He got a fish.

It was a goldfish. It had little gold scales and little gold, deadpan eyes and little dirty gold droppings that settled on the bottom of its bowl.

Fox had been staring at it for almost an hour now with all the excitement and wonder of the undead, almost relieved for something to stare at besides space--and he never tired of stargazing. He would lie in bed and stare out the porthole in his room, counting soporific constellations every night.

But now there was this fish, with its bundle of questions. It arrived in a LESP package from Aquas. The Great Fox never got packages, and written mail was virtually dead; ROB suspected it was a friendly bomb from one of Star Fox's lawless admirers. Fox, impressed enough that the Lylat Express Space Post caught up with them, signed for it anyway, and here it was. A goldfish in a bowl.

He'd never had a pet before. They weren't allowed in the apartment he grew up in, nor on the Great Fox--the latter by his father's rule, something Fox had held on to long after him, out of respect, laziness or both. By then he was so used to life without a pet that it seemed pointless to mix things up now.

Well, his petless streak wasn't completely whole. He'd accidentally brought a bafomdad on board from his first mission on Sauria. Krystal was smitten with the small, fuzzy creature, so Fox couldn't say no, despite Falco's objections about letting a good piece of meat go to waste.

They named it Meat.

Meat died in a freak accident that should've taken Fox instead, but that was apparently a bafomdad's nature. Falco's final remark for it was, "It was good for something, though I would've rather barbecued it."

Falco didn't have anything to say to the fish; he wasn't there. His whims drove him everywhere but home. He was a drifter and a rogue long before a war hero, and only the likes of him would feel "chained down" in a traveling band of space mercs. Fox speculated that his ancestral species was a migratory kind, but he'd never really know. Falco would come back or he wouldn't, but he'd never stay, and Fox respected either way.

Krystal had abandoned ship well before Falco, but that was Fox's fault, and he didn't like to think about it.

Following the battle with the Aparoid Queen, Peppy finally kept his word and retired from the team and its pursuit of danger. He had an old house on Corneria that he said still smelled of his late wife. Last Fox heard, Peppy was busy waxing nostalgic with General Pepper, who was on the brink of retirement, himself.

Slippy had slipped out of touch. He'd taken some leave to indulge in research on the Orbital Gate, where his dad was stationed, and after a few months he stopped reporting in altogether. Fox was left to surmise that "no news is good news."

Thus team Star Fox was reduced to two, if a navigation robot counted, and Fox was fond enough of ROB to let it be so. Besides, if he didn't, that would force him to consider being alone.

Until now. Now there was a fish. How do you mail a fish? He boggled over the apparition as if it couldn't be real until he figured it out.

An index card was quaintly taped to the face of the bowl, and on such a sloppy hand had scrawled:

Happy birthday, Fox!

I thought you might be lonely, so here's a friend.

Slippy

All Fox could think at first was that Slippy should have written the note before taping it to the bowl; it would've been easier (and more legible). That was the kind of slip-up Slippy would make, though--tripping on the little things--he was a master with a wrench and an oaf with a pen.

So, it was his birthday? Fox didn't even notice. He felt a little pathetic, missing his own birthday. The package was two days late, too. Did the fish spend those two days in the mail? Or even longer? Did anybody feed it in that time?

That was Slippy for him, too--months without contact and then bam: a birthday fish. Of all things. How did he mail a fish? Fox should have asked the postman, but it was too late.

Now he was twenty-nine years old and alone with a robot and a fish.

What do you do with a fish? Was he supposed to name it? Should it be a girl name or a boy name? How did you check? He wasn't about to ask ROB; he was almost afraid of the answer.

Shouldn't he feed it? He watched it peck at the water's glassy surface, drinking gulps of air. Didn't it need one of those things to make bubbles, like in a real fish tank? Did Slippy expect him to get a fish tank? He should have at least mailed some food. The Great Fox was almost a day away from a planet civilized enough to sell fish food. Maybe Fox had something left in the refrigerator--no, no, you can't feed a goldfish pizza crusts. Or can't you? He didn't want to make it sick.

What if it died before he could get the right kind of food? Killing his birthday present would've been pretty bad. Fox thought about what people typically did with dead goldfish: flush them down the toilet. All the plumbing on the Great Fox lead straight to space, though. Would a goldfish implode or explode out there? Maybe Falco had a good idea--maybe he could eat it--would it make a good pizza topping? That's all anchovies are, after all--

He had his present for an hour and he was already contemplating its death. Fox shook his head. Slippy would be disappointed if he let his gift go to waste. He had a pet now, and he should name it and care for it like a responsible pet-owner would. Maybe he could talk to it, too, like people did to plants. A study on Fortuna showed that plants respond well to being talked to. Did that apply to fish, too?

Maybe he should just stick to talking to ROB for now, before he lost his mind making conversation with a fish. He asked for a course set for the nearest commerical outpost, which turned out to be on Fichina. There he'd find a shopping center and buy fish food. And possibly a bubble-thing. Maybe some pebbles to line the bottom of the bowl too, though wouldn't that be hard to clean? He really didn't know much about caring for fish. He knew how to fry fishsticks--he learned how to cook a lot of things, out of sheer necessity--living like a frat boy on takeout, frozen dinners and instant noodles got old after a few years--and hey, Slippy always liked his salmon gumbo--though that wouldn't help.
Fox didn't know if he'd feel comfortable eating seafood anymore, or at least around his new pet.

He wished Falco were there to help him name it. He would've suggested something simple and absurd, but catchy, just like Meat. Fox missed Meat. He didn't think he would.

While ROB was adjusting the ship's course, Fox sat down at a computer terminal and looked up "goldfish" in the online encyclopedia. He learned that their scientific appellation was Carassius auratus and that they can live over twenty years (if they're not kept in a bowl), but that didn't help him towards a name.

He opened his d-mail and began to draft a message to Slippy, but opening with, "Thanks for the fish," felt lame, and after five minutes of staring at a blinking cursor he backed out.

Fox, truly confounded for the first time in months, maybe years, turned a defeated gaze onto the fishbowl on the table. The water exuded a dull neon green from the glow of the console behind it, and sundry tools, bolts and tin cans were littered around the bowl, a sterile audience to the witless living thing on stage.

It didn't belong. It was beautiful and crazy. It was his only birthday gift. It would fit right in.

He named it Lonely.