and mature-sounding voice, bringing everyone's attention to him.
His face was full of stern concern.
"Listen, there's no telling what's really going on," the oddly oblong headed boy continued in an even voice, taking in the view of all his classmates all the while. "All we know is that something crashed into the city. Besides, you guys heard what Stinky said," he motioned a hand towards his country classmate. "Millions of people had to have seen that crash-landing. There's no telling how many of them might show up there. I think we'd be best off just letting the authorities handle this."
All the other children, though respecting the oblong-headed child to a considerable degree, seemed to be more set on the opposite of the "right thing to do"...especially Helga, who merely scoffed at the futile "do-gooder" attempts of the "Football-Head" (as she preferred to call him on a regular basis).
A dark-toned hand suddenly brought the attention of the young orator, bringing him to turn to an African American boy a head (and stack of curly, ebony hair) taller than him, in a red jersey shirt with the number 33 in white, dark blue jeans, and red and white shoes.
Gerald Johanssen—the "most happenin' brutha on this side of the hood of Hillwood" and none other than the actual "Keeper of the Tales"— gestured for his golden haired best bud to join him a piece away from the others for a private talk.
"Arnold, could I have a word with you, buddy?"
"Uh, sure, what's up?" The young football head, Arnold, gave his friend a look of confusion as well as curiosity before nodding and following him to the other side of Gerald Field.
"Arnold, do you know how often stuff like this"—Gerald paused in midsentence, pointing a finger upward to indicate the direction of the "meteor's" landing site—"happens to kids like us? Man, we could be the very first kids—heck, the first people period— in modern history to see an actual meteor up close and personal!"
Much to Gerald's chagrin, however, Arnold didn't quite share his enthusiasm. The frown, the head shaking, and deadpan look said everything.
'Aren't any of them at least a little worried about what might happen?'
"Gerald, all sorts of people saw that meteor crash." To prove a point, Arnold counted off on his fingers to illustrate his point. "News-reporters will be there for stories. Policemen and emergency teams will be there to see if anyone got hurt. If we went, we'd just get in the way."
This time, Gerald shook his own head, sighing at his best bud's typical stubbornness.
"Ah, forget Mr. Goody-Two-Shoes there, Geraldo!" Helga butted right into the boys' conversation, making sure to give Arnold a shove to get the message across. Arnold only gave her a slight glare. Gerald only gave Helga a raised eyebrow, although he too felt a tad irked at the pigtailed girl's abrupt entrance.
Regardless, Helga smirked as she pointed a thumb to herself. "I say we check that crash-site out for ourselves."
That sentence did it.
Instantaneously, the rest of the fourth-graders—aside from Helga, Arnold, and Gerald—exploded into fervent discussion!
"Yeah, I bet we'll find a real life UFO! We'd probably be famous if we did!" Oh yes, Sid practically had the glimmers of fame already glimmering in his eyes.
"Wilikers, now that'd be just sumthin'!" Stinky apparently couldn't have agreed more with his friend/partner in crime. Being recognized for finding something as unique as a meteor sure sounded nice to the country boy.
"Imagine me. My exquisite visage on television..." Indeed, Rhonda Lloyd, a girl in a long shirt and shoes of crimson, black pants and with bowl-cut black hair, (unsurprisingly) fantasized the glamour possibly awaiting her as well.
Arnold could only sigh at the inspired obstinacy of his peers. They were more set on finding the oddity from the sky than he'd first thought.
'Guess there's no way around this, huh?' Arnold put a hand to his chin.
Actually, now that Arnold thought about this whole matter a second time...finding a rock from outer space did sound rather...exciting to say the least. Okay, maybe being famous would be a little nice, but the simple-hearted football-headed boy, ever the humble one, thought more about the enjoyment of the search rather than the actual rewards.
Gerald's voice suddenly broke through Arnold's thoughts. "So what do you say man?"
Hand still on chin, Arnold gave his best friend and classmates an honest smile. "Hmm, well, it does sound kind of fun. Just as long we're careful out there!"
Harold could only scoff at his classmate's concern. "Ha, yeah right, Arnold! As if some dumb rock gonna's hurt us!"
The "dumb rock"...wasn't a quite a "dumb rock."
Oh yeah, whatever had been mistaken for a meteorite managed to make a crater in the ground (even though the crater itself had a size surprisingly much smaller than the all the ones Arnold and company had conjured up in their heads prior to their arrival).
However, meteorites are usually fallen pieces of space rock.
If they could be fallen living things as well—living things that survive unscathed—then Mr. Simmons had some serious explaining to do come tomorrow's science lesson.
Despite the increasing weirdness of this situation, Arnold couldn't help but scan the area around him and the rest of his classmates in wonder.
Right now, they were all standing somewhere in an open field on the edge of a forest one or two miles outside of Hillwood. The part of the woods near the field wasn't particularly thick. Plus, the "false meteorite's" landing site lay right in the openness and in broad daylight, so the kids had no need to fear getting lost.
Still...Arnold could've sworn there would have been at least someone here before them.
Not even a single adult...
Only him and his peers...
'I don't why, but I got a bad feeling about this.' What if the meteor wasn't the only—or real—problem Hillwood had to assess?
Before Arnold could continue on with his worrisome thoughts, the high-pitched voice of an awestruck Sid pulled him back to reality.
"Whoa...what is it?"
A head-scratching Stinky could only shrug, just as bewildered at the sight before him as his peers were. "Wilikers, I reckon that's gotta be the plum weirdest lookin' alien I've ever seen."
Helga crossed her arms and snapped her head in Stinky's direction with a domineering sneer. "Oh right, I forgot we had an expert in extraterrestrial identification. Thanks for the heads-up, Orson Welles Jr."
"Well," Rhonda mused thoughtfully, taking a careful step closer to have a better look at the strange being, "for an alien, you have to admit. It is rather cute...in a dark, foreboding kind of way I guess."
"Hmm..." hummed in deep thought a petite Japanese-American girl in a blue sweater, with blue framed glasses, and black hair that flipped upwards in the front. Her stare on the strange (and quite frankly intriguing) specimen was long and profound.
"Phoebe? Is something wrong?" Arnold asked, slightly mystified at the sight of Helga's friend acting so...not herself. Even to someone as precocious as Arnold, Phoebe's expression seemed a tad out of place...almost as if her mind couldn't wrap around the reality before her, him, and rest of their classmates.
"Well, Arnold, it's just...this creature seems rather Earth-like for an extraterrestrial being. In fact, if not for the red markings and the fact that it appears to be bipedal, I could go so far to conclude that we're staring at some sort of hedgehog right now."
Sheena, a lanky girl in a little green shirt with a pink and yellow flower imprint on it, faded blue jeans, white shoes, and pink barrettes in her short, light brown hair, piped up inquisitively,
"Gee, now that Phoebe mentioned it, it does kind of look like a hedgehog, doesn't it?"
"Golly, you don't think it's dead, do you?" Eugene, a freckled boy about Phoebe's height, if not shorter, with bright red hair curled up at the front, a white shirt, dark blue shorts, and sandals that exposed his white socks, couldn't help a sad grimace at the thought of such a poor creature being as such.
Others, on the other hand, were a bit more concerned with the question of 'What about us?'
"I say we call animal control." Rhonda would've preferred to not catch anything from the hedgehog lying prone in the crater, cute or not.
"A team of scientists is more like it..." Gerald had to fight back an amused smile at the thought of a bunch of people trying to examine something that looked like it belonged in a videogame.
That comment earned him a half-lidded stare of incredulity from his best friend.
The addressed held his hands up in metaphorical defense.
"I'm just saying, man! A walking hedgehog? How is that not Area 51-worthy?"
All of a sudden, a whispered but panicked hiss from Sid broke through the duo's conversation. "Harold! What are you doing!"
Sure enough, Gerald and Arnold, when they looked back at the crater, could see none other than Harold easing himself down somewhat awkwardly down the side of the crater, a stick poking out of one of his pants' back pockets.
"Harold! Man, what are you doing?"
"Harold, wait, I really don't think that's a good—"
"Ahh, nothin's gonna happen, Arnold." To emphasize his point, Harold pulled out his "instrument of poking," knelt down right next to the ebony hedgehog, and began to near the stick to its face. "Besides, if it's dead, it can't do nuthin' ta—"
"You can put the stick down now."
Somewhere in a red boardinghouse, miles away from the crash site in which the kids now stood—and with their otherworldly (and wide awake) visitor— an elderly man, reading the daily newspaper, suddenly jerked his head up at the sound of a distant (though noticeably high-pitched) scream.
Or was it a squeal?
Sounded like one.
"Hmph...Abner must be acting up again." Phil merely shrugged his bony shoulders before returning to his daily story.
'Wonder how the Shortman and his little friends are doing.'
With a screech that sent all the kids plugging their ears and reeling back and with a speed that belied his bulky frame, Harold shot out of the crater and dashed to hide behind a severely petrified Stinky, the stick long forgotten.
His sentiment did not go unshared.
"AHH, IT TALKS—HUMAN!" Sid followed his "boss's" example by leaping into Stinky's lanky arms and hanging on to him by his skinny neck. Stinky was far too frightened to even protest.
Everyone else's reactions, of course, weren't anywhere near as dramatic as those of the three knuckleheads. However, even they—yes even Helga herself—couldn't deny the total shock they felt towards the crimson and ebony creature glaring right at them.
So imagine how everyone's breath halted as the yellow muzzled hedgehog slowly and nonchalantly walked/climbed up the side of the crater until he stood right before everyone in all his ominous glory.
The second the midnight furred creature spoke, most of the kids immediately backed up in fright. Some, however, like Arnold and Helga, hid their fear better than others and stood their ground.
Yet despite the brave, calm façade Arnold had on, deep down he was quivering just as much as his companions were.
A hedgehog—an actual hedgehog—walking and talking like a human being...? The surreal quality of the situation did not escape the corn-flower haired young man. The distasteful scowl present on the creature's face did not make the situation any easier to endure either.
Still, though, none of the children had any idea what this murderous-looking mammal was capable of, so panicking and running away in haste would most likely not yield pleasant results.
Especially since the creature's blood-red irises severely demanded answers and demanded them now!
"Who are you?" the being asked slowly but coolly, once again using the same icy, dark tone he had just used with Harold.
Young Arnold, always the "bold one" (as according to Gerald), took a brave step towards the hedgehog. In a clear, even voice, he gave a somewhat awkward wave and a nervous smile.
"Um...hi, I'm Arnold."
Gerald, on the other hand, more of a master at staying "cool and chill" than his buddy, plastered a friendly smile on his face as he sauntered right up to the hedgehog, extending a hand out in greeting.
"Welcome to the hood, my brutha'! Name's Gerald!"
No move to shake the child's hand or acknowledgement of thanks for the greeting came from the mammal. He didn't even crack a smile for crying out loud.
Gerald's own grin vanished after a few seconds and one of his eyebrows rose in puzzlement and slight shock at the being's passive attitude.
'Man, and here I thought Pataki was a hard case!'
All of sudden, Gerald felt himself shoved aside as an enthused Rhonda bumped her way through to give the "gentleman" a welcome of her own.
"Rhonda...as in Rhonda Wellington Lloyd of none other than Buckley and Brooke Wellington Lloyd...certainly even a fellow of your...'exoticness' has heard of me?"
Just like with Gerald, no response met the rich girl's welcoming either.
Miffed, Rhonda huffed then scowled haughtily, her hands akimbo. 'Well I never! At least pretend like you're fascinated!'
Harold didn't give an introduction. All he did was quiver like a blob of jelly while Stinky and Sid cowered behind him.
"Please don't hurt me!"
Helga resisted the urge to facepalm at the idiocy of the three goobers. 'Oh brother...'
With drama queens and overgrown babies like these guys, Helga would not be surprised if this alien (if he was an alien) would rather get the heck off this planet than stay a moment longer.
She was rather surprised, though, when she turned only discover him staring at her instead. His gaze seemed to soften a bit on her for some weird reason, too.
Needless to say, Helga G. Pataki felt a tad spooked...but if she never let Arnold—of all people—or any of the other stooges in her class read her emotions, then no way was she going to give that same satisfaction to some anthromorphic freakshow with bizarrely styled quills.
Ridding her face of the uneasy expression, the monobrowed girl scowled darkly at the "alien".
"Take a picture, Quills! It'll last longer!"
To everyone's shock, though, the hedgehog's face did not change...much at least. To Arnold, Phoebe, and Helga's observations, though, his own glower did seem to deepen a tad at Helga's lashing words.
"Huh?" For a moment, the blonde dynamo lost her glare, thrown off by the unexpected answer...but especially by the controlled tone in which the being had just spoken.
"My name is Shadow."
That was all.
Shadow said nothing more as he shifted his focus away from Helga... and directed it to Phoebe!
'Oh dear...' To say the least, the young brainiac felt very nervous. What could this "Shadow" character possibly want from her?
"You." 'She seems like she knows what's what.'
"Um, y-y-yes, sir?"
"What is this place?"
Phoebe gulped first, swallowing her fear, before responding in a meek voice, "Um...w-well sir, you're in Hillwood—which is in the state of Washington if I might add."
Shadow closed his eyes as if in deep thought. 'It would appear I'm further from Station Square than I thought.'
"Hmm...I see." He plunged himself into deep thought at this point.
So what now? Maria's promise had been fulfilled after all, right? Well, on the other hand...
'Since death hasn't come for me—yet at the least— I guess that means I still have a promise to keep.'
"Looks like a good enough place to start..."
Gerald titled his head at Shadow in confusion. "To start what?"
The answer came in the form of a giant explosion that threw everyone, even Shadow, to their feet!
"WHAT WAS THAT!" Once again, Harold's voice knew no bounds (not that nobody cared how unbearable it was to the ears this time around).
When Arnold looked up, he saw, much to his horror, that his earlier suspicions had been right!
Right above Hillwood, a massive, red-and-blue stripe patterned and oddly egg-shaped hovercraft hovered above the city. The guttural voice of a man could be heard laughing even from far away. Despite the severity of the situation, Arnold couldn't help but compare the man's chortling to an evil Santa Claus's version of "Ho-ho-ho."
Shadow's grimace strengthened even further.
'Doctor...' Grandson of Gerald Robotnik or not, Eggman, in Shadow's eyes, stood as a risk to humanity and, therefore, as one of the obstacles to Maria's dream.
The Ultimate Lifeform was not about to let Eggman and his monstrosities run rampant in this city, too!
And so, without so much as even a grunt, Shadow hover-skated towards the plume of dark grey smoke—and Eggman's machine.
This action of his and the supposed insanity in it did not go unnoticed by Arnold and his friends.
Rhonda gaped at the departing hedgehog. "Where on earth does he think he's he going?"
"Wilikers, fellas, I think he's gun' plannin' to take down that there robot!"
"Criminy, is that little guy planning to kill himself?"
Arnold couldn't quite answer himself but he had a feeling a ton of people would be best off staying out of Shadow's way.
All the young optimist could give was one simple answer:
"We'll just have to wait and see."
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