Comment: Made for a fic-art-trade with Dreadmon. The story is playing a few months after my other fic "Days of fury". In the beginning I also lightly took over the concept from my "rise of the Guardians" stories that Haven isn't just a building but rather something with an inner core and a mind of its own - the computers only being a relay for it. Also I felt this upgrade of Haven was really necessary. Even Science Fiction novels from the 70s had better high tech machinery than Haven in the comics from the 90s. Haven's AI which makes its introduction in this story once was based on Eddie, the computer of the Heart Of Gold from the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy books but it appeared to be way too humorous for a story like this. For now it mostly stays without a notable personality but I am planning to keep that AI as one of my OCs so maybe it will still develop in future projects.
In disbelief Locke stared at the graphs and reports in front of him.
"Are you sure?" he asked the virtual room around him.
It just should have been a routine check - something to find out a bit more about the Twilight Zone but one of old Haven's results left him stunned.
"My current average error rate is at 0.439 percent, or as you would have phrased it - yes, I am sure", Haven's AI replied. "The connection to the Twilight Cage existed three times within the last year and all three times the old system recorded the same. I could analyze the data of other so-called gates and I am 'sure' it will lead to a similar result. All facts point to the existence of a Grandmaster in the respecting zone but no profile of the living fits."
Locke leaned back and a virtual wall suddenly appeared behind him, solidified when he touched it.
"Edi, analyze the dead ones."
Haven III was what Locke always had dreamed of - a connection between traditional and modern times, the fundament and functionality of old Haven with always available virtual access to its inner core. The old computers still existed and were fully functioning but they weren't really necessary anymore. The only thing that disturbed him somehow was Edi. Not the AI itself - that was working quite perfect, even despite its sometimes strange humour, or rather its funny lack of it - the problem was the name. Edi was created to think and act on its own - a virtual Guardian for the island should the real Guardians ever been gone again. But as such it also had a will on its own. When it came to naming Locke's new creation someone suggested Edmund - the first virtual Guardian named after the first real Guardian. The Brotherhood members weren't too fond of it - no one of them wanted to command Edmund around. The AI however had heard the suggestion too and loved it. Since then it wouldn't react to any other name. Completely erasing and reprogramming might have solved the problem but then several months of Locke's work would have been lost. At least it also accepted nicknames. It wasn't the best of all solutions but they would get used to it.
"I have an result", Edi announced a second later. "Stored files indicate it could be the Grandmaster called Luger."
Good that Locke was already leaning against something. His guts felt as if they were frozen over. The files around him started spinning rapidly - virtual Haven was programmed to look like whatever the one inside imagined it to be and currently it was the reflection of Locke's own thoughts. Silently he stared at the blur without actually seeing it, unable to find any words to say.
After a minute of silence even the AI - though not programmed for feelings yet - seemed to get worried.
"Is something not right?"
Locke looked up and stared at the greenish blue holograph of an Echidna - an image of how he pictured Edi.
"I ... I thought he was dead ... But how?" was the only thing Locke brought out.
Many years ago.
Impatiently Locke waited for the jet to land and drop the expected passengers. Just a normal meeting outside of Haven, he told himself, there's no reason to be nervous. He already had been to a few of them so actually it could have been routine by now. However, that was during the time when the other Guardians still were on the island. And there had never been a meeting with a Grandmaster of the Dark Legion. What did he even know about Luger? Not much, to be honest, aside of that little bit his father told him when he contacted him shortly before the meeting - that he once had started a weak attempt to attack the island but then withdrew again quickly and never was heard of again. Did he really not care about any future attacks or did he just spy on the Guardians and the people of Echidnaopolis, waiting for the perfect time to strike back?
The jet landed to let out a single passenger before lifting off again. Just the Grandmaster alone, no guards, no advisors. And unless he hid his weapons under his clothes he was also unarmed.
"Welcome to Angel Island, Grandmaster", Locke greeted him. "Why did you ask for this meeting?"
"Because I want to submit you my peace offer", Lugger said with a smile.
Locke stared at him.
The other Echidna chuckled.
"For the most obvious reason: peace. Why else? Or are battles that funny to you?"
The young Guardian quickly shook his head.
"N-no, it's just ... I never expected a Legionnaire to make such an offer. Wouldn't that mean you are betraying your own people?"
Luger sighed. "Once society betrayed my people for punishing those who liked technology, my father betrayed them by abandoning them and attack one of the Guardians on his own, a mission he never returned from, everyone who led them out of the Twilight Zone only to throw their lives away in senseless battles betrayed them, so did everyone who banned them back into that hell of a Zone. I don't want to watch my people suffer and die anymore - I want them to live, want to give my children another future than wars or a forsaken desert to be trapped in. There isn't even a reason to fight anymore. Society has accepted technology. Maybe my people would look strange to others at first but I'm sure they will blend in fast." He stretched out a hand as if waiting for Locke to accept his offer.
For a moment the Guardian kept looking at him sceptically but he couldn't find any sign of a lie in Luger's face. Hesitant he shook the Grandmaster's hand.
"At least it's a deal on my side. I don't know what the rest of the Brotherhood thinks of it yet."
"It's a goddamn lie", Thunderhawk said when he later held a conference with multiple screens. "I bet he just wanted a bit of peace as long as his people need to prepare an attack all the while they are staying on that island."
"I'm with him", Sojourner agreed to Thunderhawk's opinion. "Luger even made a weak attempt to attack us once which should be proof enough."
While Locke had told them about his meeting he had noticed a quick movement on Tobor's face. Was he mad - probably because Locke had come to an agreement with the Grandmaster so fast? Or had he tried to supress a grin? His visor made it hard to tell and there was also no hint in his voice when he spoke.
"A weak attempt, indeed. But what proof is that? Maybe he got frightened of the Brotherhood's strength and thus rather wants to live in peace than wage another war. Or maybe despite knowing about his weak troops he still wants to continue fighting but is looking for a more strategic position now and plans to catch us off guard. Who knows."
"I wouldn't trust them", Sabre said thoughtfully. "However it is worth a try."
"It could be interesting", Spectre said.
Thunderhawk showed a surprised look. "Interesting? Why would you of all Echidnas want the Dark Legion on our island? I thought you hated them."
"Yes, I hate them with all my heart", Spectre replied. "I hate those who fight, torture and kill innocent Echidnas, I hate them for everything they have done in the past and will do in the future. However, I am making a difference. If a Legionnaire comes to me and wants to live next to me in peace I will let him. I can't blame him for what happened in the past or what others of his kind are doing. Give them a place where they can live for the moment - far away from Echidnaopolis for now of course - keep them under your watch and give us a regular update so we can be back as soon as something goes wrong. Their troops really aren't that strong - provided that they really won't catch us off guard."
"So those were two agreements, two disagreements and I don't know what side Tobor chose", Locke said feeling a bit helpless.
"Well, as long as we are away you are the Guardian of this island, boy", Tobor said. "It's your decision."
"But whatever you do", Sabre said, "stay impartial. Don't let him draw you on his side. They will remain our enemies. If it's not him then it might be his children or grandchildren but one day someone of them will think their father or grandfather was weak-willed and continue the war."
For the next few months to come Locke had yet another duty - aside of the general island surveillance, being the spokesperson for everyone on Mobius Prime, doing the first bit of training with his son. He barely could take some leisure time. Heck, sometimes he could be glad if he even found enough time to sleep. Being out so often - and if he was at home spending only time with Knuckles alone, never including Lara-Le into anything - also didn't help with the looming marital crisis. He never had been someone who had wanted or needed too much company but he never had felt so left alone as right now.
"Hey, joker, why the wry face?"
Locke winced. He had been so deep in his thoughts that he hadn't notice Luger walking up to him. The Grandmaster now looked at the same piece of landscape Locke had been staring at without actually seeing it - the place where the first few arrivals of the Legion built their settlement.
"We might not have seen each other for too long since our meeting but still it appears to me as if you hardly ever smile. What's the matter?"
"I think with that I have seen you more often than my own wife."
Locke looked at his open face - if he wanted to he could everything from it. The Grandmaster just never seemed to want to hide anything. At the moment he could see that he was honestly interested in Locke's problems - no polite set phrase that you would say to someone even if you didn't care about them, no ulterior motive to spy out the Guardian's possible weaknesses but honest interest about his well-being. He remembered his father's words to never trust a Grandmaster, to always keep up his guard. But then before he could bit on his tongue he started talking. He just needed to let out what was boiling inside of him for way too long or else it would have broken him apart.
In the following months he didn't secretly watch over the Legion camp anymore - he paid official visits to it and always was with Luger at that time. Finally he had found someone he could talk to. He often had to think about what Sabre had told him but the more time he spent with Luger the harder it was to stick to that. There are things you can't do together without becoming friends. Also Luger told a lot about himself, the life with the Legion in the Twilight Zone, the troubles he had with his teenage twins who just couldn't accept that he married another woman after their mother's death, his little daughter who was about Knuckle's age.
He could hardly help with Locke's problems but at least he was there for him and that was all that mattered.
However, times like these tend to be short. In this case they only lasted for a few months.
"The Legion troops are forming for an attack. The EST forces alone might not be strong enough. We need Guardian backup", was the first thing constable Holmes said as soon as Locke answered the call. He didn't even take the time for a greeting.
"W-what? No, that can't be." Locke shook his head in disbelief. "Luger would never command them to an attack."
For a moment the constable hesitated but then he said, "Luger is dead. The Legion is under Kragok's command now."
Due to the Legion's low force levels since only very few of them had set foot on the island yet they were defeated and forced to withdraw back to where they had come from fast and without the help of the other Guardians. They only were informed of it afterwards. No one blamed Locke since he had made the peace agreement with Luger who had also kept his word. How could the young Guardian have known or even guessed about such an unfortunate turn of events. And still Locke felt worse than crap. To the world around he showed his usual poker face - he was the Guardian, he was supposed to stay objective and not show those kinds of emotions. No one could tell how deep that hole was he was falling into. No one he could talk to, especiall since no one should have known he once had befriended a Grandmaster. With his only friend gone he burried himself in work again. Once the stress nearly had broken him but now he embraced it because then he didn't have to deal with his feelings too often. And still he kept on falling.
It was really ironical that now, so many years later, Luger's daughter who was jointly responsible for his death was doing the same that he had wanted to do and thus, probably without knowing, fulfilled her father's dream - an alliance with the Guardians and the people of Echidnaopolis. Hopefully peace between the different Echidna factions would last for longer this time.
"A possible explanation is that the exploding weapon with which he was supposed to be killed caused a force strong enough to open a connection between this zone and the Twilight Zone where he was sucked in before he was killed", Edi said. "Reliable sources have documented that Grandmaster Luger's body was completely destroyed which means there was no body left anymore at all."
"So maybe he wasn't nuked at all ... but rather teleported somewhere else." For Locke it was hard to speak while his heart hammered in his chest like that. "Edi, where exactly is he? Maybe we can find a way to get him out of there and then..." Yeah, what then? He would have to make a secret return. At no cost Kragok and Lien-Da should find out that their father was still alive. Maybe they wouldn't see any reason to attempt another attack on his life but he wasn't sure about that. Furthermore he wanted to keep it a secret from the rest of the Brotherhood. They just wouldn't understand why Locke wanted to start such a dangerous rescue mission.
"Calculating. This might take a while." But only three seconds later Edi continued, "Sorry for the delay. Sector Scylla, home of the Zoah. I will give you the coordinates."
The next days Locke mainly spent in the Chaos chamber. Not only because he had the most privacy in there but also because he was closest to the source that would fuel his machine. He had decided to modify the weapon they once had built to defeat Enerjak, one of the only few things that could create a force field strong enough. Of course he could also have used Edi's energy but that was something he wanted to leave for his return. Drawing the whole energy off Haven once would probably only make the other Guardians wonder what malfunctioned, drawing it twice would surely make them suspicious. The only contact he still kept regularly was with Edi in virtual Haven which he could also access in the Chaos chamber and wherever else he was thanks to the communication device he was wearing. Unfortunately he wouldn't be able to enter this world without his device at all even when he was in Haven but someday he would find a solution to that problem as well.
"Edi, do we have any other information about the Zoah? All I know is what Knuckles told me." This time he was only talking over the communicator without using the virtual world. The machine was as good as finished and at best it was only a matter of minutes anymore before he was able to enter the parallel Zone.
"Not more than that. The only other individuals who ever had been there are Dark Legionnaires and they don't keep records about it."
"Finally I can catch you. What in Edmund's name have you been doing down here all the time?"
At the sound of this voice Locke winced and spun around. Spectre walked down the last few steps, shot the machine a very sceptical gaze.
"Don't say you always had this thing with you in virtual Haven. I had been down here a few times because I wanted to know what you were up to but I always found the chamber empty."
Locke bit his lip. Yes, he had asked Edi to keep it there so no one else could see it. He also had always been ready to withdraw with it into the virtual world in case someone walked in unexpectedly but now so close before completion he had let his guard down.
"The others think you are just on another building rant and thus want to be left alone. But I'm not stupid."
"With this you just declared the other Guardians as stupid", Edi stated dryly.
"Seriously, Locke", Spectre continued not showing if he had heard Edi's heckle, "what are you planning."
There was no sense in trying to make excuses anymore so the younger Guardian had to stay with the truth.
"Edi found out that Luger is still alive and trapped in sector Scylla. I wanted to get him out of it."
"You want to risk your life for a Grandmaster." That was not a question, it was a statement.
"Not just a Grandmaster. He once was our ally if you have forgotten."
"Moreover our current allies once tried to get rid of him. They could do it again or even worse, declaring war on up again for bringing him back."
"So finding new allies is a reason to let down old ones?"
"Do you even know where exact he is or how you are getting back from there? I don't think you can gather up enough energy all alone to open a gate or else you would already have done it and I highly doubt you want to take that machine with you."
"Edi gave me coordinates. No matter if Luger stayed because he wanted to or is their prisoner, I will have to talk to general Raxos first anyways. And the way back is Edi's job. He can take Haven's energy."
"And how will Edi know when the time for return has come in case you two can't communicate between different Zones?"
Well, that was something he hadn't considered.
"Do you really think I can let you go on such a mission?" Spectre asked but before Locke could open his mouth for a weak attempt to protest he continued, "No way. I'm coming with you."
For a few seconds Locke could only stare at him in surprise.
"You ... want to help me? And how will you explain that to the others should we be gone for a couple of days? In my case they are already used to it that I could disappear for a while when I'm distracted by work but they will surely wonder about you."
"I can think of something afterwards. Get your machine ready."
The weapon charged up, drew its energy from the Master Emerald then fired a mighty blow but instead of causing a hole in the wall it ripped open a wormhole between the zones.
"Be glad you never actually came to use that thing on Enerjak", Spectre said. "Not good if instead of destroying him you gave him the chance to call all of his allies from their exile. Tell your virtual friend to turn off the machine behind us so no one can accidentally stumble into it."
"The virtual friend is still right here and can hear you and he tells you that he knows his job", Edi said. Was it just imagination or was there a hint of sarcasm in his voice? A computer with attitude - Spectre sighed at that thought.
The streets of the city bathed in blue light were mostly quiet, just like what Knuckles had told him about it. Wandering guards observed them for a while but then turned their attention elsewhere when the two visitors from another zone didn't appear threatening. It probably also helped that they once had known Knuckles and one of them looked like an older version of him.
Locke had tried to contact Edi a while ago but to no avail - the connection was dead.
"Was he sure about the location? It's really that building? Doesn't look like anything where you'd expect the leader of a world", Spectre said when they approached one certain building located across the big plaza. It didn't differ much from any other building around and also the guard beside its door was not a hint since they could be seen all throughout the city.
"I need to speak to general Raxos", Locke told the guard.
"Raxos is dead, fell in battle", was the short answer. "And just because our new leader general Zeron might have allowed our former allies to enter or leave the city without being harmed it doesn't mean he wants to speak to them any time or that they can bring anyone they want with them so take your friend and get him out of the city as long as you still can."
Allies? It took a few seconds for Locke to realize that they had no idea how much time passed in the other zone and they actually mistook him for an aged Knuckles. So he was allowed but not Spectre and they had no acccess to the place where Luger probably was. But then he remembered something.
"We challenge general Zeron for battle."
This inquiry was the law, they just couldn't turn it down.
For a moment the guard looked at him - it was hard to tell what he thought of or if he even thought anything at all in this unmoving crystalline face - but then he turned around and gestured them to follow him.
The two Echidnas exchanged gazes.
"We don't know anything about Zeron yet", Locke silently said. "Raxos could have fallen in any battle. We know they are a folk of warriors."
"Or Zeron could have killed Raxos to make sure the old general couldn't challenge him too one day and regain his position as the leader. He could also fear to be overthrown in any other case", was Spectre's reply.
The general and a few other warriors awaited them in the arena.
"You still know the rules, Guardian? Name your wish and I will choose my weapon. If you defeat me your wish will be granted."
"Please answer one question first. Is an Echidna named Luger somewhere in this city?"
"He is our prisoner. Raxos the fool invited him as our guest since the day he arrived here though he is a Legionnaire, even would have allowed him to leave together with you and the rest of your team but the Legionnaire meant he was safer here and only wanted you to deliver a message to someone at a place called Haven. Likely finally decided to fall into our backs and call for his little helpers to take us over. The only reason why he is still alive is that as a Grandmaster he could still be valuable to us."
Locke's gaze darkened.
"Believe what you want but Luger is no traitor. And you won't keep him imprisoned much longer because that is what I wish for. If I defeat you then you will let him go."
For a moment the general hezitated but then he agreed.
"My best fighter Xantar will await you in the arena."
Locke raised an eyebrow. "I have challenged you for battle."
"And I have chosen my weapon. Go ahead, you can choose one too. Send your friend if you want to."
Spectre looked at him but Locke only shook his head.
"No, this is my challenge and as such I won't be a chicken like you and just shy away from it. I will fight."
When the combatants entered the arena space walls of energy shot up around it. To protect those who stand at the sides and watch, Locke thought, or to prevent one of the fighters from retreating.
The spikes on Xantar's shoulders and back started growing rapidly, formed crystal spears. Locke stepped back until he could feel the energy wall behind him then quickly jumped to the side and rolled out of the way. A volley of spears pierced the wall but they didn't go completely through it. The Guardian answered with a Chaos blast but to his shock the Zoah warrior seemed to absorb most of it and was merely pushed back a little. So if his energy alone was too weak then it had to be brute force. The Guardian rushed forward. His fists were engulfed in Chaos energy but only to protect them from the worst when he slammed them into Xantar's chest. A crack was heard and small crystal shards flew away. With a roar Xantar lunged out and drove his arm towards Locke's body. Not being able to dodge it anymore the Guardian took the full impact and was rammed back against one of the walls. For a second he could only see stars but then Locke shook off the dizzyness, lept back to his feet and made an attempt for another attack. Xantar shot a small blast of cyan energy at Locke. It hit his shoulder but it only felt as if someone had tried to push him away so at first he thought it failed but then he saw the ball of glowing light was still on his shoulder. Small strings of energy connected him with Xantar. A sudden wave of sharp pain shot through his body. Locke cried out and tried to rip the ball off but the energy waves only intensified and came with a faster rate. He knew this feeling - it was exactly the same but much faster he had felt when he had spoken Tikal's prayer to free his son and the Master Emerald unloaded its energy into his body. Sparks emitted from his body while more than a Guardian would have been able to bear was pumped into it and Locke screamed in pain.
Next thing he knew was that he was kneeling on the floor heavily breathing. The pain was gone and instead of overloaded he felt completely drained. The floor around him appeared to be burned and Xantar was lying motionless on the ground a few steps away.
"What the..." Locke silently muttered while trying to get back to his feet. He must have unleashed the whole energy inside of him when it became too much.
The walls disappeared and he heard Zeron's voice.
"Since you have defeated Xantar I must grant you your wish, if I want it or not. Go to your Grandmaster, tell him he can walk around freely again."
"That was great. It looked like it could have been one of my attacks. Must have been the pain that multiplied its effect. Are you okay?" Spectre said when he helped up Locke and supported him while they left the arena.
"Yeah, just a bit wobbly. Have I killed him?"
"I doubt it. They will just have to put him back together a bit and that is all. Those Zoah are harder to kill than cockroaches."
"Just throw them out in winter", Locke muttered.
"The roaches. They need warmth to survive. Throw them outside in a cold winter and they will die. So what I wanted to say with that - roaches are easier to kill than the Zoah. Also the can't withstand radioactivity as good as some people think."
Spectre lightly chuckled. "That blow on your head must have been hard. We are out to safe a Grandmaster, you just won a deathmatch but all you talk about are how to kill a cockroach."
Locke closed his eyes and let out his breath.
"Just let me be stupid for a change. I just escaped death - a second time - and we are about to return home soon together with our Grandmaster."
The dark Guardian frowned. "I doubt it would be that easy. Not going to say your battle was easy", he quickly added, "But just one win and he will release a valuable prisoner? That sounds too simple for me. Moreover I have noticed Zeron's body language when you blasted Xantar away. He is afraid of our strength and could still see us as a threat. You know what he thinks of Luger. That Grandmaster became a friend of general Raxos, lived among them for who knows how long but Zeron kept thinking he could turn on them."
Locke didn't know how to reply. Somehow he knew Spectre could be right but also hoped he wasn't.
While they had followed one of the guards through the building Locke had regained his strength and so he could be the first to enter the room the Zoah unlocked for them. It actually was a nice room, not really looking like a cell but it still could feel like the deepest of all dungeons if someone was trapped in there for a long time with barely any company and distraction.
The Echidna who raised from his bed looked exactly like Locke remembered him. While twenty years had flown by on Mobius he had barely aged in the Twilight Zone. Before Locke had been much younger, now they could have been about the same age.
At first Luger gave them a puzzled gaze but then his eyes widened in realization and he made some steps towards them.
"Locke ... is that really you, joker-boy?"
Without awaiting and answer he quickly closed the gap between them with a few more steps and pulled the Guardian into a crushing hug which Locke was quick to return not caring anymore what Spectre or anyone else might say about them. He just felt so happy he could cry.
"With my last possibility to send out a message gone I thought I would never see any of you ever again", Luger silently said. "Please tell me this is not yet another dream that will soon be interrupted by the next nightmare."
"No, we are real and we will get you out of here."
"How much time in Mobian years have I been in the Twilight Zone? It felt like two or three years of freedom under general Raxos and then a couple of months imprisonment under this creature. You look at least ten years older but I know that at a certain point Guardians age slower and after that barely anymore at all so I can't really tell by looking at you."
"Nearly twenty years", Locke replied. "For damn twenty years I thought you were dead."
And he still would if it hadn't been for an over-eager AI that had scanned everything it had found in detail. When he was back he would kiss Edi, or ... bake him a virtual cake if ab AI even wanted something like that, or maybe another upgrade would also do the job.
"Twenty years...", Luger slowly said. "How did you find out that I was still alive after all this time?"
"He can explain later or while we are on the way", Spectre suddenly said. "But now we have to go. My senses are warning me that something is about to happen if we don't disappear now. Best would be if we created a gate still in this very room."
Locke and Luger exchanged a gaze. Spectre's sixth sense never had been wrong.
"I don't know what you do when you create a gate", Luger said, "but when it involves Chaos energy you have to do it outside or in the arena. This building is protected against such forms of energy except for one place. Zeron wanted to make sure no one could attack him when he didn't expect it."
Spectre silently cursed but then he turned around and rushed out of the room, the others followed right behind him. For a second they thought the guard who was still waiting on the corridor would stop them but then the Zoah simply stepped aside and accompanied them on their way again. He was always staying behind them as if he didn't only want to make sure that no one wandered off somewhere they didn't belong but also wanted to force them outside without appearing to be too suspicious.
When he reached the exit Spectre suddenly stopped dead and a second later the other two could see why. About every guard they had met on their way must have come to the plaza. A dozen of Zoah started at them waiting for a final command. The guard behind them blocked the way back so they had no other choice but to move on outside.
"I told you that the Grandmaster can move around freely again but who said that you can take our valuable 'guest' away from us?" Zeron standing on one of the roofs said. "Or that you can go? I now have experienced your strength and it would be unwise to let someone like that escape alive."
"No, it would be unwise to make someone like that to your enemy", Spectre growled. "And exactly that will happen if you don't let us go."
The general waved a hand. "Guards, eliminate them. Let the Grandmaster live but if he is in the way no one cares if he gets damaged a bit. Just make sure he will survive it."
At that second the first attack wave started. Small crystal shrapnels were fired at them. Locke spun around and tried to cover Luger as good as possible. His back was shredded but he didn't care since those wounds would heal within seconds. Spectre sent out blasts to push them back and interrupt their attacks. Sudden beams of cyan energy wrapped around Locke's body, dragged him away from Luger who now was also caught in them. The same happened to the raging Spectre a second later. The already familiar waves of increasing pain shot through Locke's body but this time less frequent. They are slowly torturing us to death, it came to his mind, but never let it get strong enough to cause another overload. Luger was the first to break down to his knees. They might have gotten the order not to kill him but did they also know that he couldn't bear as much as a Guardian. Locke tried to get free even more desperate with the only result that the strings felt as if they were burning into his flesh. They didn't actually hinder his movements but what would that be good for if he couldn't protect Luger or attack any of the Zoah.
"Too much ... pain. Can't ... focus ..." he heard Spectre mumble. The dark Guardian's eyes suddenly snapped open. "Locke ... hit me."
"W-what?" Locke's vision might have been blurred already but he was sure he had still heard him right, just couldn't believe what Spectre had said.
"Don't ask ... just do it."
Locke gathered up some strength to punch his shoulder but it wasn't as strong as he had planned it to be. The strings cut painfully into his arm.
"You call that a punch? What the hell are you?" Spectre shouted. "Are you a Guardian or a little girl?"
The younger Echidna bit on his lips tried to blend out the pain as good as possible. This time a forceful blow hit the dark Echidna square at the chest, caused him to nearly double over in pain. At first only a few Chaos sparks were flying, then Spectre's whole body started glowing. The Zoah quickly withdrew their energy connections but to no avail. Once in berserk mode Spectre didn't need the extra energy anymore. A wave of Chaos energy washed over them all but while Locke and Luger didn't feel anything at all it was fatality for the Zoah. For seconds Locke stared at the battlefield once the light had faded - Spectre stood in the middle heavily breathing, a weakening glow still surrounded him - then he noticed the small but rapidly closing gap mid-air and reacted quickly.
"Edi, stabilize the wormhole!" he shouted into his communicator hoping the gap was still wide enough to get a connection.
"Consider it done", the communicator replied.
The Lava Reef Zone wasn't actually where they had planned to land but at least they were back on the island. According to Edi they had only been gone for two days, three hours, forty-four minutes, twenty-seven seconds and Locke stopped him when he wanted to continue with milli- nano- and whatever seconds.
"We have seen each other just for such a short time after so many years but still I already have to say goodbye again", Luger suddenly said.
Locke stared at him in shock and bewilderment. "But why?"
"My life will still be in danger as long as Kragok and Lien-Da are still around", Luger explained, a pained smile on his face. "But at least this time I won't be out of your world completely. I will find myself a place on Mobius Prime where I can stay. I never was a widely known Grandmaster so to them I will be just a retired and peaceful Dark Legionnaire."
"I..." Locke started but then stopped again because he had no idea what to say. It pained him to see his old friend go so shortly after their reunion but he also knew it was for the best. Hopefully he would find a place where they could at least communicate on a regular basis. Then he remembered something.
"Please, take this." He took the communicator off his wrist and handed it Luger. "You can stay in contact with Haven anytime and in case of danger Edi - that is our new AI - can get you to a virtual world that no one else without such a thing can enter." He had just given away the only communicator of its kind but it didn't matter since he still would be able to talk to Edi whenever he wanted as long as he was in Haven. Besides if he got the time for it he could always build another one.
The last minutes they could spend together during the flight to Mobius Prime in one of Haven's jets then they had to say their final goodbyes.
"Maybe one day you find out how we don't just create our own individual virtual realities but can also enter someone else's so we could spend each day together", Luger had brought up at one point.
"It could actually be achievable", Edi said over the radio when Locke was back in jet and on his way home. "Just let me do some calculations and I can present you building instructions for possible access devices. It might take longer though since a lot of calibrations are necessary. Not only long in my terms but also yours."
"At least it's something. I just wished I had more things to cheer me up right now."
"I can try. Woohoo", Edi stated dryly. It actually caused Locke to chuckle a bit.
"Is it pathetic when you only had person in your whole life you could ever call a friend and now an AI could probably become the second friend?"
"I have never thought about it but I can calculate it if you want me to."
"Maybe I can never upgrade you to actually have feelings or completely understand living beings but you will learn a lot when you spend your time with Luger and me. Believe me, you will like it."
His sadness had now slowly faded away. Just a few more hours then he was likely the only one in Haven still awake and could talk to Luger again without being interrupted. Actually he had hardly ever felt so happy in his life.
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