Protector of Chaos 2: The Rising Nebula – Chapter 6: A New Brother [Part 2/2]
While walking to the hot springs, Alter found himself in the middle of a pleasant conversation with Gizmo. When they first left Mercury, the two were quiet until Gizmo broke the silence by quiring Alter about his hobbies. The wolf recounted the many times he had frequented Phillip's bar in Night Babylon after long walks at night. The nostalgia made him long for another one of the clerk's famous smoothies, unknowingly making Gizmo curious to try one himself. He also told Gizmo how he enjoys gazing upon the stars and the moon and how he would relish to go into space one day to be amongst them. Gizmo watched as Alter reached a hand up to the sky as if he were willing the moon to his open palm. He actually wouldn't have been surprised to see the moon shrink to the size of a marble and be twiddled between Alter's fingers. He giggled imagining Alter's reaction, who smiled having noticed.
Not wanting to talk about just himself, Alter was next to ask Gizmo about his favorite activities.
"Hmm..." Gizmo scratched his chin in thought, unsure if he even had a hobby outside of his work. "I'm not too sure... I'm always so busy working on new inventions."
"Don't you enjoy that?"
"Well, that's just it," Gizmo continued. "It's not as much a hobby that I used to enjoy doing. It's like a chore now, almost."
"That's a shame."
"But... I do remember the wonderful times I had with my brother."
Alter stopped walking. "Your brother? I never knew you had one."
"Yeah, I did..." Gizmo rubbed the back of his head with a grin.
"Did? Did something happen to him?"
"I'm not sure... There was a big accident several years ago. I was too young to remember, and no one ever goes into detail whenever I ask about it. All I know is that many people died in that accident, both humans and Mobians. I have no idea if my brother was one of the ones that didn't survive... After all this time, maybe he really..."
"Hey, come on. Don't think like that," Alter interrupted, placing a hand on Gizmo's shoulder for comfort. "There's no telling what could've happened to him. Just keep believing, and soon the answers will come to you."
"You really think so...?" Gizmo asked with a hopeful smile.
"Of course I do."
"Thanks, Alter... In many ways, you sorta remind me of him."
Alter smirked. "How so?"
"Like you, Seth has never been too close to others. He usually kept to himself and only focused on his work, the work that I'm continuing for him to this very day. He's always cared a great deal about nature and disliked how machines and technology is spreading throughout the world. Every day, more and more trees are getting cut down, animals are losing their homes so we can have more streets and buildings, and the air and water continue to get polluted. Our inventions have always been focused on making it safer for us to use technology without harming the environment. But I also enjoy making other inventions, like the Alternator."
The two wolves chuckled, recalling their first meeting not that long ago where Gizmo named the invention after Alter for being the first outside the lab to test it, resulting in his new look. "Seth wasn't always a workaholic though. He made sure to spend a lot of time with me, and I even got to help him with some of his products. He was a naturally born genius, and I guess I inherited some of his skills too. There were days where we would play together all hours of the day. Heck, the last time I was at Titanic Resort was when he took me to the beach. I remember how much fun we were having."
Alter did remember seeing Gizmo appear envious of the other kids who were able to play while the two searched for the Nebula Emerald. That explains why. He was missing his brother. "What's the last thing you remember doing with him?"
"It was the night before the accident," Gizmo mused. "I was in bed, and he came to say goodnight. Before leaving for work, he told me..."
Alter stayed quiet, waiting for Gizmo to finish his sentence.
"He told me that he would always be watching over me... and that we would go back to the beach together one day. That was the last time I saw him. And he wasn't the only one: my mom and dad disappeared too. I've been on my own since."
Alter could feel his heart weighing down with heavy emotion after hearing Gizmo's story. It was a strange sensation to experience, considering he had never felt so much sympathy for one person before. Just how long has Gizmo been enduring this tragic pain? Alter sighed, coming to a conclusion. "Gizmo, I promise you, no matter what it takes, I'll help you discover the truth of what happened to your family."
"But you're already so busy as it is..." Gizmo protested. "I can find out everything on my own, so please don't worry."
"I used to think that I didn't need any friends," Alter spoke. "I thought I was better off on my own with no one to get in my way or slow me down. That was a close-minded way of thinking. I've come to realize that it's okay to depend on others. Your friends are people who don't use you. They genuinely love and care for you as if you were family to them. I still don't quite understand it, but I feel this way about you in the short time we've known each other."
"R-really...??" Gizmo stuttered.
"Yes. That's why I'm not going to let you do this on your own. I think my role as the Protector of Chaos has more to do than just monitor over the energies stored in the Emeralds. The positive and negative energies of the people of this world are just as important and shouldn't be overlooked, for it is that very energy that influences the Emeralds. Ha, I don't even think Laila has caught on to that little detail. My point is, Gizmo, Protector of Chaos or not, you are my friend and I will do all that I can to help you. And after that, we'll come back here to the beaches and have a great time. How does that sound?"
Alter could see that Gizmo was on the verge of crying as his eyes stung red with tears. He lowered his head and wiped a tear from his eye, then brought his attention back to Alter, his expression now determined and hopeful. "That sounds just perfect," he said with a wide grin.
Alter again patted Gizmo on the shoulder, returning his grin, and the two continued towards the hot springs to speak with Silver.
Back at Mercury
Still on the observation deck watching Alter and Gizmo depart from the base, the future Team Dark gathered their thoughts from their recent conversation with Onyx Island guardian, Laila. When they had everything sorted and their next move decided, they prepared to return inside and rest for the night. However, they weren't expecting a bright blue light to appear before them, Laila's spirit forming in place.
"Back so soon?" Rouge asked sarcastically.
"I would like to speak with you, Rouge," the guardian replied nonchalantly.
"I'm all ears."
Shadow and Omega exchanged glances, but neither had a reason to object. The two walked pass Laila without saying a word and re-entered the base, leaving the two ladies in privacy.
"So, what do you need, honey? A goodnight's kiss?" the bat joked.
Laila bit her tongue, doing her best to avoid an outburst. "I need to ask you a favor," she said through gritted teeth.
"Oh? It might cost you depending on what that favor is..."
"It's about the next Nebula Emerald. I think Voltage may have located it, and I need your help in keeping it out of their clutches."
"My curiosity is piqued. But why just me?" Rouge queried. "A mission like this would go much smoothly if I had backup."
"Shadow and Omega need time to recharge from the Voltage Kraken battle, just like Alter, Silver and Gizmo," Laila explained. "But don't worry. I never said this would be a solo mission. The Nebula Emeralds are too important for just one person alone to retrieve."
"Gee, you're faith in me is so unwavering," Rouge said with a half-smile and a shrug. "So who did you have in mind?"
Back to Alter
Alter and Gizmo had just arrived at the entrance of Titanic Resort's hot springs. As Rouge had said, it was indeed one of the places unaffected by the Voltage Kraken battle. The building was in top-notch shape, constructed of bricks, wood, and a tough earth substance. Inside, the marble floors were clean and had an etch pattern. At the counter, a woman stood and welcomed the two wolves as they walked in, both greeting her in return.
"Are you two here for a spa therapy treatment?" the woman asked. "We also do massage, aromatherapy, grooming, waxing..."
Alter flinched after hearing the latter. "N-no! We're just looking for a friend."
"His name is Silver," the Protector continued. "He's not easy to miss: five quills protruding from his head, golden gauntlets with glowing cyan circuitry, space boots..."
Gizmo chuckled to himself as Alter continued describing Silver.
"Oh! You mean Silver the Hedgehog?" the woman said. "He's currently in the hot springs. Right this way."
"Um, wait...!" Gizmo intruded. "Don't we have to pay...?"
"We're not here to stay, Gizmo," Alter replied. "Besides, we don't have the money."
"It's not a problem!" the woman said cheerfully. "You both are with G.U.N. too, right? We never charge our soldiers for our services."
"…What?" Alter asked in disbelief.
The woman smiled. "All Neo Soleanna services are free to G.U.N. soldiers in thanks for their continued protection."
"But we don't work--" Gizmo began before Alter covered his mouth with a hand and whispered, "Let's just play along so we can get to Silver," to which Gizmo nodded in agreement.
"Please, come along."
The woman guided the two wolves through the hallways, passing by a number of closed doors, likely in use by other clients. She came to a stop by two larger doors, a wide sign above them reading "HOT SPRINGS", the door on the left for males, and the door on the right for females. The woman opened the male entrance and allowed the wolves to enter. Inside were walls lined with rows of lockers for clothing and personal belongings and shelves stocked with white robes, slippers and towels.
The woman withdrew two keys from her pocket and handed them to Alter and Gizmo. "These are the keys for your lockers. Please return these to me at the main counter before leaving the facility. Enjoy your time!"
With that, she closed the door behind her, leaving Alter and Gizmo alone in the locker room. They found their lockers next to one that had Silver's gloves and boots locked inside. After they changed into their robes and stored their belongings, they moved to the end of the room and exited into the hot springs. It was a massive pool of boiling hot water releasing vapor into the horizon. Lights from the stars and the moon reflected on the surface of the pool, shimmering with the ripples caused by the gentle breezes of the night wind.
They scanned the pool for Silver, spotting him alone soaking in the water. He appeared to be in deep thought as he stared at the sky. Alter and Gizmo approached him, catching his attention as they neared.
"Silver," Alter called out.
"Huh? How did you guys know I was here?" the psychic hedgehog questioned.
"Shadow assumed you would come here to ease your mind," the Protector responded. I have to find a way to ask him about Le Oracle without doing it too directly... He and Gizmo disrobed, then took their places in the pool on either side of Silver. The warm waters of the hot springs were a perfect counterbalance to the night's low temperature. Alter ordinarily was never one to have a good time in a pool since he can't swim, but just laying back and feeling the warm tingles of the springs enveloping his body made it easy to just relax and let go of his troubles. Gizmo seemed to really enjoy it too as he sank deep under the water up to his muzzle.
Silver took in a deep breath and let it out slowly. "This is nice, isn't it? Not having to worry about impending battles or searching for the Nebula Emeralds."
"Yeah, it is..." Alter agreed.
"I come here often to rewind and recollect my thoughts," Silver explained. "With everything the way it is right now, I'm uncertain of what will become of our future."
"What are you talking about? We have two of the Nebula Emeralds and Voltage has zero. Isn't that a good thing?"
"That's not what I mean..."
"You're talking about Blaze, right?" Gizmo joined in.
"Yes," Silver confirmed. "I hate how my father... how Shadow doesn't see how severe her situation is. I understand that we have our own problems too, but isn't there a way for us to work together with Blaze so that way we all get what we want in the end?"
"That can be a little complicated," Alter began. "There are two worlds at stake – our world, the future – and Blaze's dimension. If you look at it from this perspective, the situation will overwhelm you. You have to simplify it not by its problems, but by its solution."
"That actually makes sense," Gizmo continued. "Our world can only be saved if the Nebula Emeralds are all collected and kept away from Voltage. Blaze's world can be saved if she can get back the Jeweled Scepter that was stolen by Voltage."
"Then Voltage is at the center of it all..." Silver concluded. "If we stop Voltage, both of our worlds can be saved!"
Alter nodded in agreement. "That's right."
"Then I only have one question for you..." Silver said, facing Alter.
"If you already knew this, then why did you defend Volt from Blaze's attack?!" the hedgehog shouted, referring to when Alter counterstruct Blaze to protect the Voltage mothership from her onslaught.
Alter was taken aback from the sudden outburst, but he was expecting it at the same time. Heh, I came here to question him, but instead he's questioning me.
"Why were you fighting on their side when they invaded Onyx Island?! Why did you fight against me and almost take off my head?! Why did you betray our friendship?! WHY DID YOU EVEN JOIN VOLTAGE IN THE FIRST PLACE?!?!
Silver sobbed, tears racing down his face and dripping in the pool, but not once did he take his eyes off of Alter. The wolf stared back, unsure if he could find the words that would both calm Silver's rage and restore their friendship. It's true, Alter had abandoned his past for his own selfish gain and was only looking out for himself. He was willing to eliminate anyone to help Voltage reach their goal, even if that someone considered him a friend.
"Why... Why did you forsake yourself and everyone you knew?"
The tone of Silver's voice made it clear how much he was hurting. Alter had never seen him this upset before. Gizmo too seemed to be waiting for Alter's response, probably wanting an answer just as badly as Silver. Something had to be said. He closed his eyes and sighed.
"I see now that it wasn't just Shadow you were angry with. I have caused you great pain, deeper than any wound that has ever scathed your body, and for that I am truly sorry. I joined Voltage after their earlier attacks on Neo Soleanna. I saw Voltage as an opportunity for me to break free of the laws of the world and enter another where I could be free of the negativities of this world, free of the strife and suffering. But I know now that I shouldn't run away from these problems. I should be lending a hand to help resolve this world's issues, not let it succumb to darkness."
"The time I spent in the past was the most enlightening moments of my life, and I have Laila to thank for that. She abandoned me in the past and replaced my memories of the future with false memories to make me believe I had been living there my entire life. Because of her, I was befriended by a human – Night Babylon's bar clerk, Phillip – and I saw that not all humans believe themselves to be superior to Mobians. In fact, the majority of them were fairly nice, even when I pushed them away. When she returned my memories to me, both of my experiences from the future and the past conflicted and I wasn't sure which was right. Ultimately, I decided to ignore my past experiences and I returned to the future to continue serving Voltage."
"I suppose making that deal with Laila was the smartest move I made since my memory was restored."
"You made a deal with Laila?" Gizmo asked.
"What deal?" Silver asked next, visibly calmer.
"It has to do with my role as the Protector of Chaos, you see," Alter started. "I agreed to a condition that I would stop working for Voltage temporarily to see to it that the Rising Nebula doesn't occur."
"The Rising Nebula??" Silver and Gizmo queried in unison.
"I'm still figuring it out myself, actually... But what I do know is it's not something I can afford to let happen. Neo Soleanna will be enveloped by flames... I think Shadow gets blamed for it... and that's all I know so far."
"How do you know these things?" Silver asked, giving Alter a distrustful look.
"That's actually what I came here to talk to you about," the wolf responded. "Does the name 'Le Oracle' mean anything to you?"
"Le Oracle? I've never heard that name before," the hedgehog denied.
Hmm... Maybe he doesn't know her by that name... Perhaps I should try a different approach. "Shadow is your father, right?"
"Uh, yeah? But what does that have to do with this?"
"Don't you have a mother too?"
Silver burst into laughter at the question. "Ha! Do you really think Shadow is the marriageable type? Guess again. I was foster cared most of my life. He adopted me when I was seven because he saw my psychokinetic abilities were promising, even at that young age. I only call him 'father' out of respect. We're not blood-related at all."
That... explains... so much... "Then wait, who was your foster provider before Shadow adopted you?"
"Oh, that? Hmm..." Silver tapped his chin in thought. "It was so long ago... I only remember she was the nicest woman I had ever met, and she had a sweet, soothing voice that always made me feel right at home, that no danger would ever come my way..."
He described her voice perfectly, exactly how it was in each of my visions... So it's true; Silver was in contact with her at one point. "Can you try to remember her name?"
"It's strange... I'm trying to, but nothing comes to mind. It's a blank, like someone tampered with my memories."
Laila...? No... If his memories were really tampered with, it had to have been done by Le Oracle herself to help keep herself hidden from the government. Just what is she capable of exactly? I'll have to have a talk with Laila about this. "Thanks, Silver. I think you may have helped more than you realize."
"Uh, I'm glad I was able to help, but you still haven't answered one of my questions."
"Why I protected Volt and repelled Blaze..."
"You did it even after you made that deal with Laila! I want to know why!" the hedgehog demanded, his anger rising once more.
"I'm not sure..." Alter admitted. "It's true that I agreed to stop working for Voltage temporarily until the Rising Nebula is prevented. But when I saw Blaze about to attack Volt, I felt the need to... to protect him. My body just moved before I made the decision to. Perhaps my mind hasn't fully accepted that I'm not currently aligned with Voltage."
"How can we trust you then?" was the unexpected question from Gizmo, who had been quiet for some time. "You keep using these terms 'temporary' and 'currently' as if you're planning to still work for Voltage after this is all over. Alter, you promised that you would come back to the beaches with me, but I could never be friends with someone who chooses to work for Voltage!"
Hearing those words from Gizmo's mouth stirred Alter's emotions. Again, he was experiencing a sensation he had never felt before. Why were Gizmo's words so effective on him?
"Gizmo, I need to know... What do you have against Voltage?" the Protector asked. "I noticed this before when we first met. You intercepted my flight the second you assumed I was heading to Neo Soleanna on their orders."
"It's because their earliest attacks were to target and destroy Seth's inventions! All of that hard work we put into them... It took me some time before I was able to repair the damage that was done."
"I... I had no idea..."
"That's why, Alter... You have to decide, right now, will you continue to fight with us after we've collected all of the Nebula Emeralds, prevented the Rising Nebula, and retrieve the Jeweled Scepter for Blaze's world? Or will you go back with Voltage and fight against your friends?"
Alter smiled, already knowing his answer. "I'm here to stay, Gizmo. I won't defend Voltage ever again, and... I owe Blaze an apology."
Both Gizmo and Silver sighed with relief. The red headed wolf grinned. "I'm really glad to hear that, because now I have one last thing I need to ask you."
Gizmo hesitated for a few seconds, unsure how to make the request, but Alter assured him that no matter what it was, he would be honest and truthful. And so...
"Alter... Will you be... my new brother...?"
Castle Realm; Neo Soleanna
After leaving the group at the scene of the Voltage Kraken battle, Blaze returned to Castle Realm and booked a room at a local hotel for the night. First thing tomorrow morning, she planned to use all resources available to her to make her way to Voltage and raze the entire nation until the Jeweled Scepter was found. A simple in-and-out mission; nothing she hadn't done before.
She laid on the bed after a delicious seafood meal of catfish, seasoned shrimp and oyster cheddar soup. She stared up at the ceiling in thought, wondering if she were right or wrong for attacking Alter and then leaving the group. She gritted her teeth.
"Of course I'm not wrong..." she decided. "My mission is to get back the Jeweled Scepter no matter the cost, otherwise my world will die... I'll do it all alone if I must."
But you don't have to, a voice said from her mind.
Blaze bolted upright. "Laila...?! But where...!"
From her window, Blaze could identify a figure hanging upside down, Rouge. Beside her, Laila's spiritual form came into view, bathing the entire room with her bright, blue aura.
"Are you ready for a gamble, sweetie?" Rouge spoke with a cunning smirk.
"I think there is a way we can help each other get back what is ours," the guardian stated. "But it will require your full cooperation."