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Protocol Cy-Fox v1.0

Chapter Text

Prologue
cyborg (noun) - a hypothetical person whose physical abilities are extended beyond normal limitations by mechanical elements built into the body
OED Online. Oxford University Press, June 2017
 
            Patterns repeat, this is a fact, perhaps the prime fact within the universe. Twenty-three years ago, Field Marshal Amadeus Prower had been pacing down a hospital corridor. Back then it was at the Central Command Medical Center in Mobotropolis. He remembered the day very well, a cold October that made his face and especially his empty eye socket ache. In contrast here, it was still October but hot for the brief time he moved from his staff car to the reception area of Zenith Defense.
 
            Zenith Defense occupied a former United States biodefense facility in the Nevada desert and ostensibly housed what remained of the 1970s period equipment that was left over when the lab, Wildfire, had shut its doors due to belt tightening and reprioritization in the Reagan years. Its functions had largely been taken over by both the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta but also through several military biodefense organizations, chiefly the United States Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases in Fort Detrick. Briefly Wildfire was reactivated in the early 2000s after bioterrorism fears stemming from anthrax being sent through the mail but when the crisis passed, the giant that Dr. Jeremy Stone had created was put back to sleep again.
 
            It would be well over eighty years before the facility had gotten a buyer. A Keplerian fox, Dr. Moddex Everest had made the purchase through his corporation. Amadeus had little reason to be suspicious of the other fox, though perhaps if he gave the whole idea more scrutiny, he might have had some small questions to concern himself with. Overseeing the Keplerian Republic’s military since its foundation in 2085 after he personally overthrew King Frederick Acorn, he could have scrutinized a native Keplerian defense contractor popping up out of the woodwork five years later and starting full-scale production a mere two years later. A native Keplerian, a young one who was born likely in the last few decades of King Frederick’s reign having both the acumen and the credentials to amass all of this.

            But he didn’t scrutinize Everest, especially now. For here within the medical section, two levels beneath the ground was where their sole patient was resting. Or at least that was what his physician insisted he would be doing. Prower had met her once before, though she was much younger the last time. There was intensity to her glare when he had first made his way onto the floor. At first, Amadeus was confused about the hostility that she had shown. But then he caught a glimpse of the identification badge clipped to her labjacket; Dr. Maria J. Robotnik, M.D. Maria, Gerry Robotnik’s granddaughter.
 
            “I am Field Marshal Amadeus Prower-“ he had started saying. The blonde-haired woman raised her eyes up to meet his and he suddenly felt the October cold and ache from long ago return.
 
            “I know very well who you are, Fältmarskalk,” Robotnik grimaced in her Swede accented English, keeping her eyes dead center on him. She lowered the tablet she was holding down and then slipped it into the left pocket of her coat.
 
            “I’m here to see my son, Doctor.” Prower’s ears rose as he brought the tone of his voice to the matter-of-fact style he reserved for the press.
 
            “Lieutenant Prower is resting,” Robotnik placed her hands on her hips and straightened her back. “He has a very important set of surgeries coming up. The lieutenant has already had a rough night as it was since arriving planetside. I don’t want to tax him any more than what he’s taken already. Fältmarskalk or father be damned, if there is even the latter.”
 
            A low rumbling growl rose from the fox’s throat as he took a step closer. He was tempted to raise his voice if it wasn’t for both Vice Admiral Seetan and Admiral Bolton moving up to each side of him. Seetan, a black furred wolf-like Keplerian regarded her with his heterochromatic red and green eyes.
 
            “Please Maria; I of all people know what Miles has been through up there. But if he is in fact facing more surgery, especially the kind you and Everest described to me earlier, he should see his father.” The wolf explained.
 
            “He can’t even say it without a mouthpiece.” Maria countered.
 
            “Now that’s hardly fair Doctor, you haven’t even given him a moment-“ Bolton, a grey cat-like Keplerian started to protest but Amadeus raised his right hand up and waved it with a soft growl of surrender.
 
            “I can defend my character without assistance, Admiral. Thank you.” Amadeus sighed quietly and lowered his eye to the floor. “I can assure you, Maria. I want to see my son, I need to. Especially in the wake of what has happened now. Dr. Everest said there is about a seventy-plus percent chance of success but I have already lost one half of my family before. I don’t want to risk the other half, especially not without seeing him first.”
 
            The trauma surgeon continued to smolder at him with her gaze but then started to nod. “Fine, but only you and you will take precautions before going into the intensive care bay.”
 
            “That’s fine.” Amadeus raised his head up. “Thank you, Maria.”
 
            Precautions had consisted of washing hands, securing his boots with nonconductive sterile covers, putting on a blue disposable gown, gloves, a face mask and shield. Whether it was all necessary, he wasn’t certain, but Maria had only gloved and gowned. She of course had the covers on her shoes already, likely from being the more sterile of the two. The elderly fox made his way along with her through a set of sliding double doors and slowly approached the single bed with a light on overhead.
 
            Several monitor rigs sat on stands all around Miles Prower’s body. Some were standard medical equipment but there was also computer equipment and even a red tool cart one would expect in a machine shop. The gold and white furred fox’s eyes were closed and had protective patches over them. A ribbed plastic tube was down his throat and connected to a ventilator but two things stood out, the fox’s arms were completely robotic and there was a flat trace running on the ECG monitor. Wasn’t that typical for someone clinically dead?
 
            “Why has his heart stopped? When did that happen?” Amadeus asked.

            Maria looked up at the monitor and shook her head. “It hasn’t stopped. He has no heart, in fact the only thing that’s close to organic is what you see on the outside. He is robotic in all respects, even in mind”

“How did this happen?” The fox asked.

“I would expect you to have more answers on what brought about the attack more than I. But as far as Miles’ injuries to put it short, he tried to protect me from one of those robots.” Maria explained.

Amadeus lowered himself onto a nearby stool and sighed quietly. He looked at Miles and then lowered his eyes.
“In a way, this is my fault.” He lamented. “Pressuring him into national service like that. Putting him on this path, into harm’s way to get injured like this. If his mother was still alive, she wouldn’t speak to me, I’m sure.”

“Grandfather had to talk you into letting him stay with us.” Maria said, crossing her arms.

“Actually no, it didn’t take very much for me to agree.” Amadeus countered, looking up at her. “If you would like, I can tell you everything unless that keeps you from doing what’s needed.”

“My place is at his side.” Maria replied, moving around the bed to take another stool, sitting down beside him. “Besides, I’ve had questions for some time.”

“Very well then,” Amadeus looked at the human. “But I will start a few years back, before he was born, so that you get the full story.”

Chapter Text

Chapter 1

Wednesday, May 2, 2085

 

1st Royal Armored Guards Regiment

Colonel Amadeus Prower, RAA

 

            Offensive D’Coolette had been smashed to pieces in the northwest. The radio chatter in Colonel Prower’s command tank was going back and forth like the far-off machinegun fire being traded. The 1st Royal Armored was set up pointed towards the northwest and arranged so that the battered remains of Army Group D’Coolette could pull back to safety. Major General Michel D’Coolette himself was dead and Prower wasn’t certain as to whether he could feel pity for the man.

 

            The whole war was under the pretense of the echidnas being fragmented tribes with little in the way of tactics and weapons. But over time, they had improvised and filled their numbers with sympathizers, whipping them into a fury. Though recently things took a terrible turn when they had somehow organized into an effective force with vehicles. At first it was thought that they had captured Acornian tanks and weapons but when D’Coolette ran into them, he found that his new Sebastian tanks were no match. Any 88mm shells fired at the enemy, or at least the enemy close enough to be in range would bounce off. Those foolish enough to fire at these monsters paid dearly like D’Coolette.

 

            Amadeus grunted as he opened a large envelope with the seal of the Royal Military Intelligence Service. Removing the documents within, he set the stack down upon his knees and turned on a small overhead lamp. There were still a few spies within the Echidna Brotherhood as it now proclaimed itself but they too were being discovered and neutralized at an alarming rate. He thumbed through the documents until finding the photograph he was looking for. Curling the pages in front over to the back, he rotated the stack and stared before putting the round-rimmed glasses around his neck on.

 

            It was diagrams of what he suspected D’Coolette had faced. An ugly green-gray contraption, the tank had seven tracked wheels with hull two feet longer than the Sebastian and a 20-foot-long gun with a 125mm caliber barrel from what he could make out from the cryptic words. That was another thing that was unnerving; the echidna language was one that they had understood for decades since the war started. Now they had switched to this new language that could not be deciphered and the echidnas that could be captured could not be understood, generally executed or sent to a camp.

 

            He was broken out of his study with the radio operator patting him on the left shoulder.

 

            “Colonel?” The corporal said, holding out a sheet of paper. “New radio message received from command. It’s from the king, new orders.”

 

            “Thank you, Corporal.” Amadeus took the sheet and nodded, setting it down over the intelligence file. By command of King Frederick, sovereign of the Kingdom and Grand Patriarch of the House of Acorn, all Army forces are to withdraw at once. The echidna savages will soon face the might of our newest weapon. Because of its awesome power, all forces are to withdraw so that they are not harmed. The weapons will be deployed within the next few hours; those that are still in the operational area do so at their own risk. We will finally obliterate these vermin from our empire.

 

            Vermin. Less than Acornian, Amadeus thought. More bluster from a king with a withered right arm. Posturing and rage to compensate, though the King’s patronage had benefitted him by proxy, first with his father who had been an infantry officer, then his grandfather who was an enlisted engineer. Two generations of war went from airships, trenches and wooden planes to fast, rapid action with men on trucks and tanks. All from the stab in the back that the echidnas seemed to perpetrate seventy-three years ago. His grandfather would growl and draw from his flask however, giving hint to a different tale to the young fox before he went to become an infantry officer himself. Eugen Prower had loyalty to truth as strong as the private soldier had for his comrades, his stomach, his paysack, a warm place to sleep and home. War for seventy-three years, from grandfather, to father to son.

 

Now with new weapons at hand too it seemed. Likely from the South Island Airstrip. Safe from a naval attack as the echidnas had no navy or privateer force to speak of, information about its projects were normally restricted. However, someone both with command authority as well as scientific expertise had forwarded the information that was resting in the envelope still. He reached in and withdrew it with a grimace, looking at the designation of Grand Slam.

 

            Standard iron bombs were filled not with high explosives but a special holding chamber for a chemical “bullet” and electronics that would allow it to set off a chain reaction within the bullet, a process called fission. The atoms of the bullet would split and release a large force of energy, erupting in a fireball before releasing pressure waves. Memory of the first reading he made of Grand Slam started to surge to the forefront. Those lucky few would be the ones near the blast zone, they would be vaporized. Those not lucky would be burned, blind and irradiated along with bodily trauma from the pressure wave.

 

            The effects of radiation itself were tested on both echidna prisoners and deserters in model cities and closed conditions. The photo of an echidna child’s burned face and boiled, cataracted eyes made him want to vomit and retch inside of the tank. Ironically, they also found that the radiation could not only cause cancer but also treat it. The barbarity visited upon these prisoners rankled in his heart. They were meant to win on the battlefield, with better material, better weapons and better men. Who truly was the better man with these atomic weapons at hand now? It seemed likely unless a new secret weapon was being used that Grand Slam assets would be used. The effects caused him to wonder about something, making him look at the radio operator again.

 

            “Radio, you took down the weather station reports?” Amadeus asked.

 

            “Right after breakfast, Colonel.” The operator shuffled through his papers and then presented a single sheet which had been typed up on his compact typewriter/crypto-unit. The operator handed it to him and Amadeus flipped back to the data on fallout. He looked at the weather report for the day and the next few.

 

            Winds ran west to east of course, and the Kingdom’s seat was near the eastern seaboard. He unrolled the area map and set the papers down on top, drawing a pencil out. With careful attention, he made a circle with a center point at where Army Group D’Coolette broke down and withdrew, the circumference that of the largest known Grand Slam bomb’s blast zone. Then he drew lines based on predicted wind direction and speed. One bomb alone would kick up fallout that would likely poison crop lands and villages leading to Mobotropolis. Knothole would be the worst off to his lamentation. He pictured the fireball, engulfing the village, the innocents huddled in their basements or cellars.

 

            Hours from now, no aircraft overhead today, perhaps bombing runs the night before. No warning leaflets, no radio broadcasts except for the military. Such madness. Amadeus stared down at the map grimly and then placed his face in both hands, massaging his forehead. Could he really allow such a thing to happen even to his enemy? They had a code of honor to follow, the enemy was meant to be broken in battle, broken fairly. On top of that, when captured they were meant to be treated with dignity, perhaps set to work but nothing further than that. After all, barbarism invites more barbarism in return. He lowered his hands slowly and shivered, turning in his seat.

 

            “Radio, I want the battalion channel.” Amadeus said, reaching out for the second headset, putting it on, cups turned into his ears. The operator adjusted the radio set and could be heard both out loud and in the headset. “All battalions, First Guards. Prepare for transmission from Colonel Prower.”

 

            “Guards, this is Colonel Prower. You may be getting radio reports indicating that we are to withdraw from the area so that the Army Air Force can deploy a new weapon. It is in the interest of the Kingdom’s survival that we not allow this to happen. I have seen what this weapon is capable of and project a catastrophic event on its use. Our intention is to withdraw but we will withdraw to South Island. If we are quick enough, we may be able to prevent deployment. For those of you that may object to my actions, you may organize yourself and evacuate, but you will be left with no radio. Battalion acknowledge.”

 

            “Major Ogilvie reporting. 1st Battalion is with you.” A reply came a few minutes later. Others started to follow in turn.

 

            “Infantry to their vehicles, support vehicles and tanks ready for column formation. Take on full fuel loads and supplies. We leave in 20 minutes. Regiment communications will switch to tomorrow’s cipher.” Amadeus ordered.

 

            Acknowledgements came in, then Amadeus took the headset off and climbed up to open the outer hatch at the top of the turret, climbing out. He looked out at the woods and then the sky, taking a slow deep breath. He held it for a few seconds and then exhaled. One last sight of the world as it would be before the newest front in the Long War opened.

 

South Island Naval Outpost

A-Hour +2

 

            The outpost was guarded by a combination of Royal Army and Royal Navy personnel. Amadeus’ column stopped at the gates and the fox’s tank was in the center of the tank group. He stared out from the open hatch, headset on and waved his hand out while a squad of his infantry moved up and formed a line in front of the lead tanks.

 

            “Ogilvie, meet me at the front.” Amadeus said.

 

            “As you say, sir.” Ogilvie replied. Amadeus lowered his headset and then dropped it down for it to hang on a rung on the ladder before dismounting. He climbed down from the right side and hit the ground feet first, placing his hands behind his back as he walked forward. A slightly shorter blue hedgehog joined up with him at a brisk pace.

 

            “Major.” Prower returned the hedgehog’s quick salute.

 

            “Colonel. I must admit I was surprised by your orders but you’ve never lead us astray these years. You see something that we do not.” Ogilvie said quietly.

 

            “Something the king is utterly blind to and we cannot allow that blindness to engulf our beloved country in fire.” Amadeus replied while they approached the infantry line. He motioned for the center to move aside for them to step to. An Army sentry stood at the gate and then turned to face him, rendering a salute.

 

            “Colonel!” The sentry had taken a quick look at his uniform. “We were unaware that you would be coming.”

 

            “That is perfectly within plan, Private.” Prower said. “We were the nearest unit and drove hard to reach South Island in time. I take it all is quiet?”

 

            “Well-“ The sentry swallowed. “As usual, I would say. Why?”

 

            “There is a secret project essential to victory on the island. There is word of saboteurs trying to derail the King’s work. We are here to secure the island from echidna machinations.” Amadeus explained. “I could understand why you did not get word, strict radio silence is to be maintained. Now, we must pass through.”

 

            “As you say, Colonel!” The sentry answered, stamping his rifle butt against the ground. “May the sun never set on the Kingdom!” He then stepped back and conversed quickly with the other gate guards, motioning for them to open the gates. Amadeus waved his hand back and the infantry started to rush back to remount, Ogilvie following in turn.

 

            Once he was back in his tank, Amadeus put his headset on and waited for the front of the column to slowly push through. Then once they were at the gate, he called out into his radio.

 

            “Driver, halt!”

 

            The tank came to a stop and Prower looked over at the gate guard he had spoken to. “Tell the base commander that we require all available vehicle transports, as soon as possible!”

 

A-Hour +1.30

 

            The transport ship crews had been roused and given their orders, steaming to back up against the large concrete piers. Amadeus had given mounting orders, each transport containing a ratio of 2 tanks, 2 support vehicles and 3 troop carriers. They had ended up using up every available transport, leaving a quarter of the force behind.

 

            He stood in the bridge of his transport, Ogilvie with him along with infantry guards. The captain of the transport noticed a blinking red light on his telephone and picked up the handset.

 

            “Transport Group 4, Lieutenant Pelz reporting.” The cat-like Acornian said. Amadeus could hear furious yelling from where he stood.

 

            “Why we’re transporting Colonel Prower’s command group as ordered.” Pelz replied. Then his ears raised up. “I would assume the Colonel’s orders are sound.” More yelling and chatter. “What? Desertion?” Amadeus’ own ears raised as he reached out and snatched the phone from the cat while opening his holster, removing his sidearm. Pelz’ yellow eyes widened.

 

            “Prower.” The fox rumbled. “What is this nonsense about desertion?”

            “This is Captain Koray of the South Island Outpost.” A high-pitched snarl came through. “I called to confirm your orders, Colonel. Apparently, the High Command was not aware of your movement. They expected you to be pulling back towards Mobotropolis.”

 

            “As I told you earlier, the South Island base is potentially under attack.” Amadeus snapped. “We received word from intelligence, obviously High Command was not apprised. We are going to relieve the island and secure it.”

 

            “I am radioing new orders, you will turn back until High Command confirms the intelligence.” Koray countered.

 

            “So, you will delay us while the echidnas potentially endanger our greatest weapons? I had no idea that we had echidna sympathizers in our own Navy!” Amadeus growled. “Perhaps you forget that part of my regiment is still with you. You can answer for your subversive actions before a general court martial.” He slammed the phone down and then looked at Pelz. “Damn that fool! These vessels are under Army command, my command. Any radio orders that come through are considered void under my authority as the commander of the King’s Armored Guards. Put me on the transport group channel.”

 

            Pelz blinked, staring down at the fox’s gun, frozen.

 

            “You will do as I say or I will have to have one of my men pilot. I would rather not waste the King’s chosen sailors.” Amadeus pointed the gun up at the cat’s head and waved it towards the console. “Change channels, Pelz. Now!”

 

            Hearing the fox’s commanding tone, the cat forced himself to blink and then reached up, adjusting with a shaky hand. “-Transport Group patched in.” Amadeus nodded and put his gun away but kept the flap open. “Thank you, Lieutenant. I apologize for being forceful, but it was necessary. This must not be easy for you.” He looked at Ogilvie. “Fetch him a drink, would you? Only one.”

 

            “Yes Colonel!” The hedgehog answered, walking off from the bridge while Amadeus picked up the phone.

 

            “Transport Groups, this is Colonel Prower. As I have just informed my own transport captain, there appears to be a plot to disrupt our relief of South Island. All radio orders incoming with the incorrect cipher I have assigned are null. Our mission is clear, and we will continue to the island. Those that attempt to deter our lifesaving mission will be arrested or shot, at the ranking Army officer or soldier’s discretion.” The fox slammed the phone back onto its hook and stepped back, crossing his arms. Pelz didn’t dare to look back at him as he continued on their heading.

 

            Jules returned moments later with a small glass and set it down near the ship’s wheel. The fox and the hedgehog’s eyes met while Amadeus made a gesture for the major to follow him. They left the bridge together while the Army guards kept a close eye on the cat, even as with a shaking hand, he grasped the glass and drained it slowly. Prower and Ogilvie entered into a small office and the hedgehog closed the door.

 

            “How long do you think we’ll be able to keep this going before High Command comes down upon us?” Jules asked.

 

            “Long enough to get onto the island, I hope.” Amadeus replied, taking his hat off and collapsing into a chair. He looked upon the hedgehog with a sad smile. “Victory or defeat, I will be considered a mutineer at least, perhaps a potential dictator at most. They may spin this as a military coup.”

 

            “Would you really depose the King?” Jules asked. Amadeus squeezed on his hat while he pondered the question.

 

            “Ideally, no. Disabling these weapons would at the very least set things back, perhaps giving him time to realize what I did. Then again, I could be grossly underestimating him. Who is to say South Island is the only place? But perhaps this would cast enough doubt to where this crazy plan is stopped.” Prower said. “I can’t allow this to go through. This isn’t to spare the echidnas either, this is to spare the world as a whole.”

 

            “If you are to really spare the world,” Jules countered, leaning in close to the fox’s right ear. “Then we must go all in.” Such was Ogilvie, the gambler of the two. “The fact that he was willing to go to these extremes says that he is insane. Besides, if royal rule is to continue, it can be through the Crown Prince. He is one of us after all; he chose to take the King’s Coin for service. Otherwise perhaps it is time that the people as a whole ruled.”

 

            “Ah yes, this talk of republics. How many of their kind have we kicked doors in upon? How many freethinkers did we consign to dungeons or to hanging? Would they really accept our kind after what we have done, were they to rule? Or would it be us hanging?” Amadeus demurred.

 

            “We might be hanging either way, but if we are, at least we would hang as men of honor.” Jules said.

 

            “We? I would take all the responsibility, besides you have a wife, Jules. My heart is for the Acornian fields.” Amadeus shook his head. Then he felt the hedgehog’s hand on his shoulder and blinked.

 

            “As is mine. But if they are to hang my brother, may they hang me as well.” Jules declared.

 

A-Hour +1.0

South Island Air Station

 

            Once the 1st Armored Guards had gotten off from their transports, Amadeus had sent instructions throughout the transport group to return back to the naval outpost. This would both provide some legitimacy to his intended mission but also put time in their favor. After disembarking, he returned to his command tank and replaced his headset, finding it still on the same ladder rung that he had left it upon. He lifted his binoculars up and scanned around the landing zone. Sure enough the largest feature was the airstrip, large enough for two bombers to take off simultaneously.

 

            As a matter of fact, bombers were assembled on the strip and with the guards that were arranged around them; there was something more than standard munitions loaded up. Most likely the atomics, such security even on an isolated island! He lowered the binoculars and grunted. Take out the bombers and the hangars for good measure and that could be it. Then again, would they set off the bombs? That would be fine, he was committing career suicide. What was the difference at this stage?

 

            The fox blinked and then started to climb down, closing the hatch and lowering the boom on his headset. “Driver, take us forward, slow. Radio, regiment channel.”

 

            “You have the regiment.” The radio operator advised after making the adjustment.

 

            “Thank you, radio. 1st Guards, our first objective is the bombers. It is my hope that these planes are unoccupied or at least our attack may cause the pilots to bail. If they do, do not fire until you are reasonably certain that they are clear.” Amadeus commanded. “Move in a wedge formation on the airstrip.” He lowered the boom down afterwards. “Driver, join us on the lead wedge.”

 

            The Sebastian tanks rumbled and kicked up dust and smoke while they got into the assigned formations. Then they started to advance on the chain-link and barbed wire fence that surrounded the airfield. The engine sounds had been first mistaken as cars and transports but once the first wedge slammed through the fence; the guards and ground crew turned their attention to the invaders.

 

            Confusion ran rampant through them as the tanks were easily recognized as their own. From what they could see, the actual bomber crews weren’t in yet; in fact some of the bombs were laying out in the open to be placed into the bays. The airbase personnel seemed to tense as the tanks came to a stop before them.

 

            An Acornian resembling a dingo approached with the same colonel’s rank device that Amadeus had on his uniform at his collar. Amadeus stared out at the man through a periscope and looked back at the radio operator. “Switch to loudspeaker.” He started to climb up, opening the hatch and appearing at the top.

 

            “What’s the meaning of this?” The dingo shouted. “Who is in charge of this group?”

 

            “Colonel Prower, of the 1st Armored Guards.” The fox replied, voice amplified. For decorum’s sake he even managed a salute, which caught the dingo by surprise. He looked for the source of the voice and then turned to face the fox’s tank, returning it.

 

            “Colonel Argus of the 3rd Bomb Squadron.” The dingo said, staring at the formation of tanks. “What is the meaning of this..unorthodox entry?”

 

            “I have very good reason to believe that you are about to execute unlawful orders that pose a danger to the Kingdom.” Prower stated.

 

            “Unlawful orders?” Argus’ ears raised in confusion. “How can they be unlawful?”

 

            “These are atomic bombs, yes? Based on your deployment stance, and analysis that we conducted, you are going to end up having radioactive material carrying back to Mobotropolis. These weapons are a clear and present danger to the Kingdom.” Amadeus declared.

 

            “That may be fact, or it may not. But my orders were given directly by King Frederick, personally.” Argus countered. “I’m certain that the Artillery Special Science Service would have come to the same conclusion you have and informed him if that were the case. In the meantime, unless countermanded I have a mission to carry out.”

 

            “Your mission is over here and now.” Amadeus muttered. He glanced at the bombers and pointed towards the aircraft at the front of the formation. “Gunner, target the plane on the right. Load armor-piercing.”

 

            Argus’ ears lowered and a red tinge came upon his muzzle as he started to advance towards Amadeus’ tank. “Are you insane Prower? You can’t fire upon my aircraft! That’s tr-“

 

            “Treason.” Prower finished for him. “I suppose it is. But do not confuse the concept of whether I should fire and whether I could fire.” He heard the gunner’s voice in his ear. “AP loaded!” The fox pounded his fist down against the body of the turret. “You have 30 seconds to get out of the way.”

 

            “It’s treason-“ Argus sputtered.

 

            “Twenty-nine!” Amadeus called out. “Twenty-eight-“

 

            Argus looked over at the guards and snarled. “Shoot him! He’s gone mad.” In response, some of the other tanks started to position their guns towards the assembled group, machine-gun barrels poised. Jules Ogilvie came up from the top of his own tank and pointed towards them. With a sharp series of cracks, bullets spat out and hit the pavement near Argus harmlessly. The dingo’s ears raised and his survival instinct finally kicked in, along with the others as they scattered. Once they were away, Amadeus rapped his fist against the turret again.

 

            “Fire!” The fox yelled, lowering himself down and closing the hatch. A few moments later there was a deafening boom while fire jetted out from the barrel. The 88-millimeter round slammed into the targeted bomber, tearing it apart and even penetrating to others in line. Ruptured fuel lines started to bleed out onto the ground and set off a series of explosions.

 

            “Reverse!” Amadeus yelled hastily, waiting for the expected atomic explosion to come. But as they rolled back, he did not feel the sudden heat and the crew continued on their task calmly. Certainly bombs were struck but there had been no chain reaction. No reaction meant no fission. They could be rendered inert this way. “Back to regiment net.” he called out to the radio operator.

 

“You may fire on the bombers at will, then destroy those that may still be in their hangars.” Amadeus said. Then he thought for a moment. “Troop carriers form on me, we’ll see what they have at the research facility. Major Ogilvie comes with me too. Captain Flint will be in command of the cleanup here.”

 

With that, the fox finally took off his headset and waited as the tank broke away from its wedge, Ogilvie’s soon joining along with the troop transports to the nondescript, concrete block building, all filled with apprehension as to what they would encounter next.

Chapter Text

Chapter 2

    Colonel Prower did not have to do very much talking to make his way through the facility. The infantry congregated around him, and Ogilvie seemed to say enough with their rifles ready. Both officers had their sidearms out and had part of the group split off to sweep. Near the main elevator was an office with a simple placard that said ‘Keiden – Department Head, Atomic Research’. Amadeus motioned for one of the infantrymen with them to open the door. The Acornian strode forward while the others stacked up in single file behind him. Then he reached out and grasped the doorknob, testing it.

    “Unlocked.” The soldier reported.

    “Open it.” A sergeant replied. The soldier nodded and turned the knob fully, pushing the door open and going in with his gun up. Then he stepped back with a raised fist, thumb up.

    “Clear, one non-hostile.” The soldier proclaimed. Amadeus nodded and stepped in through the doorway. To his surprise, he saw a female fox sitting down at her desk wearing a yellow labjacket over her Royal Army uniform. From what he could tell, she was a captain in the Royal Artillery.

    “Captain Keiden, I presume?” Amadeus said.

    “Rosemary Keiden, chief of atomic research, yes. Colonel Prower if I am not mistaken.” The pale gold fox replied. “I see you received the reports I had sent to you.”

    “Reports?” Amadeus blinked and then slowly put his sidearm away before sitting down in front of her desk.

    “You were sent classified information about the activity here at South Island. Activity that is of strategic importance to the King, but morally flawed. Obviously, you agreed so much as to invade, as I hoped.” Rosemary explained with a raise of her ears. Their eyes met, and Amadeus silently nodded.

    “I prepared my people for that possibility which is why you have had no armed resistance throughout the labs. However, I cannot guarantee anything of the King’s Life Guards or the Army Air Force.” Rosemary continued.

    “I do not believe we will have to worry about the Air Force. Their bombers are wrecked, and our tanks hold the airfield.” Amadeus explained.

    “I would be concerned about Level Black, Colonel. Ever since the orders were made, the King himself took refuge there. He and the Life Guards will not see reason. Appeals to decency have killed some of my subordinates, at least those who had Black access. Even then, this will likely tip his hand. They have control over atomic weapons still, the next generation. Smaller versions of the bomb, for what I do not know. Even I do not have Black access.” Her ears lowered. “All I know is it is underground.”

    “Then we will proceed down there.” Amadeus rose up and Rosemary matched him.

    “I would like to go with you, Colonel.” She took off the labjacket and unholstered her sidearm, checking it with a pull back of the slide before returning it to its place. “I want to see this disarmament through.”

    “Granted.” Amadeus gestured towards the open doorway and nodded to Jules. “Are there any engineers? Specifically, electrically skilled ones?”

    “Senior Private Bean!” A sergeant called out and a green duck-like avian strode forward before stopping and saluting.

    “Colonel Prower!” Bean said. “Reporting for your tasking.”

    “Specialization, Senior Private?” Amadeus asked.

    “Explosive ordinance. Wiring bombs, defusing them.” Bean replied.

    “If you get us down to Level Black, you will earn your sergeant’s chevrons.” Amadeus proclaimed. He then pointed to the elevator and the duck nodded.

    Bean proceeded to the elevator and pressed its call button, the doors opening before him. He unslung his pack and set it down on the floor.

    “Your two best close-shots with him, please.” Amadeus said to the sergeant. The sergeant tapped another’s elbow and started to stride into the elevator with Bean. Then the doors closed, and Amadeus could hear the car descend.

    Inside, Bean looked around at the panel as the door refused to open. He noticed a card slot and then took out a screwdriver, starting to remove the screws from the panel. Then he pulled the mounting out, setting it down gently on the floor. Then he studied the card slot assembly, lowering himself to his knees. The duck reached down into the pocket of his uniform shirt and removed a pair of glasses, putting them on, reaching in. Feeling around, he felt something that shouldn’t be there. The cardboard packaging for a demolition charge and wiring feeding to the slot. Removing a pair of wire cutters, he felt around some more, finding a backup set of wiring. Grabbing another, smaller set of cutters, he closed the teeth around the backup set, then around the primary set. Taking a deep breath, Bean closed his eyes and placed his hands on the grips to both, counting down silently from ten before squeezing.

    No reaction. Bean sighed audibly and removed the cutters before ripping the charge off from its adhesive mount, dropping it to the ground. Then he cut the head off from the card reader, exposing its wires. Then he grasped the exposed wires and experimentally pressed them together in sets of two. The doors started to rumble open and he reached into his pack, pulling out a twister-nut and screwing the correct wires together. Then he remounted the panel and screwed it back in. Before he pressed the ground floor button, the sergeant pressed a hand to his shoulder.

    “We’ll hold down here, Sergeant.” The Acornian said with a smile and then gave him a friendly clap on the back. “Excellent work. Go get the colonel.” Then he dismounted with the rifleman before Bean pressed the ground floor button. Once the elevator rose back up, he slipped his pack back on and picked up his rifle.

    “All good Colonel. She’s opened for you. Cover team is down there waiting for us.” Bean declared. Amadeus nodded and strode into the elevator with Jules and Rosemary in tow along with other riflemen. They packed the car with the riflemen in front of the officers. Bean reached forward and pressed the Black level button. When the elevator descended, the cover team nodded to them and started to move forward, the group following in formation.

    The level itself seemed very barebones with lights strung above in protective cages. Red strobe lights flickered every so often. As they moved along, the riflemen pointed their guns at new openings that developed. The natural walls at one point stopped and something caught Rosemary’s attention. There were special suits in alcoves and several were missing.

    “What are these?” Amadeus asked, stopping in front of one. It was completely black, made of polymer and nylon with a bubble-like helmet attached at the neck and hoses attached at the chest and abdomen to a backpack. The Kingdom’s flag was on a patch on each arm.

    “I don’t know exactly. Some sort of protective suit, perhaps for radiation shielding?” Rosemary conjected.

    Amadeus reached in and struggled to pull one out while the sergeant from the cover team went in to assist. He pulled down the zipper and unholstered his sidearm, handing it out to Jules before the sergeant held it upright. The fox removed the helmet carefully and set it down before climbing into the suit. Jules held the gun out and Amadeus took it carefully, finding his index finger didn’t quite fit but would at least engage the trigger. Then Jules helped him attach the helmet before sealing the suit up. Bean went around to his front and looked over the equipment before finding a switch. Amadeus heard a low hiss as he was pressurized.

    “It will take some getting used to.” Amadeus said, voice coming out from a chest mounted speaker grille. “Let’s go.”

    Rosemary looked at a nearby wall sign. “Let’s look at the launch bay.”

    Amadeus nodded, and the team began to proceed through. The launch bay was large and open. Looking up, he gaped at several massive rockets that were set up in corner points. There was also a sort of control center between two of them at the ceiling. Then he turned around and saw a second one between the others.

    “What are these?” Amadeus asked Rosemary.

    “I honestly don’t know, Colonel.” Her ears raised tensely while the riflemen started to fan out. Then suddenly the lights went out and flares were dropped out from above, burning a bright red as the lights came on. The team started to withdraw closer to themselves in confusion.

    “Drop your weapons!” Soldiers called out.

    “This is your king.” A familiar voice added over loudspeakers. The team’s attention raised towards an Acornian squirrel with dark auburn fur. He was wearing a suit like the one Amadeus wore, with his crown atop of his head, apparently the helmet fitted to account for it.

    “Prower here, your highness. Colonel, 1st Royal Guards.” Amadeus said, keeping his gaze with Frederick.

    “Colonel, if you have any concern for the lives of your men, you will have them drop their weapons.” Frederick growled.

    “This is not happening.” Jules muttered.

    “Sir. We know what this facility is meant to do. Please,” Amadeus kept his gun pointed to the floor and held his free out towards him. “I was sworn to defend our kingdom from all enemies. Foreign and domestic. We can beat the echidnas but not like this. I have spilled blood for you, but I cannot let this happen. I cannot give that order.”

    “You are covered from an elevated position, Colonel. I am not going to ask again. You have not killed any of my men. You do not have to die here either.” Frederick said.

    “These weapons are going to devastate our land and our honor. Honor, have you forgotten that?!” Amadeus looked at the soldiers with the king. “We’ve had friends that we remember, that died. But that doesn’t give you the right to commit a genocide!”

    “You call it what you want, you’re down there and we’re up here! You walked into the wrong battlefield, Colonel!” Frederick screamed.

    “Stand fast!” Amadeus yelled.

    “Colonel, one last time, you tell your men to drop your weapons!” Frederick yelled back.

    “I cannot give that order!” Amadeus thundered.

    “I will not repeat that order.” Frederick screamed.

    “I will not give that order!” Amadeus raised his sidearm up while his riflemen started to take aim. He centered the sights on Frederick’s helmet. A blue weasel with a black beret on his head adjusted his rifle next to Frederick and fired as all hell broke loose.

    With the loud crack of the weasel’s rifle, Amadeus was knocked down onto the ground and Jules let out a loud snarl throughout the gunfire. He placed himself over Amadeus and grabbed his gun, firing wildly up at Frederick with both pistols. The weasel moved the rifle, centering the sight on Amadeus head and fired again. Jules instinctively covered the fox’s head with his body and groaned as he felt a fiery pain in his chest. Then he heard a pained growl from Amadeus, dropping both guns and pressing a hand to his own wound before lowering down as Bean unslung two grenades and threw them up, causing Frederick to duck down and grab at the weasel’s arm. Both scampered away as the glass shattered, the two explosions narrowly missing them.

    Jules pulled his hand away from the wound and looked down upon the blood that streaked into his fur. He winced and looked at Amadeus, seeing the entry of the round that went through him. Blood was pouring from Amadeus’ left eye socket and there were fragments of the bullet as well as the helmet’s glass embedded.

    “Colonel-“ Jules coughed. He clumsily undid the helmet and lifted it off from the fox’s head. Amadeus’ good eye fixed upon him as he lifted his right hand up, pressing it to the hedgehog’s wound, the pain in his head making him speechless.

    Rosemary knelt down beside them, undoing her necktie and pressing it against Amadeus’ ruined eye. Amadeus’ soldiers started to rush towards the staircases, diverting the defenders’ attention. Frederick had doubled back to the other control center, picking up a red handled firing key. He inserted it into the master control system and turned it, then made his way towards the fourth rocket.

    “Firing procedure initiated.” Frederick’s recorded voice could be heard. “Launch in 5 minutes.”

    “Is there a medic?” Rosemary screamed. Jules groaned and reached down for his hand radio, holding it out to her before dropping it. She grabbed it and keyed the mic.

    “This is Captain Keiden, I need two medics down on Level Black.” The fox was answered with static. She dropped the radio and pulled off her jacket, packing it in against Jules’ wound. Then she could hear machinery whirring and grinding, gasses hissing from hose ports. A low rumbling could be heard while light could be seen towards the top of the silos from the outside. The rockets themselves started to slowly rise on wall-tracks. Then there was an intense heat as fire erupted from the thrusters at the bottom as barriers lowered down. The facility seemed to shake and rumble as the rockets rose up out from the silos.

Crystal Peak NORAD Substation
Space Station ARK – Earth Orbit

    “Ma’am, ABM Satellite 25-17 reports a ballistic launch from Kepler-22B.” Captain Richard Starinsky said. Lieutenant Colonel Sherrell Starinsky set her coffee down suddenly at her desk and raised her eyebrows. “Call it up on the Big Board.”

    The massive flat panel display switched out from its regular operations display to a live satellite feed from ABM 25-17 as the original four missiles, along with others started to shoot upwards. The 33-year-old woman stared and then looked back at her husband. “Can you confirm they are nuclear?”

    Richard brought up the scanner feed from the satellites’ sensor array. “All except for one.” He knit his eyebrows in confusion. “One appears to have no warhead but organic lifeforms.”

    “Probably a decoy. It seems our quiet friends have decided to go nuclear. Trajectory?” Sherell asked.

    “Various points throughout their main landmass to the west. Possibly populated.” Richard replied.

    Sherell picked up the red phone at her desk. “Crystal Peak for Brass Hat.”

    “You are go for Brass Hat. General Ray here.” A male voice answered.

    “Dani, we have multiple launches from 22-B. Nuclear with one possible decoy. They present an extreme danger to the population. I’m requesting permission to shoot.” Sherell said urgently.

    “We’re getting the same thing from Space Command. You are cleared hot, Starinsky.” General Ray replied. Sherell lowered the phone down. “Cleared hot, burn them out!”

    “ABMs switching to target and lase.” Richard said as multiple targeting windows from every satellite occupied the Big Board. The mirror arrays on the satellites started to adjust for their targets before the protective caps covering the muzzle of the focusing lenses rolled back.

    “Energy charges good!” Several operators called out. “We are green!”

    “Shoot!” Sherrell said, standing up and approaching the Big Board. Bright yellow-white flashes temporarily overwhelmed the feeds before they could see the focused solar beams striking down at the incoming missiles.

    “Splashed track one.” Richard reported. “Track two, splashed. Stand by.” He analyzed the incoming reports. “All tracks except for the decoy are splashed. The decoy is not re-entering. I repeat, it is not re-entering.”

    “Leave it be. We might capture it for study, but we have more pressing concerns. Where did those launches come from?”

    “Reverse-trajectory plot shows likely silo positions.” Richard answered. “Rocks are on standby.”

    “Rock em.” Sherrell commanded.

    “Yes ma’am.” Richard keyed his loudspeaker mic. “Ladies and gentlemen, this is your DJ, Captain Richard Starinsky here with BGGR-6 FM. To those of you down here listening from your silos, we’d like to present you with America’s Greatest Hits.”

    The ABMs started to reposition now, special tungsten rods exposing themselves while their target trajectories were programmed. Once completed, the rods started to drop away from the satellites, small thrusters burning to position them on target. Gravity would do the rest for the Ballistic Gravity Guided Rod (or Rock as they were affectionately known) Sixes. Streaking down, they would strike and bury deep down into the open silos, causing them to collapse in on themselves.

    The red phone vibrated in Sherrell’s hand and she brought it up to her ear.

    “Good hits, Colonel. The UN’s greenlit a strike response team. They’re detaching from the ARK to make gate transit.” General Ray said. Sherrell nodded and sighed before hanging up.

South Island Air Station

    Minutes after the launch, Rosemary and the remaining team members struggled to get Amadeus and Jules to the elevator. Once it reached the first floor, the larger of the riflemen picked the two wounded up and slung them over their shoulders and started to beat it out from the facility towards the airfield. One of them pointed upwards.

    “What’s that?” Bean asked as Rosemary watched the tungsten rod come down.

    “That’s not one of the rockets-“ She said in confusion. “Go! Go!”

    The rod burrowed down and struck at the center point between the four silo pods, causing the island to shudder and shake as if it were experiencing an earthquake.

    Once they were at the vehicles, Rosemary ran between them, then she finally spotted a medic, grabbing him.

    “Horatio Quack, regimental surgeon.” The medic grimaced as she strongarmed him. “I would think there would be decorum even with this mutiny.”

    “Not much time, doctor.” Rosemary led him to the two wounded Acornians. Quack knelt and looked at Amadeus shaking his head. “He’ll need an operating theater for those injuries.” Then he unslung his pack and started to work on Jules to stabilize him.

    Rosemary looked up at the sky again, waiting intently when Amadeus grasped her leg. She knelt back down beside the other fox and took his hand.

    “We failed, didn’t we?” Amadeus asked weakly.

    “I don’t know.” Rosemary looked over at the ruined facility and then back at him. “There hasn’t been any sign of detonations. But something destroyed the facility and it wasn’t one of the missiles. We would be dead.”

    Quack was clamping down the broken blood vessels in Jules’ and grimaced. “Just barely missed the heart but there’s still significant damage.” He unpacked a blood bag and plunged the needle into the hedgehog’s arm, holding it high and squeezing on the bag.

    There was a loud roar of rocket engines as a shadow started to cast over them. Rosemary looked up and saw a strange craft starting to enter the atmosphere towards them. It seemed to level off and lower down towards the airfield. The craft was a battleship grey and on each side, was a strange blue insignia of an olive branch above a profile of a planet. It seemed to hover directly over a gap in the ruined bombers before finally lowering down. A ramp started to open from the back.

    Rosemary, Bean and Quack gaped as strange aliens wearing flecktarn camouflage uniforms and blue helmets exited. They had no fur and the average height was around 5’8”, their skin white amongst them, some a darker complexion or even black-brown. They had rifles that looked more advanced than what the Acornians had and started to fan out. A group started to approach them, the senior of them pointing at the wounded. Two with white armbands and a red cross broke away, along with a shorter man with balding blonde-gray hair with no uniform, but a labjacket and a turtleneck approached. He had a large case with the same red cross on the side.

    “Sie sehen aus wie Tiere.“ One of the uniformed medics said.
    
    “Ja, das tun sie, nicht wahr?” The other said.

    “Lass uns zur Arbeit gehen.” The third man said.

    “Ja Doktor Robotnik!” Both said in unison.

    “What are they saying?“ Bean asked.

    “I don’t know, Sergeant.“ Rosemary replied and the doctor looked at them in surprise.

    “You speak English?“ The doctor asked.

    “English? No, Acornian.“ Rosemary said.

    “We’ll get to that curiosity later then.“ The man knelt beside Amadeus and pressed his hands to his face. “Ah. A rifle wound to the eye and glass. But-“ He opened his case and pressed a small device to the fox’s eye. “This will sting but it will stop the bleeding.“ There was a burning sensation in Amadeus‘ eye socket as the device activated a cautery system. Then he did the same to Amadeus‘ abdominal wound, pressing it in deep. A pained growl came up from the fox’s throat. Then the man started to bring his attention to Jules as the medics with him started to attach their own IV lines and push medication.

    "Standard human-sized doses, please." The doctor said. Then he looked at Rosemary. "Doctor Geralt Robotnik, United Nations Science Council consultant for xenobiology."

    "Captain Rosemary Keiden of the Royal Army Artillery Corps, or what was left of it." Rosemary said as introduction. "Colonel Amadeus Prower of the 1st Royal Armored Guards and his executive officer, I think."

    "Major Jules Ogilvie." The hedgehog said weakly.

    "What exactly was going on here? This looks like a battle had taken place before we got here." Geralt said.

    "The colonel was trying to stop our king from using his atomic weapons against the echidnas. But it seemed we failed, the king had these rockets and they launched." Rosemary said dejectedly.

    "They didn't make it to their targets." Geralt said. "We detected the launches and shot them down."

    "You shot them down? How? Why?" Rosemary asked.

    "We have been watching your planet for some time, Captain. We are not here to invade or to take over. My people represent the United Nations of Earth." The scientist smiled at her and took her hands, squeezing them. "And I am happy to possibly be the first man to say this on this alien ground; we come in peace."

Chapter Text

Chapter 3
Mobotropolis, Keplerian Republic
October 16, 2092

    "Good morning, Dr. Robotnik." Amadeus said, standing up to take the human's hand as he entered the private room within the Republic Army Medical Center. Geralt Robotnik's head was now completely bald, sans his greying mustache. He shook the fox's hand and then focused his attention briefly on the eyepatch that was covering the fox's left eye.

    "The answer is still no, eh General?" Geralt asked.

    Amadeus flickered his remaining eye. "As always."

    "Another day, perhaps. We will probably argue about a bionic eye until we are in our graves." Geralt sighed with good humor. Then he looked at the upright Rosemary Prower and took her left hand with a gentle squeeze. "Good morning Mary. How is our mother and soon-to-be-son?"

    "Tired but he is not." The retired army captain turned teacher groaned as she pressed her hand to her bulging abdomen. "He seems to kick more when I haven't eaten."

    "Forty and a half weeks." Geralt took out his tablet computer and looked over her records. Then he pointed it towards her abdomen and switched to a diagnostic imaging application. "No sign of distress from what I can see. Good weight reading albeit on the smaller side." Then he switched to the telemetry monitoring application. "Your vitals look good as well. I think we can have OB/GYN begin with inducing."

    "Breakfast?" Rosemary asked.

    "No, though you'll have fluids. We don't want you chucking on your boy, do we? After it is all over though, you may eat to your heart's content." The human even took out a small grape sucker from his pocket, waggling it. "Well, at least this won't do harm." He unwrapped it and held it out to her, getting a dirty look. But Rosemary took it into her mouth.

    "Farfar!" A small female voice could be heard behind Geralt. He turned his head and suddenly felt two arms coil around his leg. Turning slowly, Geralt reached down and lifted a blonde-haired girl of no more than three, wearing a blue dress.

    "Ah, little barnbarn. Maria!" He smiled at the girl and rocked her in his arms. "I should have known you would find me as soon as I unwrapped a klubba. Ah, General? Would you mind fishing one out for me?"

    Amadeus nodded and reached into Geralt's labcoat pocket to withdraw a yellow sucker, unwrapping it. She stared at the fox as he held it out to her. Before she took it, the little hand pressed up against his nose and scratched at it. Amadeus instinctively twitched his nose.

"Valp!" Maria Robotnik exclaimed.

"No, no. Not a puppy." Geralt smiled apologetically. "A räv, Maria. A räv. She keeps thinking every Keplerian like you is a puppy. Especially being around Poul's Malamute."

"She is adorable." Rosemary said, holding her hand out to Maria. Geralt moved closer and she took the girl's small hand, smiling. Then a tall, blond haired man entered with a dark haired, equally tall woman beside him. Geralt turned to face them.

"I'm sorry, father. She got away from us." The man said.

"Oh no harm, Poul." The woman slowly took Maria from his arms and slowly set her down.

"Your grandfather is not a candy machine," she admonished gently. "He has to take care of the people here."
    
    "Well being in a hospital doesn't seem to discourage her at least." Amadeus observed. He knelt to eye level with Maria and blinked. "I promise you though, once my little boy is old enough you'll have him to treat as a valp. Just don't fatten him up." He wrapped his tail around her and tipped his hat before rising.

    "Right." Geralt took out his tablet and made a request in the hospital system. "Well, the inducing team will start in about fifteen minutes. Let's give the Prowers some privacy, if we could please?"

    "Of course." Noomi Robotnik replied, gently tugging at Maria's hand. "Let's go little one."

    "Goodbye polisman!" Maria laughed softly as they walked out of the room. Amadeus straightened up and looked at Rosemary, who had an amused smile on her face.

    "Nine months and a week. Finally, here." Rosemary said, taking her husband's hand.

    "Not only did you bring me a republic to build but a child too." Amadeus reflected. "All of this, the young here are your children too. They may have made me a general, but I know truly who the platitudes should go to."

    "I'm just happy to be teaching the children how the universe works now instead of how to blow it up." Rosemary said quietly. "We're fortunate also that the humans came as friends. Very fortunate."

    "I'm still amazed at the pace things are going. Seven years and a modern power system, discharged soldiers getting jobs on and off planet. These computers as they call them. Our little one is going to be growing up amongst it all, he will know more than us." Amadeus flickered his tongue out.

    "As long as things continue on course." Rosemary said. "With our daring general looking after us." She reached out and stroked his nose like Maria, getting the same twitch. "You have no idea how happy you make me, Amadeus."

    "You chose me though. Could have stayed in the Republic Army, perhaps with someone with both eyes, but you chose me." The fox ran his tongue out against her hand.

    "There is no one that can stand up to you." Rosemary concluded, pulling his face in gently for a kiss.

9:24 AM Keplerian Capital Time

    New life finally came into the republic with a few careful shots of medication and an intensive procedure helped along by Geralt, an OB/GYN specialist and the nursing team. But the first thing that they had noticed other than the feeble wailing of the newborn fox was that he had a second tail.

    "This didn't show very well on the scan." Geralt said in consultation with the inducing team while a nurse held the bundle of fox and blanket. "But it's functional. Is there a history of polycaudality with your families?" he asked the two foxes.

    "Polycaudality?" Rosemary asked. "Multiple tails? Not in mine."

    "Nor mine, though it's been heard of but rare." Amadeus chimed in.

    "Hm." Geralt watched the OB/GYN press their stethoscope to the little fox's chest before giving a nod.

    "Otherwise healthy in all respects. What is his name?" A nurse asked while the other slowly brought the newborn fox to set in Rosemary's arms.

    "Miles Annorax." Amadeus said quietly, reaching out to stroke the little fox's ear. "Latin for soldier if I remember your text correctly. A human name seems fitting for him. Annorax for her father." Then his ears relaxed as Miles seemed to calm down in their presence.

November 21, 2100
Skåne University Hospital
Lund, Sweden

    A green flashing light upon the top of the red Ford Excalibur had gotten Geralt Robotnik through the knot of traffic that plugged up the streets in Lund. It was an entitlement for a physician, especially one with hospital privileges at a trauma center. He parked hastily near the emergency department and got out, tablet in hand as he quickly rushed in through the emergency entrance for staff.

    "Professor Robotnik!" Amanda Palme, the chief resident for the emergency department spotted him and pointed him in the right direction to go.

    "When did they arrive?" Geralt asked urgently.

    "Thirty minutes ago. Mrs. Prower came by air ambulance from Sturup and the general brought him and his son by car."

    "Thoughts?" Geralt was going into diagnosis mode.

    "It's strange, late-stage toxicity from radiation poisoning." Palme described. "Nausea, diarrhea, fever, headache, extreme fatigue, bloody vomit, fur loss. White counts are very low, no response to neupogen, Prussian Blue, DTPA or potassium iodide. Liver and kidney functions are bad too."

    "Have you found a source?" Geralt asked.

    "We're still looking but her husband says that she shouldn't have been around anything like that. She's-" Palme answered before being cut off.

    "A teacher now, yes. But previously she worked with weapons grade atomics." He stopped and then looked at the woman. "What about the son, the general? Any sign of sickness with them?"

    "None that we can tell." Palme said. "Shall we have them checked?"

    "Yes. But we'll assume unless there's a positive finding that the source is localized to her. Start parenteral nutrition, standard round of detox, continue transfusions until plasmapheresis can start. Also, if Amadeus is clear, type and match him with her for possible bone marrow donation. Otherwise get in touch with her family."

    "What about the son?" Palme asked. Geralt shook his head. "Definitely not in guidelines. If we can't get a family match, check the local database with human donors." Fortunately, Keplerians and humans could cross donate blood and organs at least.

    They entered Trauma Room 2 and Geralt didn't even notice Amadeus standing outside. The fox went in after him and then froze, staring at the humans that were working over Rosemary's body. The ECG monitor was making erratic beeps while a nurse was pressing down on her chest, making compressions.

    "Blood's all sludged up." Dr. Erik Quist, the lead resident on the code growled as he stared at the dark red solid matter that was slowly churning into an intake line. "No matter how quickly we put it in, it's all sludged."

    "Have you tried another point?" Geralt asked.

    "Both arms, legs and neck." Quist grumbled. Geralt then drew up Rosemary's sheet, looking at her legs when Amadeus finally spoke.

    "What's going on with her Gerry?!" The fox murmured. Geralt turned and frowned, seeing his friend standing there, arms shaking.

    "You can't be in here Amadeus. Not like this." Geralt said quietly.

    "Is she going to die?!" The fox raised his voice as he started to fidget, going towards the bed, getting looks from the staff. Geralt went for him, pinning his arms to his sides as Amadeus struggled.

    "You have to let them work, Amadeus. We're doing what we can!"

    "Damn you, that's my wife!" The fox continued to struggle, freeing an arm to backhand the human across the face. Geralt caught him by the wrist and used his weight to push him out towards the doors.

    "Now you've gone too far!" Geralt bellowed. Amadeus continued to struggle until Geralt smacked him across the muzzle. "I will not have you fighting in there, especially in front of her like that!"

    "I'm...I'm sorry-" Amadeus' voice went up an octave. Geralt then lowered his head, slowly letting go of him, mustache twitching with guilt.

    "I should not have struck you. That was a barbaric thing to do to a friend and a patient's husband." He lowered his hands away and then took off his glasses, massaging his forehead. "Her condition is very critical, but we are going to do what we can to save her. Everything humanly possible, but even our technology has its limitations." He raised his head and looked the fox in the eye. "I cannot lie to you either and guarantee that we will succeed. If the worst happens, we have to think about Miles."

    "I'll-I'll retire." Amadeus sputtered, his eye darting around. "I don't know though if I could do it. I've had my regrets, not being there all the time. The republic has relied on me for so much as well."

    "The first duty is to family." Geralt said, squeezing the fox's shoulder. "I swear to you, I will try everything possible. I'm going to go back to her. All right?"

    Amadeus held his breath for a few moments and then exhaled sharply.

    "All right." The fox said resignedly. Geralt nodded and released his shoulder, walking back into Trauma 2. He looked upon the faces of the team and read more than what he would get from the monitors from their downcast expressions.

    "Asystolic for the last few minutes now. No response to epinephrine or to compressions." Quist reported while he continued to press upon Rosemary's chest. A side door opened with a portable scanner being pushed in. The radiology technician attached the framing rails at points on the gurney, giving Quist time to attach a mechanical compression device to Rosemary's chest. The technician then started real-time analysis, starting at her head.

    "She's gone. So much occlusion from the blood sludging, all these clots in the carotid alone, starved for blood since she lost consciousness." Geralt lamented while Palme stopped the code clock on her phone. He looked over at the frozen display, time of death at 5:22 PM. Then he walked over to the technician, staring at the holographic cross-sections that were appearing as the scanning beam ran back and forth. He recognized the damage done to the woman's organs and stepped back.

    "Definitely radiation poisoning. All blood that has been sent to the lab is to be secured down in the morgue. All case personnel are to submit to exposure screening, including myself. I also want Field Marshal Prower taken aside and retested. Call Lund University and request a chemist as well as their senior pathology professor. Finally, request an inspector from Malmo." Geralt said, slowly bridging his hands together in finality.

    The technician had shut down the scanner and began detaching the framework before placing it back on the cart and wheeled it back towards the side door. Geralt could hear someone going back through the main doors and speaking to Amadeus. He slowly turned to face the fox and took off his glasses, fidgeting with them with a sad sigh.

    "She was set on this path well before coming in." The human said quietly. Amadeus looked at the flat tracings on the monitors and then back at Geralt, eye twitching.

    "She's gone?" Amadeus instinctively reached up and started to chew on the middle knuckle of his right index finger. Then he started to walk towards the right side of the gurney, lowering his head down, pressing an ear to her mouth. Nothing but silence, even more while he moved his ear down to her chest, no movement, still no sound. Then he pressed his nose to Rosemary's face, blinking as hot tears fell from his eye. He tried to hold back, but the barriers that let Field Marshal Amadeus Prower watch men fall and die had collapsed. A harsh, feral screech came up from the fox's throat as he uncontrollably shook, cradling his dead wife's head.  

Chapter Text

Mobotropolis, Keplerian Republic
Thursday, December 23, 2100

    Amadeus fixed his eye upon the postmortem report that had been sent to Sweden's South Region Police District as well as the Keplerian Republic Federal Police and the Republic Army CID. He reached down and massaged his stomach, wearing a simple white shirt and black tie. Retirement had allowed him to draw upon his pension, and President Maximilian Acorn laid platitudes of sympathy at his feet. The former Crown Prince might have switched places with the fox were it not for the fact that he felt ill at ease with being a politician.

    All that was left was the boy and the daily call to CID. The verdict of homicide by person or persons unknown was declared after Rosemary's autopsy. Radiation poisoning was confirmed, of the alpha wave variety. There had been a similar occurrence back in the early 2000s on Earth, conducted by the Russian FSB against a dissident, using polonium. Rosemary's death certainly looked similar but there was a vehement denial exchanged between the Russian, Swede and Keplerian ambassadors. There was no motive there, though another angle was considered in the echidnas.

    They after all were secretly trained against the United Nations No-Contact Declaration by Russia to fight against the Kingdom of Acorn and Rosemary's work did in fact lead to the torturous death of echidna prisoners. However, it was not as if she was personally responsible, in fact she had sent the information that made Amadeus rebel. While Amadeus himself personally killed echidnas in combat, none seemed to declare any blood feud to him. Secrecy would not have made sense from an echidna, they were a prideful, honor-driven group.

    Amadeus lowered the papers with a small shiver running down his back. He reached down and opened a drawer in his desk, pulling out a bottle of Scapa single malt. He poured a full snifter's worth and set the bottle on the desk, downing it with a harsh cough, pitching down towards the floor as more coughs came. Then his hands twitched while he sat up to pour another, choking the fiery yet smooth whiskey down. The fox rose up from his seat and shuffled over to a basement wall where two bookshelves run, split up by their wedding portrait.

    He lowered the bottle down to the floor and reached out, closing his hands around the frame before lifting the portrait up from the hook that the backing wire was latched to. His eye lowered down to the gold furred vixen with her rust colored hair spilling down. Blinking, he felt his face grow hot from a mixture of sadness and whiskey, turning away from the wall and limping over to his desk. He set the portrait down in the chair that faced his deskfront. Then he went back to the wall, picking up the bottle to sit down behind his desk.

    "I'm the one who was supposed to die, if either of us were to." Amadeus whispered quietly, ears lowering. "I spilled blood while you were just a scholar, a scientist. Why you, Mary? Why not me?" He picked up the bottle and poured another glass that he set down. Then he opened the long, middle drawer and looked down, pulling out his sidearm. Holding it in both hands, he carefully put his right hand around the grip, pulling the slide back. No round chambered as usual since they had Miles. He lowered his right thumb to the magazine release and pulled it out. Sure enough, eight rounds in place.

    Amadeus sighed deeply and set the gun on top of the papers on his desk, starting to remove seven of the eight rounds in the magazine. He let them clatter and roll down into the open drawer. Then he ran the magazine back into the bottom of the grip and pulled the slide back, taking another drink. More coughing ensued, louder. He thought he heard footsteps above his head and waited. No, Miles was still on the bus home. He couldn't bring himself to consider, let alone do what he was thinking with his son home.

    He set the gun aside and put the autopsy report back into the desk, kneeling to spin the combination dial for his desk's internal safe. He took out a new set of papers and carefully studied them. After Rosemary died, the field marshal naturally adjusted his last will and testament. The house and other property as well as the contents of his accounts were to be left to Miles but kept in trust until his 14th birthday. Verifying that everything appeared to be airtight, he put the papers back into the safe and took a sheet off from a notepad, scribbling down the combination, pinning it to the desk with a letter opener.

    Now came the moment of truth. He picked up the gun and this time the bottle of scotch, tipping the open neck towards his mouth. Amadeus drank from it greedily until it was empty, feeling warmth enveloping his body, numbing to where he didn't feel his chest seize with the coughing that followed. He dropped the bottle, ears twitching from the sound it made when it shattered. Then he placed the gun's barrel under his chin, angled towards the inner portion of his head. He heard the scrambling of feet, finger curling around the trigger.

    Jules Ogilvie panted as he hurried down the basement steps and bellowed, causing Amadeus' head to drop, along with his concentration. The hedgehog since his injuries in 2085 had retired, but was offered a 'job' as groundskeeper by his former commander. The blue hedgehog stared at the fox, scrambling to the desk, despite the shards of glass that were scattered.

    "I can't do it-" Amadeus faced Jules slowly and then tensed his finger on the trigger. Jules grabbed at his wrist and clamped down with his fingers with his left hand. Amadeus growled in pain from the heavier hedgehog's grip.

    "Let it go, it is time for you to put aside the gun and live." Jules said quietly, feeling the fox's resistance. Amadeus fidgeted, looking at him in guilt before relaxing his fingers. Jules took the gun away and put it into the pocket of his jacket. "This is not the way it should be. Left alone to struggle like this. You need help, Colonel."

    "Counseling? Psychiatrists?" Amadeus questioned.

    "You need something to set your mind on. Perhaps you were mistaken with your retirement. You need that work, that structure and drive. But Miles needs a family as well." Jules went and grabbed the chair that sat beside the portrait, moving it beside Amadeus and sat down, holding the fox's hand. "Let me call Professor Robotnik. He will know what to do."

Thursday, December 30, 2100
Mobotropolis, Keplerian Republic

    The eight-year old fox looked around his room, stripped of important possessions, which were packed in two cases, one a carry-on, and the other a larger roller. He had come home on that day from school, to find his father gone and Major Ogilvie waiting for him. The only explanation that he was given was that his father was ill and would be away for some time. Then to his surprise the next day, Geralt Robotnik had e-mailed an advance ticket to him with a brief explanation that he would be staying in Sweden with his wife and family.

    The pale gold fox stared at himself in the mirror and adjusted his khaki-colored necktie, tightening the knot. Then to his surprise, the door to his room opened. Miles turned his head, expecting Jules. Instead a human girl of eleven or twelve stood there, her long blonde hair running down her back with a red headband complimenting her white dress. He raised his ears in confusion, tilting his head.

    "H-Hello there." Miles said quietly, muzzle flushed.

    "You're even cuter than when I last saw you!" The girl strode in and smiled, holding both hands out, fingers twitching. Miles blinked, his ears staying all the way up. "Do you mind?" The girl asked. It took a few beats for her question to make sense and he couldn't help to shake his head. She got closer and scratched at the back of his ears, causing him to instinctively relax.

    "We met before?" Miles asked, raising his tails up. The girl nodded and then brought her right hand in front of his face, squeezing her index finger and thumb together.

    "You were very small, but then again so was I." The girl closed her eyes and embraced him, causing his muzzle to grow hot with embarrassment. "My name is Maria, Maria Robotnik."

    "Professor Robotnik's daughter?" Miles asked, getting a shake of the head in return.

    "Granddaughter." Maria corrected, then she slowly let go. "I'm sorry about your father, with all that's gone on. Now you're moving off-world at the drop of a hat. But you'll like Sweden and our school."

    "Our school?" Miles asked.

    "Bladins International, where I go as well." Maria explained, pointing to a red scarf as well as her hairband. "Considered to be the best school in Sweden. From what Grandfather says, you'd fit right in." Then she eyed the wall behind him, taking note of plaques from school competitions. "Electronics, mathematics and physics hm? What are you planning to do as an adult?"

    "I'm going to be an electrical engineer." Miles declared.

    "Applied science. I have some biology prizes myself. I'm going to go to medical school when I'm done. Another Dr. Robotnik." Maria smiled.

    “How many are there?” Miles asked.

    “Well, there is just Grandfather and cousin Ovi for now.” Maria explained. “At least living, but we have a connection to the Watson family through Grandfather’s mother.”

    “The Watsons of IBM?” Miles flickered his ears.

    “A nice shot in the dark but no. You know about DNA of course.” Maria said, pressing a finger to his nose. “One of the people that determined its structure was a Watson. Dr. James Watson won the Nobel Prize. In fact it’s his holiday home that Grandfather inherited.”

    “And you are staying there too?” The fox asked.

    “From time to time, it lets my parents work and Grandmother likes the company.” Maria answered.

    Jules walked into the room and nodded to Miles and then Maria.

    “Ready to go then, Miles?” The hedgehog asked.

    “I’m ready. Father knows where I will be?” Miles asked.

    “Of course. He may call of course and possibly come to see you when he’s well.” Jules said. Then he knelt forward slightly. “May I take your bags out to the Professor’s car?”

    “Yes.” Then Miles walked up to the hedgehog and blinked, offering his hand. “Thank you Major Ogilvie. For everything, I’m going to miss you.”

    “That will make two of us.” Jules took the fox’s hand and shook it. Then he took up the two cases, the carry-on in one hand, the main one by its handle, rolling it out. As soon as he was out of view, he frowned. He didn’t like misleading the fox, especially as to how ‘sick’ his father was or even to the timeframe. Amadeus was going to be in an Army psychiatric facility for some time and afterwards, he was probably going to reactivate his commission.

At least this way, the Robotniks were familiar and it wasn’t as if he was going to some sort of backwater. This was Earth and the many sights, technological marvels and people there were awe-inspiring for him and he was no spring hedgehog. For a boy like Miles, it would be the trip of a lifetime, a sort of salve. Then there was the girl; she seemed to be as sharp as Miles, if not more. Perhaps she would be the catalyst to having him leave his room more often.

Kepler-22B Upper Atmosphere

    Scandinavian Airlines Flight X-31 was assigned to one of it’s fleet’s Space-X Grey Wyvern hybrid spaceplanes. Taking off like a normal aircraft, once it got to a certain altitude, large rocket-assist boosters kicked in until their liquid fuel was expended. Miles watched as the two boosters were released and tumbled back down, burning up in the process. Then he looked from his seat towards the void of space. His first trip into space, unfolding before his eyes, a simple cruise. Though sometimes he wondered if one day both human and Keplerian would end up fighting other aliens, like the Bugs from Starship Troopers, one of the many physical books tucked away in his carry-on.

    “Guests, this is your captain speaking.” A male voice came across the overhead speakers. “SAS Flight X-31 is leaving Kepler-22B and making its approach towards the Warp Gate. If you look at the external camera feeds, you will notice a military craft approaching us.” There was a pause before the captain continued. “Identified as the United States Space Navy destroyers Ward and Dilmore. All flights going to the Warp Gate are escorted for your security, all is normal.”

    Miles looked down at the external camera feed that was available on his tablet and zoomed in with a pinching motion on the screen. Sure enough there was a craft larger than the Grey Wyvern but nowhere the size of a battleship or even a cruiser. He could see the United States flag illuminated on the side, along with the Ward’s hull number of DDS-767. Dilmore was the same class but had the hull number of DDS-664. From the Jane’s Fighting Ships app on his tablet, he was able to pull up specifics of their class, the Blish class. With their fusion drive and ion thrusters, railguns and kinetic torpedoes, they were lean and mean like their seaborne counterparts. Any pirate or terrorist whether human or Acornian that tried to terrorize the shipping lane to Earth would have a bad day going up against one, and they tended to operate in packs of two.

    He switched out of the guidebook portion of Jane’s and started to look through the news section. Rumor had it, the Keplerian Republic would soon field its own space navy, several ships were being constructed in the United Kingdom, based on existing Royal Space Navy designs. Chief among them would be the Dreadnought class BB-1. Miles tapped on a related news post from the BBC website, looking at photos from the dockyard taken by their drones. A poll on the side asked what visitors thought the ship would be called. Of course there were some joke entries like Spacey McSpaceface but of the true answers: Warspite, Victory and King Charles III were the most popular. No matter what was chosen, Britain was enjoying the economic boon that their fledgling ally was providing them.

    “First time through the Gate, right?” Maria asked from his left side. He looked at her with a nod.

    “I have to admit the first time was a bit scary.” Maria held up her own tablet which was showing the external camera views. Miles switched back to them reflexively and fixed his eyes upon the swirling multicolored wormhole that they were steadily approaching. “When you’re in a spaceplane like this, it makes you wonder whether it is strong enough to make it through.”

    “Well if the Space Shuttle was able to make it through for as many times as it did, these probably coast through like a dream.” Miles said, leaning back in his seat. “Humans have made some very amazing things. I mean the ARK is one thing but the Warp Gate itself.” He whistled appreciatvely. “I’d love to see the Chaos Reactor. All it takes is seven special gems and you have the power to open a wormhole. I’m surprised you don’t make more of them.”

    “I’m afraid I will have to disappoint you slightly regarding human industrial capability.” Geralt said from the seat ahead of him. “Humans didn’t create the Chaos Emeralds. If anything they came from Kepler-22B. Your grandfather Erwyn was there at Floating Island, in the Royal Army. Apparently the echidnas were guarding them along with this Master Emerald. Unseating them created some sort of seismic activity that made the island fall apart into the ocean. Apparently Woods Hole is still looking for the Master Emerald.”

    “Do you think they’ll find it one of these days?” Miles asked.

    “They found Titanic.” Geralt mused with a smile.

    “And if they find it, what do you think they’ll do with it?” The fox pressed.

    “Study it, I would assume. Some theories exist to where it might have had a deliberate part in the displacement of the Chaos Emeralds to Earth. Strange humanicentric concepts. Be careful not to let our achievements blind you, Miles. It took us several thousand years, a lot of them making mistakes to get where we are now. We are not perfect, in fact perfection is likely something that no race can achieve.” Geralt said.

    “So then what are we trying to achieve?” Miles asked, looking back down at his tablet with raised ears.

    “A better universe, which is not necessarily the same as seeking perfection. People obsessed with seeking perfection have or nearly brought ruin to many.” Geralt cautioned.

    “Guests, this is your captain again.” The male voice from earlier came back onto the overhead speakers. “We are preparing to enter the Warp Gate, only essential personnel are to remain unseated if absolutely necessary. We recommend that those of you with epilepsy or similar conditions not to view the external camera feed. This flight is on time for arrival to Stockholm within the next few hours.”

Regementsgatan 116
Malmö, Sweden, Earth

    After arriving in Stockholm, Geralt had led Maria and Miles to his Ford Excalibur and took them on a seven hour drive southwest to Malmo by the E20 and E4 highways. As they passed through villages, Miles looked out the windows at the snow covered building and landscapes. Outside of Helsingborg, they switched to the South E6 where Miles could see the Øresund strait which seperated Denmark and Sweden. There was also the Øresund Bridge that allowed one to travel back and forth between Copenhagen and Malmö.

    The E6 gave way to the Burlövsbron, then became the Stockholmsvägen and then the Hornsgatan as Geralt stayed to the right. at the fork. Finally came the Drottninggatan which was also Regementsgatan. They stopped in front of a gated property near where Regementsgatan crossed Adolf Fredriksgatan. Geralt got out to get Miles’ bag in the trunk. Then the two children exited as well while Geralt pointed his key fob at the gates and pressed a button, causing them to part. Miles yawned quietly, watching his breath come out in a white cloud.

    They walked up the stone path to the house which had been built in 1867. The original estate actually covered three blocks. It had changed hands in 1963 after the previous owners sold it to Dr. James Watson and Francis Crick. As Crick later moved to the United States, the two amicably decided to transfer the property wholly to Watson. After a minor financial crisis, Watson had thought he would have to sell the property but later found himself in better straits. The home later passed to his son Duncan, then granddaughter Juliana who married a local Swede, Wulf Robotnik, Geralt’s parents.

    When the trio arrived at the vast wooden doors, they parted to reveal a smiling woman close to Geralt’s age, with greying brunette hair. She opened her arms and Maria stepped up to her, hugging her. “Grandmother!”

    Johanna Robotnik beamed and then looked back at the fox, gesturing to him. “Come now, we can’t have you boys catching cold out here.” Miles nodded and followed Geralt in. He glanced around in the entrance hall while Geralt took off his coat and let the fox’s case sit beside him.

    “How was your time on 22-B?” Johanna asked, unraveling her husband’s scarf.

    “Quiet and uneventful.” Geralt looked down at Johanna then tilted his head towards the dining room. “I need to talk to you, Amadeus is in a very rough shape.”

    “Of course. Maria!” Johanna raised her voice to where it was audible. “Would you please show Miles to his room?”

    Maria was in the process of taking off her shoes, which the fox did as well after a beat. Then she gripped the handle of his case, starting to pull it up the stairs. He kicked his shoes off and bounded up to follow her, also taking the handle. She would lead him up to the third floor, taking a slight turn to the left before opening a door across from what Miles figured to be the master bedroom. She set the case down and stood beside the fox.

    “You look tired.” Maria blinked and ran a hand against the back of his head. “Jet lag and fast food don’t mix very well.”

    “I am.” Miles blinked slowly as he moved closer to the bed. “I’ll get started on unpacking when I wake up.”

    “Don’t worry about it. You’re home now.” The girl moved up behind him and gently tugged on the sleeves of his jacket, freeing him from it and letting it drop to the floor. Tails crawled into the bed and rolled to rest on his left side. He slowly closed his eyes while Maria watched him, finally reaching out to pet the top of his head, a tired snort coming from his nose.

Chapter Text

Chapter 5
Robotnik Family Home
Malmo, Sweden
Earth

Tuesday, June 15, 2106

    He could feel Maria’s hand against the top of his head again. Stirring, Miles opened his eyes slowly and grunted. Then he gave a glance at the clock sitting on the nightstand and finally over at Maria. She drew her hand back to her side and waited for him to get up, a lanyard with her Lund University identification card hung around her neck. The thirteen year-old fox finally sat up and put his feet into his house slippers, groaning as he stood. Growing pains all around for the last two years.

    He still did not come up to Maria’s 5’6” but he would likely catch up. According to Geralt, he would likely cap out at around 5’11” or perhaps a full 6. In any event at least one element of conventional teenage life was coming to an end for him; high school. Maria turned her head as he removed his shirt and tossed it into a basket, padding over to his closet to pull out a white button-up shirt and black slacks that hung together on one hanger. He took off his slippers and sat on the other side of the bed from where he had slept and got out of his pajama pants as well, pulling on the slacks and the shirt, buttoning it first before securing the pants.

    As he rose, Maria finally turned around, familiar with the ritual as he grabbed a red Bladins necktie and raised his collar, putting the tie down under it before cinching it up and lowering the collar.  Above the pocket was the monogram for the school and in red was “Prower – Elektronikteknik”. Maria had last worn her uniform two years ago in 2104 and now she had cast that aside for a dark blue turtleneck and denim jeans.

    “Last full day of school.” Maria said quietly, putting a hand on his shoulder. Miles nodded with a small yawn. “The last time I will get to take you also. Then what after that?”

    The fox swallowed tentatively and raised his tails up as he considered the question.

    “I thought I would go into Skane, get my bachelor’s in electronic engineering and find work somewhere, maybe work for Ovi.” Miles answered, raising his ears.

    “You know, there is more to Earth than just Sweden.” Maria chided him. Then she brought her arms around his neck and rested her chin between his ears. “But if it is what you want, I’m sure you will do fine. Probably end up going from my cousin’s lab to Tesla or SpaceX, something big.”

    “As if you won’t be doing big things yourself, Doctor Robotnik.” Miles countered with a small smile. “Last year of premed, then medical school. Taking people’s lives in your hands. Your work is going to be more risky than mine.”

    “Equally rewarding though for both of us.” Maria blinked as the fox raised his head up, nose pressing against her lower jaw.

    “Well I’ll at least get to see you at Skane, share a lunch.” Miles said.

    “You would be spoiling me.” Maria sighed, reaching down to tickle his chin. “You are such a puppy, Miles Prower.”

    The fox’s face remained flush as he started to break away from her. He reached for his bookbag and checked the interior, confirming that his tablet was in there among other things.

    “Ready to go, then.” Miles said quietly.

“I will be at the car.” Maria replied with a nod, walking out of his room. This left Miles alone in his room, he sighed quietly and looked at himself at a mirror.  The flush was still on his muzzle from her proximity to him earlier. The eleven-year-old girl was now a young woman of sixteen, soon seventeen. He felt odd around her and realized soon that it was a combination of new elements to his age as well as something he dared not to voice aloud, especially to her.

Not just out of the idea of embarrassment but worse, denial. Why put one’s head in the guillotine when they can just avoid it altogether? He left his room and traveled down the staircase to the front door, opening it to bound out down the stone path to the gate, where Maria’s 2102 NEVS 9-3 sat before. The fox walked up to the gate and pressed its unlock code into a pad, watching as it slid back. Then he opened the passenger side door, settling in before she took off towards Bladins.

2:50 PM
Regementsgatan 116

    Miles had returned from his last day of school after breaking off from the Coop Nara grocery with one of the other humans of his class, Rene Hart. Bottles of unopened Cuba Cola were in his bag, an open one in hand as he entered the gate at Regementsgatan 116 with a small sigh. This was it then, no more compulsory school at least. Now he could finally start applying to colleges, perhaps even take part in summer break.

    Geralt was sitting in a lawn chair with an unlit cigar in hand. Upon sighting the fox, he greeted him with a wave to the empty chair next to him. Miles could make something out in his lap but he didn’t take too much note of it. He lowered his bag down to the grass to the left of the offered chair. Then he sat down, surprised to find a cigar being offered to him.

    “Aren’t I four months early before I can start smoking?” The fox asked, both ears rose.

    “You are but you are finished with school, with distinction.” Geralt mused. Miles took the cigar and sniffed at it, putting it between his teeth. Geralt lit a match and lit it for him before lighting his own. Miles inhaled slowly and relaxed, staring at the trees before them. “So then what is next?”

    “College applications I think.” Miles replied, finally looking over at what sat in the human’s lap. He made out the stamped return address of the Keplerian Republic General Staff Office and his own name and address written in the center. Geralt looked down as well, realizing that he noticed and then held the envelope out.

    “Arrived today, but I did not open it.” Geralt said.

    Miles took it and slowly opened it, removing a perfectly folded letter. Either computer or typewriter wrote it but the signature was by pen.  It went as follows:

Field Marshal Amadeus Prower, AKR
9999 General Staff Office
Mobotropolis
M-G01 001
Kepler-22B

Miles Prower
Regementsgatan 116
217 74 Malmo
Sweden
Earth

Greetings Mr. Prower,
    It is to this Office’s attention that you will have finished your compulsory education in Sweden today and have your graduation ceremony on the weekend. It is the intention of this letter to advise you of the General Staff Office’s interest in you considering your future in the Republic Forces. We of the Prower family have served in some capacity for several generations.

    A career in the Army of the Keplerian Republic would be suggestible. As an officer you will have the privilege to lead men and women as well as to attend the Republic Military Academy. Your contribution of time and service will carry on this tradition that we are expected to follow.

    When you are ready to begin, present yourself to the General Staff Office and I will make the necessary arrangements to place you into the next class at the Academy.

    Regards,
    Field Marshal Amadeus E. Prower, AKR
    Chief of the General Staff
    Field Marshal, Army of the Keplerian Republic

The fox stared at the letter, re-reading a few times. Then he raised his head up in incredulity.

    “My father sent a letter and seems to expect me to join the Republic Army as an officer.” Miles said, wrinkling his nose.
    
    “But that is not what you want, of course.” Geralt observed.

    “I was meant to work on robots and computers, not to lead people into battle.” The fox growled softly, looking back at the letter. “Not to be his successor. Haven’t we had enough soldiers?”

    “I have to admit that I am surprised myself. I would have thought he would have fostered your engineering skills and let you follow your own path.” Geralt said, lifting his cigar up to his mouth.

    “I would have thought too, but then again I have not seen him since coming here. Not even after he got out of the hospital.” Miles lowered his ears.

    “If you would rather be an engineer then be an engineer.” Geralt said, puffing on his cigar slowly.

    “He speaks of obligations though. If only Mother were still alive, well I’m not sure if I would be facing this sort of dilemma.” Miles folded the letter up with a low growl. “I could serve the Republic, I have no qualms with that. But this way, it seems so predetermined. How could I lead in Father’s own branch? How could I be taken seriously?  I couldn’t be, truly.”

    “What of the other branches then?” Geralt asked.

    “I certainly wouldn’t want anything terrestrial, the Army of all. The Air Force is too limiting as well as the regular Navy. If I were to join it would be in the Space Navy. I mean that’s the newest force and there’s more to see out there. Father can’t really grease any wheels in there, either.” Miles thought aloud.

    “In any event, I would take the time to think and decompress. You’re still a boy of thirteen. Keplerian majority is not until fourteen and if you change your mind and want to make a clean break of it, there are ways. Unpleasant where your father is concerned but they exist.” Geralt advised.

    “I figured as much.” A lackluster smile formed on the fox’s muzzle. “He doesn’t even acknowledge me by my first name except in an address. Otherwise it’s just ‘Mister Prower’. Going back in had to be the worst decision he could have made. Why couldn’t he have just sat at home or go work at a defense contractor? Fuck!” He stood up and clenched the letter with his left hand, putting the cigar back into his mouth as he paced around the lawn, smoking furiously with Geralt watching, shaking his head. Why indeed?

Saturday, October 16, 2106

    Amadeus grumbled as he got out of the rental car that was ordered by the General Staff Office. The driver was a staff second lieutenant that was essentially a minder and secretary.  Antoine D’Coolette pulled at the collar of his uniform shirt and shivered even in his jacket. It wasn’t just from the cool autumn but perpetual nervousness around the field marshal. After all, he was plucked from the Military Academy after completion, making it at least to the top ten of his class despite ridicule for being a relative of the dead Michel D’Coolette.

    That name even in the new Republic Army carried the weight of incompetence and shortsightedness.  Some even gave the dead Major General the nickname of “the Acornian Goering”. So when he studied, he had to work twice as hard to even get the time of day. But when Field Marshal Prower called him into his office to be his staff adjutant, fortunes seemed to change, even though the aging fox sometimes terrified him.

    There was also a degree of guilt, for he had to be the one to type the letter that found its way into Miles’ hands months ago. Amadeus had knowledge of computers of course but passed the job off onto him even though it could have been handwritten. The only personal touch he had given to it was the signature. Even as it was dictated to him and printed, he felt like tearing the paper up and deleting the file. Orders were orders though and a father’s advice to his son was their own business.

    The coyote made certain to stay behind the fox as he shuffled across the stone walkway, marshal’s baton in hand. He then blinked as Amadeus looked up at something or more precisely, someone looking at them from a balcony. Maria Robotnik stood there in a blue dress and jacket with her arms crossed, staring back at the fox before noticing the door behind her had opened.

    Miles strode out and had the pipe she had given him earlier in the day between his teeth. The briar pipe was a straight-stemmed billiard and the bowl was packed with one of the blends from an assortment of sampler tins. He lit it with a match and joined her side, realizing whom she was looking down upon.

    “I thought he was a nice man when I first met him.” Maria lamented quietly. “Well, I also thought he was a policeman, but I was quite small. He looks like he is coming to summon you for tax court rather than your birthday.”

    “Accurate.” Miles said, placing his hands on the railing as he stared down at the two.

    “Have you made a decision?” Maria asked, looking at him.

    “Mmhm.” Miles replied nonchalantly.

    “May I ask what it is?”

    “I’m going to join the Space Navy.” Miles declared. That made Maria’s face turn a light pink.

    “What about your college prospects? I thought you were going to go to Skane.” Her eyebrows shot up in confusion.

    “I’ll still be able to study what I want but I’ll also be able to serve on my own terms. I’ve had several months to think about it. In a way he’s right, it is tradition. But I’ll do it with my own knowledge to guide me. I don’t need to be mollycoddled.” Miles growled softly.

    “I-“ Maria looked upon his face and saw the determination on it. In one way she felt proud that he was sticking to his guns, but there was also disappointment. He was still appeasing his father this way and really, who forced their son to make this decision, especially at this age? Did this really fit him? One look at the two-tailed fox, was there really a spacer in there? Would this be the last time she might see him? Sure the Space Navy was still in its infancy and likely would not stray farther than the Kepler-22 or Sol systems and would be working with Earth space services but there was so much that could happen.

    Truth to be told, Maria would miss him. Finding out that he died in a training accident or got badly injured in some mishap wouldn’t do well for her. After all, how long were they close to each other for? Though there was also a small feeling of apprehension, of insecurity. Maria knew she fetched looks from men; she certainly got them back in school and premed. But those relationships that she had usually went down in flames. She also noticed that on occasion when Miles heard about them, he would button up. In some rare cases, he even had a flash of anger on his face. He rarely got that way and on those occasions where she saw it, it was largely from some technical project that needed some “percussive encouragement”.

    She swallowed and lowered her eyes. Perhaps this entry into the Space Navy allowed him a way to bow out from speaking his mind to her. She had her suspicions about why he was so tight-lipped and that ended up leading her on a cycle of worried thoughts and false trails. What if he did seek her? She was 17 to his 14 but he was at majority according to Keplerian law. He was a Keplerian citizen on visa here and with that razor sharp intelligence, Miles certainly seemed like he was beyond that age.

    What if he didn’t and she was going on a dangerous path of conjecture? Was she possibly harboring something hidden for him? Maria held her breath for a few moments. She couldn’t deny that despite his alien origins, he was strikingly handsome. But he didn’t seek any of the girls of his age, human or Keplerian. That had always mystified her.

    “I thought you would be going to Skane.” Maria finished quietly. “You said that’s what you originally wanted to do.”

    “In another time, I would have.” Miles lowered his pipe from his mouth and sighed. “But I may as well get this out of my system. Who knows, this may end with me burning out and back on plan.”

    “You wouldn’t dare to allow that to happen.” Maria reached out and took his hand, squeezing it. “I know you better than that, Miles.”

    The fox looked up at Maria’s face and squeezed back before taking his hand away to press it to her cheek. He lowered his ears and looked into her eyes.

    “You certainly do. That’s why I-“ The fox hesitated for a moment and swallowed with Maria following his mouth with her gaze. Then his ears continued to flatten. “I’m going to miss you, Maria.”

    Maria’s eyes widened as she caught the glistening film of moisture in his eyes as he turned away from her, making for the door. She watched him disappear, tails and all back into the house before facing forward, pulling her coat closer to her, closing her eyes.
    

Chapter Text

Chapter 6
Britannia Royal Navy College
Dartmouth, Devon, England
United Kingdom

Thursday, June 30, 2107

    To his surprise after completing the entrance examination, Miles found himself back on a spaceplane bound for Earth, this time arriving at Heathrow and passing through customs with a special visa designating him as a member of the Keplerian Forces. From there he had taken a bus to Gosport in Hampshire where he stood before a specialized version of the Admiralty Interview Board meant for Keplerian officer cadets. After staying on site for several days, he was given new orders to report to Dartmouth.

    On arrival he had gotten his kit and found himself in the white shirt, black slacks and navy-blue beret of an officer cadet. Then he and the others in his class, the majority Keplerian but also some human, assembled to be met by the superintendent as well as a large echidna in the uniform of a rating.

    "Cadets, welcome to Britannia Royal Navy College." Captain James Jago said at the podium. "The College has had its ups and downs, closing for a time back in the early 21st century. But as the Navy adjusted, it had of course not closed since it was reopened. With the investment by the Keplerian government, we have established BRNC to train the future officers of the Keplerian Space Navy. You will by agreement be considered part of His Majesty's Royal Space Navy until completion. You will train aboard British ships and gain understanding of the tenants of leadership. Chief Petty Officer Knuckles will be your drillmaster. He is a Master-at-Arms and is an expert in discipline."

    A black furred wolf with red and green heterochromatic eyes approached the podium after Jago stepped back. He had the rank of captain as well and stared out at the assembled cadets, seeming to pause at the sight of the fox.

    "Cadets, I am Captain Crow Seetan, formerly of the Keplerian Navy. I recently completed refresher training at BRNC myself to transition to the Space Navy. I will be your class advisor. If you need advice about assistance with your studies or your career track, my door is open to you. By being here, you are already part of an elite group. Look to each man or woman to your left and right. You were carefully chosen after interviews and exams. After your three or four years here, you will upon success be ready to serve as an officer aboard our ships. You will study the laws of space, how to conduct yourselves as officers and gentlebeings. Being an officer comes with status, prestige but also grave responsibility. The ratings under your charge will look to you for leadership. Never forget that your first duty is to the mission you undertake, but also to them.  A good officer will reinforce a rating's pride in the Space Navy. A bad one will degrade that pride and possibly present hazard. Do not allow yourself to become a bad officer. Study hard and keep yourself fit, both mentally and physically. I look forward to seeing you all graduate." Seetan declared.

    He then rendered a salute which the entire class matched almost in unison. Miles couldn't help but to think that he was being stared at again by the wolf. After they lowered their arms, Knuckles stepped down from the stage area and stood at the head of the formation.

    "All right cadets, turn out to your rooms. Change into physical training gear and return here at 1500 hours. We will begin exercise, then you will meet with Captain Seetan one on one in rotation before dinner. Afterwards will be study hours. All first-year cadets will follow the same training regimen which starts tomorrow! Right then? Move out!" The echidna bellowed.

Captain Seetan's Office

    After two hours of exercise, Miles was sent back to his room to change into his Blue No. 2 dress uniform. He waited in line with others that were closely surnamed in section by alphabet. When his time came, he was led into the office by a red-haired, cream colored canine woman. Seetan rose from his desk and saluted, which the fox returned.

    "Thank you Alyxz." The wolf said. The woman smiled and walked out. "Take a seat Prower, you can remove your cap."

    The fox walked up to the chair across from Seetan's desk and removed his hat, setting it down in his lap. Seetan sat on the corner of his desk and regarded him.

    "Officer Cadet Miles A. Prower, Amadeus Prower's son. Large boots to step into, or not from what I've heard. Army life's not for you, eh?" Seetan mused.

    "No, sir. Respectfully, I may be my father's son, but I am here on my own merit. I chose the Space Navy for its fit with my want of a technical specialty as well as the ability to prove myself without having to rely on name alone." Miles said.

    "A self-starter, respectable. So, have you determined what career track you are wanting to follow?" Seetan asked.

    "I've taken time to consider it, yes. I am interested in becoming an Information Warfare Officer." Miles replied.

    "An IWO. Close relationship to the Communications Officer. Responsible for communications and computer security. Encryption, decryption, firewalls, malware detection, removal and leverage. You've come in without a degree, but you've scored highly in technology aptitude. Think you can keep up with the academics?" Seetan asked.

    "Yes, sir. I'm also interested in mathematics, physics and history." Miles said. "Truth be told, I couldn't wait to get into this. I like learning, especially when there is a challenge before me."

    "You've opted for the Accelerated Program as well. Three years, essentially your second year will be the combination of the Standard Program's second and third year. Suppose you'll be gunning for the bloody Superintendent's Trophy." Seetan smiled.

    "If that is where I place, it's where I place, Captain." Miles answered.

    "I see a lot of potential in you Prower, I also see a bit of fire in your eyes." Seetan leaned in. "Well, make sure the flames do not die out. As you're one of the Youngers of course, you'll be treated like the adults. That means smoking and rum privileges. See to it that you don't get too knackered before exams. Any questions for me?"

    "Not that I can think of, Captain. But thank you." Miles said after a swallow.

    "Right. Pleasure meeting you, Prower." Seetan offered his hand which the fox shook. "Dismissed then. Have Alyxz call the next in."

    Miles rose and replaced his cap, giving a final salute, which was returned and walked out. He looked at Alyxz and walked up to her. "The Captain wishes for the next cadet."

    "Thank you Mr. Prower." Alyxz gave him a pat on the shoulder. "Alyxz Marenwolf by the way, the Captain's secretary."

    "A pleasure, ma'am." The fox bowed before walking off to prepare for dinner.

Skane University Hospital
Sunday, August 28, 2107

    After a quick return home to check on her apartment, second-year medical student Maria Robotnik had collected her mail and returned to the hospital for lunch. Sorting through the envelopes, she was surprised to see a letter postmarked as followed:

Cdt. Miles Prower, RSN/KRSN
Britannia Royal Naval College
South Devon Area Of Outstanding National Beauty (AONB), College Way
Dartmouth TQ6 0HJ
United Kingdom

To:
Maria Robotnik
Skane University Hospital
Getingevägen 4
221 41 Lund
Sweden

    Maria opened the envelope and found a handwritten letter as well as a photograph. She looked at the photo first, the fox standing with his arms behind his back in his Blue No. 2 dress. Then she took a sip of her coffee before reading the letter.

Dear Miss Robotnik,
    I'm sorry for not writing you sooner since your 18th birthday, I have been following my studies intently as I have no doubt that you have as well. How goes medical school? Hopefully more sedate than what I have been going through. Physical fitness in the morning and afternoon, sometimes at night while getting familiar with the basics of naval affairs. There's quite a bit of commonality with seafaring, in fact I've learned a bit of that as well. That's British tradition for you, I'd wager.

    I must admit, I miss the Professor and Johanna, Ovi and you terribly. Father has barely written a word, I suspect he is still sore about my choice of service, but he can get over it. In the end, it will be worth it. I'll be able to make my own way with what I'm learning. But in the end, you're learning far more important things. I heard that you're wanting to become a surgeon! That's a tremendous challenge but I know you'll meet it. You're an incredibly sharp lady, no doubt about it.

    If you would like to write me, the return address can be used. Or I suppose you can e-mail me at m.prower@brnc.mod.uk

Regards,
Cadet Miles Prower, RSN/KRSN

P.S. They've given me the nickname of Tails. Also, I'm sorry to say I've lost my Swedish tinge, I've picked up the West Country accent.

    Maria re-read the letter several times before finally setting it down. She looked around the staff lounge before hastily finishing her coffee, rising and slipping the letter and photo into the left pocket of her labjacket. She reached up to adjust her rectangular-framed glasses and then put the empty cup into the trash before scooping her bag up to leave, intent on preparing for her next class.
    
Britannia Royal Naval College
Wednesday, August 31, 2107

    Fire raged all around inside of the corridors of the training ship Hindustan, but this was not an unexpected event, though the sweltering conditions within were all too real. Miles climbed into the fireproof bunker gear that was nearest to him and had a yellow helmet on his head and a specially made facemask which could accommodate both Keplerian and human alike. He engaged his extinguisher and started to attack the fires in the next compartment, the hiss of the respirator amongst the noise that his acute ears could pick up. That was when he heard a groan as one of the other cadets started to stumble forward.

    He reached out and grabbed the cadet by their belt to stabilize them, then felt their body becoming dangerously slack as deadweight. He reattached the extinguisher to his belt and looped both arms under the falling cadet, starting to drag them back.

    "Casualty coming out!" The fox barked into his mask's microphone while others made space or moved around him while he drug the cadet towards the open gangway where they had entered. Once they were outside, he could hear a coughing and sputtering. He knelt down and took the cadet’s mask off, a reddish colored wolf staring up at him.

    “That’s why you ensure you have a good seal before going in there. You’ll be all right after some time out here.” The simulation supervisor murmured, checking the camera feeds on his tablet. Then he reached into a large Igloo chest and tossed two bottles of water towards the fox, which caught them both with his tails.

    “Nice trick.” The supervisor raised an eyebrow. “So that’s why they call you Tails.”

    “It’s useful.” Miles heard another cough as the wolf started to sit up. “Easy, mate. Smoke inhalation, almost went out on us.” He dropped the bottle held by his right tail in the wolf’s lap.

    “Recognized a man in danger, got him to safety and performed a proper assessment. Not bad, Prower. Did fairly well with the damage control simulator overall.” The wolf said.

    Miles blinked and then stared at the wolf, eyes narrowing.

    “You didn’t pass out, that was a test.” The fox flickered an ear as he uncapped his own bottle before drinking.

    “Had to throw a wrench in there somewhere, Prower.” The supervisor said.

    “Cheer up, they picked you at random.” The wolf laughed and clapped him on the back. “Once we’re in our second year with walking privileges, I’ll get you a drink. I’m good for my word. Name’s Buddy.”

    “Nickname or actual name?” Miles asked.

    “Actual name, I haven’t lived it down since I got here.” Buddy mused, taking another drink. “Then again I guess you know the feeling. Field marshal’s kid, what made you decide to come here?”

    “It was either making things work on my own brains and merit here or being an Army brat. Besides, I’m not going to see what’s up there flying a desk down on 22B unless we have some sort of interplanetary war.” Miles explained.

    “Honest kid, one can respect that.” Buddy started to rise to his feet, the fox matching him as they tossed their empty bottles into a bin. “Well, that fire isn’t going to put itself out at this rate.” He pressed his mask back on and this time Miles noticed it was sealed correctly, closing his own back up before they marched forward back into the Hindustan.

Thursday, January 12, 2108
Royal Marines Commando Training Centre
Lympstone, Devon, England
United Kingdom

    "Welcome to the Endurance Course." Sergeant Ewan Steele announced to the assembled officer cadets from BRNC. Miles kept his eyes forward as Steele gestured towards the path they were soon going to take off on. "This is a six-mile course that Marines run to test their fitness and as the name suggests, their endurance. No offence to you Jacks, but we understand you're not bootnecks so instead of expecting you to complete this test in 72 minutes, you must complete it within 90."

    Steele took up a tablet from a field table and brought up a projection that he blew up, large enough for everyone to see. "We'll start off with a two-mile run across rough land at Woodbury Common. There will be tunnels, pipes, pools and some waterlogged culverts. Then you'll run back here to the pistol range immediately and engage targets. 6 out of 10 or better with adequate time and you've got it."

    Steele shut the feed down and set the tablet back on the table, crossing his arms behind his back, staring at the assembled group of cadets. Then he suddenly pulled a starting pistol from his belt and raised it in the air, firing and holstering it. The group started to take off, some of the more athletic cadets gaining some distance. Miles lagged behind that group, but still had some distance on the slower ones. The daily exercises seemed to pay off here.

    So, did the shoes that were broken in. As he passed through the woods, he had to juke and avoid trees and hop over brush. Nettles and thorns stung into his shirt and sweats, making him wince and grit his teeth. He growled and continued to advance, setting his eyes on those ahead of him. Clock ticking, this was probably the hardest of the tests he would be going through, even with all the technical training ahead of him. This was probably where he was weakest.

    But he could not accept failure here, he couldn't wash out. Especially if he ended up having to meet his father; tired, bloodied and worn out to meet his terms. No, that was something he would not allow. His chest ached as he tried to keep pace, sharply inhaling through his nose. One of the Commando observers saw him and started to join up on him.

    "Come on, you're faster than that!" The Commando roared. "I thought you were a Jack, not a schoolgirl!"

    "I'll show you schoolgirl, bootneck!" The fox snarled back, pumping his legs.

    "I'll be damned, these fuzzies can run." The Commando said to himself as they broke through the woods. Miles could see a mudlogged channel ahead of him leading to a low tunnel. The Commando kept above it and turned to face him as he dove down into the muck. He raised his head up and swam through it, the observer giving him a thumb up.

    "Go get that finish!" The observer yelled.

    The fox continued to slug his way through the mud, in one case nearly falling all the way in. Hands reached for him and pulled him up, other Britannia cadets helping him along.

    "You doing all right, Tails?" Buddy's voice could be heard to his right.

    "Never better, mate." The fox answered as the tunnel came up. He ducked down and went in first, padding his way through the dark, partially filled tunnel to the end. Once out, he saw where there was a backlog of cadets trying to climb up. He reached them and knelt down, allowing one to step off from his shoulders, lifting upwards as more pain racked through him. Then the cadet he assisted held their hands out. He took it, climbing up and growling to make it the rest of the way out.

    They came up to a blackish bog that he had to wade through, this one having trees and brush grown into it. Once he was through that, his body ached all around. He stopped for a few moments to catch his breath before making it up to stable land. Then as he advanced downhill, he saw smaller tunnels before him. Once he was up to them, the fox crawled in, finding himself tightly compressed in there. Miles slid through them, uncomfortably but still resolute on making it.

    Out of those tunnels, he noticed that he was close to where they started. Far on the horizon he could see where Steele was. Powering his way downhill once more, he bounded past onto the road and took off towards the pistol range, noticing a burst of speed coming from his tails propelling him forward. The effort seemed to be easier now, but his heart was racing.

    No wonder they wanted him to try to shoot. At the target range he could hear the reports of pistols from the cadets that made it. He took his place at an empty station and picked up the Heckler & Koch .40 sitting there along with its magazine. The fox racked it in and pulled back the slide, raising the gun up and sighting it in. The target was at 25 meters and he aimed for center mass, pulling the trigger. The loud gunfire as well as the sound of the hit confirmation klaxon startled him. He quickly retargeted and fired again, hearing the klaxon. Then he tightened his grip, firing until the magazine was emptied and the gun clicked. Lowering the gun, he removed the magazine and set it down, hands shaking.

    "Prower!" Another Commando called out. He turned to face them and found a hand offered to him. "Eight out of ten. And a time of 75 minutes. Not bad at all. Go get some water, son. You look like you're going to drop dead."