Chapter 39: On Home Soil
“Ace! What were you doing? You could have been killed out there today!”
“I know so stop repeating yourself!”
He snapped back at Kurt, who appeared to be quite frustrated with what had happened outside during the space battle. Ace had since recovered after being brought back into the Star Seeker. The team were worried after his performance out there though; especially Kurt and Bettilena, who kept lecturing him.
Ace wasn’t in a good mood. He was feeling embarrassed with how he performed out there. Even more so, he was becoming increasingly annoyed with the questions he was being asked by the other Seekers.
”This isn’t like you Ace, what happened? You were always a good pilot, a great fighter in space. You never usually let your guard down so easily…” Kurt questioned him.
”Maybe I just don’t like being involved with this sort of thing anymore!”
”What? But you were eager to come help fight against this invading race; to come help the Vaelidians!”
”Yeah, then I was wrong. I shouldn’t be involved with this”
”Why not? Are you really going to turn your back on your own people now - is that what you want?”
”I don’t want to. But do you think they would want somebody like me to help them? Don’t you remember what most of the universe thinks of me? People hate me. And I am sure it won’t be much different with them. Especially if they already know about my past”
”Oh stop this nonsense Ace. Yes, they may be well aware of your Exterminator life from before but surely that isn’t their concern right now. We need you to come with us to meet them. They need you! You’re easily the most skilled mercenary in the team so come on. We shouldn’t even be having this conversation; we should be on our way to meet them in person right now!”
”Well then you can go, but not me - unless they specifically request for me to see them. I don’t want to show up and then all of the sudden, they want to assassinate me or throw me in prison!”
”This isn’t anything like what happened in Bogon! So come now, we’re going to land on the planet’s surface any moment now and we NEED you!”
”No you don’t so stop shouting at me! You’re not my father; I have no living relatives. So quit acting like one and just drop it already!”
Ace frowned in annoyance, turning his back on Kurt and storming down the hallway of the cruiser.
Kurt glared while he made his exit, brow furrowed but also uncertain as to why Ace was behaving the way he was. Bettilena wanted to rush after him but Kurt touched her shoulder, stopping her in her tracks and shaking his head.
”What is wrong with him Kurt? What happened to his fighting spirit? His ego? His taste for adventure? He also never speaks to us like that…”
”I don’t know for sure, but I think it has something to do with visiting this planet. This is the planet which verpardi are native to, right Jake?”
”Right on, brother. I have to agree with Betty though; Ace has been acting weird in the past few days. I have annoyed him on several occasions but he’s never reacted to me like that; let alone you guys. But I’m sure after he chills out he’ll be alright”
Jake told Kurt.
“Well then, it is very likely that he was born here as well, much like you and Jenna. Maybe some time alone to set his mind straight will do good for him… we can really use his help”
Kurt looked over at the hallway again, while Bettilena went to go prepare the ship for landing on the surface. Aster aided her, while Jake went to stand by the Markazian instead.
Kurt was worried about him. He suspected that Ace may be coming to terms with the discovery of his races origins and that Vaelidius could be his true home planet; rather than Bolden 3 was.
Jenna on the other hand, sat on her own with Leera near by her side. She looked down the hallway with a sympathetic expression. Even though the words he said were arrogant and rather harsh, she simply couldn’t be angry at him. She gazed down into the hallway of the room with her gleaming eyes…
Ace resided in his room once again, sitting on one of the sofas nearest to the window. The ship had already started moving down towards the planet’s surface and Ace watched the view of the window nearest to him.
They were landing somewhere in the southern hemisphere, on an arid part of the planet where it was clear of large mountains, plantation and even civilization. Ace hadn’t noticed any buildings or lights on the planet, as he hadn’t seen a full view of the surface yet. He watched them fly down into the atmosphere, through clouds and soon he could see a sky up above. It was bluish-mauve in tone, with orange coloured clouds during the midst of the daytime as they arrived. Both suns were seen in the sky, clustered close together for the time being. It looked like a very dry planet from what he could see here.
The Star Seeker landed down onto the soil of Vaelidius. It was a seemingly empty terrain, devoid of any life in the horizon. The only sounds outside were those of the wind blowing a small amount of dust against the boulders and medium sized mountains as well as the star cruiser itself.
Ace remained in solitude, continuously glaring outside as the minutes passed by. It wasn’t too long until he saw the other Seekers out there on land. They appeared to be following a radar signal with Kurt, already heading off into a particular direction of the incoming signal. He immediately turned away when he noticed Jake and Jenna look up at his window. Even though they couldn’t see him through the tinted windows, he still couldn’t look them in the eye.
He began to have second thoughts now.
At the same time, he did want to go with them but then again, he didn’t.
Even so, he didn’t want to stand back and do nothing at all. He thought back, back to Solana. Perhaps he could get more help from elsewhere in the universe? Maybe President Phyronix would be kind enough to lend some help to this planet - after all he did save his life, and Marcadia for that matter - and Mr Phyronix was very grateful for that.
Ace wasn’t foolish though. He knew it was farfetched, the mere thought of it. And not to mention, the Solana Galactic Rangers were rubbish.
How about another hero though, a true hero? Surely there were some out there who would show mercy for this planet and step in the join the fight for freedom. It sounded like something Ratchet and Clank would do, if only they knew about the crisis here…
But then again, he hurt Ratchet and Clank. Hurt their feelings immensely and threatened to kill them several times at DreadZone. He even fatally injured one of their close friends.
It was difficult for him to decide. He didn’t want to sit back and dwell over those thoughts continuously. Hours passed by now and the suns were beginning to set in the horizon. Time was running out, and he needed to act quickly.
His mind also would not settle; nervousness caused him to feel even more uneasy about the whole situation. Something didn’t quite feel right but he knew that Vaelidius and his people needed real help, and fast.
He glared outside of his window again, debating in his mind whenever he should take off into space on his own to find a helping hand or… go with his team. He was confused and unsure but most of all, worried for the fate of his newly found home world. He was smart enough to know that it wasn’t in any apparent danger of being destroyed with an energy beam again, like Bolden 3 was. But he couldn’t shake off the feeling that something awful may happen if he stuck around…
Then out of the blue, he heard knocking on his door.
He felt less tense than he did a few hours ago, so he got up to see who was there. He stood close at the door, a little unsure if he should unlock it or not. He activated the voice module nonetheless, to allow them to speak through to him.
”Ace it’s me, Jenna. I’d like to come in and talk if you don’t mind. I think you would be interested in what I have to tell you about the Vaelidians. But if not, then that’s okay”
Ace couldn’t ignore her. He opened up his door to see her standing there. She even smiled back at him, seemingly pleased with the fact that he allowed her to come in.
The two of them walked over towards the window of the room; the suns outside shone through steadily to give off an orange coloured glow, illuminating the room. Ace wasn’t able to keep her in his view for long and so he turned around to glare outside at the Vaelidius scenery.
“Quite beautiful, isn’t it? Vaelidius… from what we can see here” Jenna said while looking out the window.
”The skies here are a lot like they were on Bolden 3. Even the colours of those mountains are much alike”
He kept his focus on the view outside. Somehow, he felt a lot calmer now. Even with the uncertainty continuing to tap at the back of his mind.
Ace moved around to look back at Jenna. Focusing on her for a moment, he sighed. Remembering what he said to Kurt and the other team members earlier on.
”I am… sorry for what I said before; especially to Kurt. He really didn’t deserve that. I messed up bad today, more than once and I want to make it up to everyone”
”It’s alright Ace. We understand that something has been troubling you through all this chaos. But I do have a lot to tell you…”
”How was the meeting? Is everybody alright out there?”
”Don’t worry about us; we’re not the ones who are in danger. It is our people. We met with the Vaelidians who we fought alongside with in space earlier; it really is quite a surprise to see other verpardi you know, heh. There are so many, and most are a variety of different soldiers. Both men and woman, mind you. Along with Verpardi, there’s also a race known as the Aleumarr. They’re another species of people who also call Vaelidius their home. Nonetheless the Vaelidian Rebel leader informed us that there are at least a few thousand in their army, and there are other clans around the planet, hiding from the karnifex authorities who control over two thirds of the planet. Many citizens are enslaved and killed by them and… it is awful!”
Ace looked down, and he stood there in thought. He was quite relieved to hear this news from her; although becoming even more concerned for his race than ever before. He could only wonder more about the situation, and what the karnifex were doing here in the first place…
”Ace, we need your help, to free our people and rid the galaxy of the karnifex! The Vaelidian Leader was disappointed when he noticed you weren’t with us, he has a lot to tell you”
”Wait, he knows me?”
”He does. And he wants to meet you in person. That’s why Kurt sent me and Leera to pick you up…”
”Well I’m sorry but… I can’t”
“What, why not?”
”They deserve… a true hero. I am unsure if I can live up to that anymore”
”Oh please. Don’t be ridiculous. You can, and you already have - ever since coming back with us all those months ago!”
”I did a few good deeds but… I just can’t shake off what I did in the past. I can’t keep it covered up anymore. I did some horrible things. I harmed people, murdered heroes, destroyed lives and I even… hurt you guys. It is not something you can just forget about so easily…”
Ace ears drooped. Sitting down on the couch again, looking down and slouching as he closed his eyes, sighing. He felt immense guilt again, thinking of his dreaded past. It was shameful.
Jenna watched over him, walking closer to sit next to him on the coach. He immediately opened his eyes and started to feel an all too similar sensation. He didn’t want to feel this, trying his best not to show any sign of it on the outside. Ace remained there in the same position, while she looked back at him to speak.
”We all know that what you did was awful. But it isn’t good to dwell on your past so much. You need to move on and look forward to the future ahead of you. The Seekers and I have forgiven you for what you did, because you have changed your ways. You are not the same as you were back at DreadZone; isn’t that right?”
”Yeah, that’s true. But… it is hard to put it aside. I want to find help for our people, just this once. There is a hero out there, somebody who has saved galaxy after galaxy. The one who helped changed me for the better. I won’t be gone forever. I will come back home. There is no way I would ever leave the team for good…”
”But, the thought of you leaving us again is… very… heart-breaking you know. It wouldn’t be the same without you”
Ace swallowed; feeling an ache in his throat somehow. She was right, very right about that. Even leaving his team for just a moment felt wrong. Without them, he would feel empty; like he did while he was locked away at DreadZone. He was terribly lonely during those times, with nobody to talk to for comfort – no one around who would understand him the slightest.
It was an uncomfortable thought. But he firmly believed it may be for the better of his team, and the planet. After all, it wouldn’t be for years like it was before. Probably just a few days at the most.
”I have to try. Ratchet and Clank are the real heroes; they would have the skills needed to help put an end to the suffering of our people. I am sure I can get a hold of them somehow, and give them both a real apology at the same time”
”But we don’t even know them that well… or where they currently reside”
”I know where his home planet is though, it is planet Veldin. It may be difficult to reason with him, but I have to at least try. I just don’t want to be a shame to our people anymore…”
“What? You are not a shame to our race, so please don’t think that!”
Ace averted his eyes from her, keeping a hard-headed expression on and feeling stubborn. But at the back of his mind, something was bothering him - especially while Jenna continued to talk to him. He was a little startled when he felt her hand on his own. His temperature raised more as she spoke again…
”Come on Ace, we need you. I, need you…”
”…no you don’t!”
He suddenly turned away for a moment, even moving his hand. He wasn’t sure what he thought of what she just said. He liked it but, at the same time, he didn’t want it.
”Why are you having such a stubborn attitude at a time like this? You aren’t a bad person anymore, so just get over it and come with us!”
”Why must you keep nagging me all the time?! I’m doing this for your own good! I am horrible. I have messed up enough during my lifetime; I have ruined people’s lives, exterminated others… and I even hurt you…”
”Yes, I was very upset with what you did, but you’re clearly not the same guy you were back then. You have grown into a wonderful person: a great man. You are incredibly skilled, brave, creative… and intelligent. Caring, bold and loyal… you can do almost anything when you set your mind to it. While you were gone, I hoped from the bottom of my heart that you would have changed your ways – and you did. You are one of a kind and Kurt is right. You are the most skilled on our team, always helping lead us to victory. You have come such a long way since returning home to us… and we all find that so inspiring. The mood in the team has been so much better with you around again. And I am a lot happier now too, you know”
Ace was unsure how to respond now. Those words she spoke were almost sickening. Sickeningly sweet of her that is. So damn kind and uplifting.
He couldn’t resist but to blush more than before. His blush only deepened with her sitting nearby, giving him such a sweet smile.
Then his stubbornness rushed back to him, adding on his voice and causing him to frown and snap back.
”No! I am a terrible person, and that’s that! No amount of good I’ve done will change the terror that I’ve brought on others!”
”Shut up, Ace! That’s so not true!”
”Yes it is! I am a killer; a horrible being. So just drop it there and leave it!”
”Oh, my, god! No, you are not!”
”Yes I am!”
”You’re not anymore! So stop it!”
“I am so deal with it!”
“No you’re not!”
Ace was prepared to snap back with a snide reply but instead, something else came from her mouth in the blink of his eye.
For a moment, he froze still and became silent. She was right up close to him, her lips meeting his. Her eyes were shut, but her face plagued with a frown - that happened to be matching up rather nicely with his own.
Then his eyes shot wide open. Coming to realize that she had just kissed him.
She stopped after a few seconds, moving back a little to stare back into his eyes. He was dazed; utterly astounded with what she just did.
”…You’re not. You are not an awful person”
She spoke in a calm tone. Although her frown still remained, as she stared back at him with eye to eye determination.
As soon as reality rushed back to Ace, he suddenly bounced onto his feet. His heart thumped a lot within his chest, coming to realize what just happened. His eyes were widened, and he could barely think straight as he started to sweat rapidly.
”W-WHY did you do that? You… you psycho!”
”I did it to make you shut up – it was the only way. And to… try and stop you from being so hard on yourself…”
She got up onto her feet steadily, no longer frowning at him. She blushed a bit, although appearing to be quite embarrassed by his reaction.
Ace stared back at her, still finding it hard to believe that she had kissed him just now. His heart continued to race and his blush only got redder. It felt so peculiar, the strangest kind of feeling in his entire life. Too shocked to know if he had even liked it or not. But his knees most certainly felt weak as he stood there in front of her.
Ace was silent for a while now, still too overwhelmed to say a word. Jenna looked up at him to see his confused expression again and she eventually sighed; averting her eyes and beginning to walk towards the doorway.
”Well, if you really don’t want to come, then I’ll just have to leave. Without you…”
Her blush appeared to be fading, slowly starting to look crestfallen. Ace’s mind however, begun to come together now and his thoughts changed swiftly at the sight of her leaving.
A sudden movement of his wrist allowed him to touch her arm gently with his fingertips.
She was surprised, spinning herself around quick to look up at him. Ace stared back down at her, looking into her eyes without any regretful thoughts holding back the gaze. What she spoke beforehand really touched him, and it wasn’t the first time from her.
The words she gave after he was upset with the Bogon mission only just days ago really warmed his stubborn heart. No other woman had said anything like that to him before. She gave him a reason to smile more; even giving laugher at times. He found himself always looking forward to spending more time with her, training together, teaching her how to use firearms, having convocation. He found it easy to talk with her about almost anything; feeling as if she could sense his inner turmoil that nobody else could.
He didn’t quite understand why she was getting so close, after all the evil he had committed years beforehand. Was she really that forgiving?
Even so all this gave him a kind of happiness that he had missed previously in life, had not come to experience after all these years of being a superhero, a gladiator, a prisoner and then a parolee. And now, there was no holding him back.
If she feels the same way, then he was bound to give in to it.
Especially after the kind of affection he received from her…
He moved in close as she did the same, his nerves were calm and he was thrilled when he felt his hand touch her again. And it increased tenfold when he felt her hands in his own, gently grasping one another. Ace dipped his head and Jenna raised her own to meet him halfway.
His eyes instantly closed and her lips were soft against his – the definition of pleasant. Time around him seemed to have stopped and, in fact, such a thing didn’t really matter to either of them; too enveloped with gently caressing the other’s lips with their own. Ace soon found himself to be wrapping his arms around her body, pulling her closer and essentially deepening their kiss. She did the same, huddled up close to his chest and feeling her heart hammer against his body. He liked it. No, really liked the close contact and how she was making his pulse race.
With much regret they pulled away, a little short on breath from their display of affection.
Ace looked down at her, blue eyes shining, absolutely smitten by what they both had shared. He still had her in his arms and she hugged him tightly, which he carefully returned.
”Everything will be all right…”
She spoke softly; he was reluctant to let go of her now although he eased his grip to allow her to move back from his chest. He was too love-struck to say anything, blushing wildly but somehow managing to give a single nod in response.
Jenna stood away slightly, and Ace did the same. He would like to have held her more, but he knew there were other priorities right now. So he waited for her to respond again.
”Did you seriously think that Ratchet and Clank would want to come all the way to this dangerous galaxy, and check out this unknown planet if you asked them to?”
She asked cheekily, grinning back at him. Ace smirked, turning away slightly to avoid looking silly. She had a very good point there.
What the hell was I thinking? He thought.
”And besides, I reckon you would do a much better job than them. I have faith in you Ace. All of the Seekers do… so here-”
She picked up Ace’s visor that was sitting on a small table near his bed. She also walked over to grab his HL Launcher and HL Vipers from the open locker, walking back to hand over the weapons to him.
”Leera is waiting outside, she will show you the way”
Jenna walked over towards Ace’s doorway, beckoning him to follow. He wasted no time; putting his weapons into the pockets of his clothing and placing the visor around his head.
The pair walked down the hallways close to one another, arm to arm. He was such a pleasant mood now; it was as if all worries and doubts had vanished into thin air. She wrapped her arm around him, which he eagerly mimicked, moving her closer to him as they walked on. But soon, they arrived at the exit of the star cruiser down below.
Very reluctantly, he released his hand and arm from her, giving her a chance to look up at him; green orbs shining with the smile on her face. Ace returned the same tender smile, before Jenna spoke once again.
”I have to… stay here at the cruiser. Kurt said he needs me here to keep watch as you go”
Ace looked back, a little saddened she couldn’t come. But he knew that she would be safe here, the ship had very powerful defences and he could understand why Kurt would want someone to keep watch of it.
He was still too lost for words to say anything, but he knew there wasn’t much time to lose at a moment like this. He needed to help their people right now. More time with the one his heart belonged to can come later. Well, he wasn’t planning on dying anytime soon, that’s for certain.
He unwillingly left her side, pacing down the platform of the cruiser and looking back at her. She waved back at him, and he gave off a warm grin before he left her view.
In the distance ahead, he spotted Leera sitting down on a patch of dry land. Her ears perked up at the sound of Ace walking on the soil and she trotted over towards him, even giving an affectionate nuzzle against the side of his face. He really couldn’t help but chuckle at her doing that; was it because he was in such good spirits that she could sense it?
They had no time to lose. She crouched down and Ace hopped onto her back. This was actually the first time he had ridden on her, so it felt quite odd to be doing this.
Then in an instant, she took off on all fours, speeding out into the desert wasteland at such a fast pace. Ace was forced to hold on tight, not being used to riding a maulkat. He grasped the sides of her long neck-fur tightly, lowering his body down as she continued to sprint out across the horizon. She was a lot quicker than Ace had imagined and after a few minutes he started to feel more comfortable and used to riding on the back of the Maulkat as she ran off into the distance further ahead of them.
His mind had settled now, watching the warm sunset sky. It gave off a loving glow, and it made him feel great. Ace was still in a very blissful state of mind, thinking about the tender moment he experienced earlier on. He couldn’t stop thinking about her.
Ace never thought he would end up having these feelings for Jenna. He didn’t feel this way about her back in the Sonic 7 days; not even the slightest. Both he and she were very different people back then, almost like siblings, due to growing up alongside one another. And they were young; they had last seen each other since they were teenagers.
But they clearly weren’t related, only by species. And both Ace and Jenna had changed drastically since those days of teenage hood, and an 11 year absence from one another had caused many changes to happen between them. Her personality was different and so was his; she never used to be this kind and compassionate. He felt as if she could understand his inner pain after she forgave him. This was one of the many things that attracted him to her.
Ace was truly happy. It felt so refreshing to get that off his chest, and get a large boost of self-esteem once again. He now felt as if he could take on the world, and win this war single-handedly. He began to think ahead, wondering what it will be like to meet more of his kind, and what kind of dangers he had to face. He wasn’t afraid though; he was confident with the cunningness, skills and technology he possessed.
He was ready for anything that lay ahead.