STARFOX LEGENDS: SUNRISE OVER LYLAT
By Eric 'Erico' Lawson
CHAPTER ONE: A CHANGE OF CAREER
Some public buildings had definitely seen better days. Considering this one was less than 50 years old, time had proven itself to be no easy mistress. More like a slavedriver. Cracks in the paint, scratch marks, partly rusted metals...and the toilet they had in here was stopped up. Nothing in it, thankfully...not like she felt the need to use it and add to the problem.
Of all the places Ter thought she would be this Friday night, a jail cell was not one of them. She could just hear her mother now...
"Blast it, Terrany Anne...I didn't raise you to act like this!"
No, she hadn't, Terrany Anne McCloud mused, looking at the floor. That had been her father's doing. Max McCloud, the son of the legendary Fox McCloud, who in turn was the son of revered ace pilot James McCloud. If one thing ran through the blood of the McCloud clan, it was fury.
Terrany reminded herself that she had somehow ended up with all of her generation's. That was why she was in here.
"And just what sort of defense should I offer?" She mused, leaning back against the wall and pulling her flight jacket tighter around herself. Indeed...what kind of defense did one offer when fifteen men from the local pub ended up in the infirmary over, of all things, a spilled glass of Therka?
Insanity? No, Terrany was quite sure she was in full control of her faculties. Wouldn't want that any other way. That time of the month? Please. No, there was only one excuse she could offer, and it wasn't a pleasant one. Not one she wanted to talk about at all.
Just then, a loud creaking at the end of the 'one night' jail cell hall indicated the main door to the rest of the police station was being opened up. Terrany rolled her eyes when she heard the footsteps. One pair was loud and plodding...the jailer. The other was crisp and military, perfect in every way.
Figures...he probably came by to rub it in.
The footsteps drew nearer and then stopped in front of her cell. Still, Terrany didn't bother to look up. She knew who was there, she didn't need visual confirmation. Her hearing was far above normal, the Academy tests had shown that, the combat sims had only confirmed it.
"You've been released." The door swung open, and Terrany walked out, finally looking up at the bright lights.
Two figures appeared…The jailer, and a twentysomething hunk of a brown furred fox. The fox shook his head sadly.
"Sis, what am I gonna do with you??"
She brushed a loose strand of hair out away from her eyes and looked out of the hovercar towards the Katina skyline. Anything to not look at him…Mr. Perfect. Mr. graduated with honors. Mr. commander of his squadron.
Mr. she couldn't believe was her brother.
Carl James McCloud. "Skip" to his wingmen and closest friends. A perfect model of everything that was perfect and legendary. Firm, muscular body tone, rock hard ab muscles, above average intelligence, grace, wit, charm, and that brown fur that made a McCloud so easily identifiable.
And then there was her. Young vixen Terrany Anne McCloud, the inheritor of the title 'black sheep'. Hotheaded temperament, blazing green eyes, and a bleached fur that in daylight looked as white as snow, but at night and in dim lighting, seemed to take on a sheen of periwinkle blue. Everything that was good and familiar and evident in her brother was startlingly missing with her. Their mother said that it made life interesting.
Terrany thought it made life close to shit.
"Terrany, why do you get into these things?" Carl sighed, looking over to her from the wheel. Ter didn't bother to look at him.
Maybe because I actually have the balls to beat the crap out of people who throw insults at our family name??
"Mom's not the least bit happy. Of course, she wasn't that happy when you got thrown out of the Academy, either, but…"
"Oh, SHUT IT." Ter snapped, turning away from the consoling sunrise and staring ahead at the road with those fiery eyes. "No big loss."
"A very big loss." Carl echoed calmly. "Your permanent record…now has that mark of dishonorable discharge. Your chance to get a job has been halved…if not worse. As far as getting a job as a pilot ANYWHERE, good luck."
"Well, aren't we supportive." Terrany mumbled.
Carl rubbed at his forehead with a free hand. "God, sometimes Terrany, you make me want to…" He exhaled loudly and shook his head. "What's worse is that you're a McCloud…"
AHA. There it is. I KNEW he couldn't leave this thing out of his conversation.
"There's a legend we have to live up to…"
"At a time like this, I think this needs saying." She snapped back. "Seventy five years ago when our grandfather led his squadron against Andross's Empire AND WON, I doubt that the first thought that ran through his mind was "I've got a reputation to uphold." Bull. He was trying to get the job done and keep the Lylat System safe."
She angrily drummed her fingers together. "I hate being a McCloud."
"WHAT?!" Her brother stammered, suddenly slowing down and pulling to the side of the road. An angry four door whizzed by, horn blaring and then fading away. Terrany tried her best to remain angry, despite the fact Carl's sudden action nearly threw her out of her seat despite the seatbelt.
As soon as he came to a complete stop, he whipped about in his seat, staring at her incredulously. "Just what…I…"
Terrany took advantage of his flustered state and stared into his eyes.
"You said it yourself. Our family heritage makes people look at us differently. They expect more, they expect the legend to be reborn in us. Well, SCREW THAT. I have my own life, and I don't plan on living it carrying on in my grandfather's shadow. He did some good things; fine. Leave that to him. The entire Lylat System is so damned keen on trying to make us wear his wings, Carl. Don't tell me you haven't felt that pressure, so intense you want to scream and just throw it all off."
"Teri…" Carl said quietly, using his pet name for her. "They expect great things from us, yes. But they expect great things from everyone."
"Sure." Terrany murmured, turning about and shaking her head. "Sure they do."
Carl sighed and continued along, finally reaching the turnoff that would take them from the highway and to the road back home.
Terrany didn't bother to finish her thought.
And then when you go and blow away their expectations…they throw you in jail and call you a dangerous hotdogger unfit to fly.
Home for the McCloud clan was not Corneria; this was important to know. The brownish tint to the sky would indicate that if one used even a shred of attention. Many years ago, this planet lay in grave danger under the threat of Andross's reaching arms. Back then, it had been defended in an intense air battle over the main military base, a pyramid shaped structure that still stood to this day. The air defense forces, led by ace pilot Bill Grey, had been on the losing end of a continuous strike by Invader IIs and a fast approaching mothership named Saucerer that kept unleashing wave after wave. The Husky and Bulldog Units, the pride of pilots everywhere, fought bravely, but were evenly matched at best against the Invader IIs.
And then, as the reports claimed, the Starfox team streaked down out of nowhere, with Fox McCloud leading the charge. In a climactic skirmish that lasted no longer than half an hour, the combined forces of the more basic Cornerian class fighters and the highly advanced Arwing superfighters of the Starfox team lay waste to Andross's invasion force, even destroying the Saucerer mothership before it could unleash its brilliant atomizing blast and destroy the heart of the planet's defense forces.
Now, 75 years later, Katina was a peaceful planet, no longer just a colony and outpost, but a full sister planet to the great and historic Corneria.
And home to the final vestiges of the McCloud line.
Skip brought the vehicle to a halt in the driveway of their house, a one floor and basement 'ranch' style house with a two car garage and 7000 cubic meters of open space with the furniture removed. With practiced ease he shuffled the repulsorcraft into park and then removed his key from the ignition, letting out a sigh that matched his vehicle's. "I imagine mom's cookies have gotten cold."
"She made cookies??" Teri asked, lifting an eyebrow. Skip nodded calmly. "We figured you'd need some cheering up." He turned and gave her his best 'angry brother' glare. "Neither of us imagined I'd be pulling you out of the pokey for a barfight."
"You would have done the same thing I did in there." Terrany replied, climbing out of the parked repulsorcar and walking towards the house with her hands stuffed into her pockets.
Skip watched her trod on, seemingly not caring how much trouble she had caused. A part of him grew very angry at that…but he suppressed that and sighed. Teri had always been like that. Rash, impulsive, instinctive. At times, it had served her well, but other times…
Well, there was a reason that despite her incredible abilities as a pilot, it was Carl that was the Commander of his flight unit.
And the same reason she had been expelled from the Cornerian Air Force Academy.
The door creaked open unwillingly…it figured that their mother hadn't fixed it yet in the years they had lived here. A fully capable woman, but remarkably absent-minded about repairs and housework that extended beyond cooking meals and laundry and vacuuming.
"Mom?" Terrany called out hesitantly, looking about through the dimmed living room. A light coming from the stairs leading down to the family room down in the finished basement caught her eye. "You downstairs again??"
"Yes, dear. Help yourself to the cookies in the kitchen." The familiar, but weary voice of their mother called up.
Terrany scratched at the back of her head, just behind her right ear before sighing and walking towards the cookies. She grabbed one and eagerly took a bite; chocolate chip with macademia nuts. Her favorite, just the way mom knew how to make them. She grabbed two more for the road as she stuffed the rest of the first one in her mouth and headed downstairs to where the lights were turned on.
Julia Ray McCloud, maiden name Julia Ray Dyson, was in her forties still a knockout. The years had been gentle on her, and her silvery white hair, an unusual color for foxes, looked timid but no less filled out and lively. She wore a loose fitting white blouse and a full bodied red skirt, sitting there in the rocking chair with her legs crossed and a cup of tea in her hands, still warm. As Terrany's footsteps grew louder, she let her focused gray eyes drift over towards the stairs before redirecting them back again. Foxes were known for good hearing, and Julia's was no exception.
"Evening, momma." Terrany said hesitantly.
"Good evening yourself." Mrs. McCloud said back calmly, not looking at Terrany. She took another sip of tea before she spoke again. "We were worried about you…thought for sure you would have made it home in time for dinner. Your portion of the Ghambla soup is in the fridge, in case you were wondering."
"I'm sorry." Terrany replied, feeling at that moment against her mother's calm voice like a small child. It annoyed her to no end…her mother was always so calm about these things. Why couldn't she just get angry and explode like moms were supposed to?? Terrany never got a chance to vent around her mother. She was just too calm to let retorts or outbursts fly.
Mrs. McCloud sighed. "Terrany Anne McCloud, I thought for sure that you were finally going to succeed. And then you blew it."
"It wasn't my fault." Terrany said in her defense, lifting an eyebrow. "You gotta believe me, momma!"
"It doesn't matter what I think." Julia McCloud said, taking another sip of tea. "You were expelled because of that incident, and there's nothing that can be done to change that. Your brother, he was so proud of you when you got into the academy. I was proud of you. And I have a feeling your father was proud of you then as well, wherever his soul is." She finally turned and faced Terrany. "And on top of being expelled, you get arrested for injuring fifteen men in a barfight."
"Momma, they were insulting our family." Terrany growled defensively. "I had a right to shut them up."
"What did they say?" Mrs. McCloud asked in a weary voice. "That a McCloud couldn't fly their way out of a paper bag? That McClouds were nothing but walking curses?? That a McCloud couldn't tag a Meteo asteroid even if they had quad hyper laser cannons??"
Terrany remained silent. It had been the second one that the ringleader of the drunken bar consortium had uttered not but hours ago.
Mrs. McCloud sighed. "Terrany, your temper gets you into more trouble than it gets you out of. One day, I swear it will be the death of you. You can't go attacking every sneering idiot that roams the sewers, there's too many of them and only one of you."
Deflated, Terrany reached for a reply, any reply at all. Finally, she shook her head. "They still shouldn't say things like that, though. We're not…we're not…"
"I know that." Terrany's mother replied, smiling sadly. "After all, I married one, didn't I?"
She turned and motioned towards the wall of cabinets and shelves in the basement room. "I changed the decorations a bit while you two were gone…I suppose I just got bored."
Terrany numbly nodded her head, then turned to stare at her mother's handiwork.
She found herself staring at a wall full of medals and commendations, nearly all of them from the Cornerian Air Force. The decorations, the honors, the awards, all of them pronounced loud and deeply her family name. She stared down at one award, which was given posthumously….the one she could never forget.
For service above and beyond the call of duty, and for his noble sacrifice which saved countless hundreds from the threat of the space pirates, the defense forces of Venom award Maximillian James McCloud the order of Lylus. We shall never forget.
Teri felt her eyes beginning to blur, and quickly turned away from it. She focused instead on the photos that were there, all aged and worn to some degree or another. True, they could have just been holocube images, but her mother had a fascination with a more solid picture between her fingers.
James McCloud, the first; standing there and looking supremely confident beside his Cornerian R67 space fighter, his trademark sunglasses pushed up and nestled into his head of hair, one hand lazily stuffed away in his bomber's jacket, and the other flipping a confident thumbs-up as he leaned on his aircraft's fuselage. Not thin, but not stocky, he gave off a calm air of leadership that seeped from the worn photograph. All of his awards and medals surrounded his lasting image.
Then there was Fox McCloud, the legend himself, the savior of the Lylat System time and time again. His photograph was dated shortly after his triumph over Venom and the insane Doctor Andross. Where James McCloud had kept his sunglasses, Fox's hair grew wild, and standing there with his laser pistol hanging loosely at his side, the medium dark brown haired fox seemed to emanate a rebellious cockiness. His father's majestic visage was lessened in him, determination seemingly giving way to mirth and humor in that twinged half smile. He also looked a fair deal more scrappy than her great grandfather did, leaner, almost like a spring ready to snap up.
The last image there was her own father, Max McCloud. He seemed calmer than the other two, a soul more at peace with his existence, and his brown fur had skipped to an even lighter tint, almost tan in comparison to his father and grandfather. The noble and rustic features had by then been completely absent, replaced instead by a softer and curvier visage. He didn't seem to be the sort to fly dangerous missions against impossible odds, even his eyes didn't shine like James' had. But a person's looks had little to do with their personality, Teri reminded herself. Her father had been calm, almost always mirthful. But never once had he strayed from a mission objective because of that personality. Those that had known him, his wingmen of the Cornerian Space Defense division, had always recorded that when others panicked, when others lost it, Max never wavered once. As if there was a part of himself that ignited when he stepped inside the cockpit of the Arspace Dynamics Model K Arwing, Max McCloud had carried the fury of his forerunners in him. It only existed then, never showing up at any other time other than when it was needed. It was that fury that her father had tapped into in his final battle…
And he had died. Max had been more than a stunning pilot, he had also been a father…the only one Terrany and her brother had ever needed. There had been a gaping hole in their lives since their father had passed away ten years before.
Maybe that's why they had both decided to join the Cornerian Academy as well…just to pick up where their father had left off.
Terrany felt her mother's arm reach around her shoulder, pulling her close.
"This wall's taken too many McClouds already." She said quietly, holding her daughter near. "And even if I worry about what you're going to do now…I'm thankful that at least one McCloud will never have to suffer their fate."
Despite herself, Terrany hugged her mother back, old tears resurfacing.
"I'm sorry, momma…"
Julia McCloud hugged her daughter a little harder, getting Teri's flight jacket wet.
"I love you so much."
An hour later, Mrs. McCloud finally went to bed, and Teri went to the kitchen, finally listening to the rumbling in her stomach. That leftover Ghambla soup was calling for her.
Of course, in this house it was impossible to find any alone time. Her brother, calmly sitting at the kitchen table and playing a game of solitaire, was reminder of that. He looked up and smiled a bit, setting down another ace. "Finally got hungry, did you?"
"Oh, quiet." Terrany mumbled, opening the refrigerator and pulling out the leftover soup. "Why are you still up?"
"Our family's habit of nocturnalism doesn't just go with the women, Teri." Carl reminded her calmly, playing another card and grimacing at the result. "Damn, where's that red eight…"
She dumped the soup into a saucepan and set it on the stove, setting the burner on medium heat. "Reason enough."
There was a few moments of silence before Carl mustered another comment. "So how does it feel to be home?"
"It feels…a little weird, to be honest." She admitted, looking over her shoulder at him. "The place seems empty."
Carl looked around thoughtfully. "Yeah, neither one of us has been around here lately…and my three day's leave ends tomorrow morning. So it's only going to get lonelier. Ever since…"
His voice trailed off, and Teri's darkening eyes responded. "You can say it, bro." She replied quietly. "Ever since dad died."
"Do you suppose that's why we signed up, Ter?" Carl asked, putting his cards aside and looking at her.
She chewed on the inside of her cheek before stirring her soup. "What, we joined the Academy to get revenge for our father's death at the hands of those space pirates? It could explain why you did it." She suggested. "You…you joined up only a few months after high school. We'd lost dad a few weeks before. At the time, you nearly broke mom's heart, as I recall. Eventually, she stopped arguing about it." Teri broke out in a half smile. "Then again, maybe we McClouds really are all destined to be fliers." Her grin faded. "No, scrap that. REALLY scrap that."
Carl sneezed. "Yes, I joined up because I wasn't thinking clearly. I was angry, I wanted to hurt something."
"One of the few moments you actually showed a temper." Teri chuckled. "I felt a little better after that…I was sort of under the auspice I had inherited all of our family's berserker qualities."
"Don't remind me." Carl groaned, rubbing his head. "I've tried to get past that."
"Hey, mom always said you were too much like dad for your own good." Teri prodded him.
"And you were too much like grandpa." Carl chuckled back.
"So hotheadedness skipped a generation." Teri shrugged. "So what are you up to these days, 'Skip'?"
Carl gave her a leery side glance. "Don't call me that. I hate being called that."
"Doesn't matter. Thanks to your Academy days, it's stuck." She said, teasing him in a semi-defensive voice. She stirred her soup again. "But…your leave's up tomorrow, huh?"
"Just what do they have you doing these days?"
"I've been pulled away from the regular forces…they've got me and my team on a special project now." Carl said, choosing his words carefully.
"Oh, they'd like to keep it that way." Carl said, a twinkle in his eye. "They've been doing a good job so far."
"So this new project…is it big?"
"Big enough." He responded easily. "It won't completely revolutionize certain ways of doing things immediately…but early data is coming back with mixed positives."
"Not everybody can handle this…advance, it seems." He looked over at the soup forlornly, and shook his head. "I'm kind of dreading it, to be honest sis. I didn't join up to play test pilot, but that's what they have me doing."
Terrany scoffed. "Oh, please. You usually flew circles around me in the simulators back in your high school days."
"You're three years younger than me, what do you expect??" Carl shot back, chuckling. "Lord knows I wouldn't like to go up against you now."
Terrany's eyes dimmed a bit. "Yeah…well, I don't think you ever have to worry about that now."
"So it's one of those challenges left to the imagination, then." Carl exhaled. He looked at his sister. "Say, you got enough soup there for two?"
Terrany stirred the soup one last time, finally satisfied with the temperature. "Mom always did make huge portions. Sure, grab a pair of bowls and you're in."
Five minutes later, the two siblings wolfed down the last of the reheated Ghambla and pushed their bowls to the center of the table with satisfied sighs.
"I needed that." Carl exhaled. Terrany shook her head.
"Whatever your secret for gulping down that many calories and not showing it is, I'd like you to teach me."
"One of the benefits of being a guy." Carl laughed, suffering the light punch to his shoulder she offered in response. "Honestly, though…I'm sorry that things have turned out the way they did."
"What, that they kicked me out of the Academy and you're still everyone's favorite golden boy?"
"Don't say that." Carl muttered bitterly. "I hate that stigma almost as much as being called Skip."
"Noted. But that doesn't change the fact they consider you the heir to our family name."
"Frack that." Carl mumbled. "I'm good at what I do, sure. But…Terrany, you're the one who dances in the sky. You're the one who signed up because it was the only thing you were right for. All those times I beat you in the sims, you only got better and better. I won by sheer dogged pacing, but you operated on an innate wavelength I never understood. Hell, even your attitude reflects that you're the carefree spirit. I'm too mired down in details to feel the joy of skipping across the stratosphere. And there's been days I think that you and I have somehow gotten our lives mixed up. It should be you up there, not me."
Terrany quietly pushed her spoon around the inside of her empty bowl. "To be honest, brother, I don't know. And no matter what, that isn't how things have ended up." She looked at him for another long moment, smiling sadly. "I'm grounded and you're still flying. And I think life's trying to tell us something with that."
"At least you're calmer right now." Carl noted.
"Time took away my cynicism and rage, I thought you would have known that by now." She reminded him gently. She gave him one last hug, and then wandered up for bed. Carl sat at the table some more, shaking his head before getting up and putting the dirty dishes in the sink.
Time may take it away…but it left something else, Ter. Sadness. And that's what kills me…and kills mom as well.
Arspace Dynamics had come a long way since its first days, the President of the Lylatian supercorporation mused to himself. He hobbled away from the closing doors of his private elevator, nodding briefly to the young secretary who greeted him as cheerfully as she did every morning. Leaning on a walking stick for support, he managed to get inside his private office before his legs bowed out completely from under him.
Safe within the confines of the room that had been his second home for many years, the amphibian let out a relieved croak as he settled his body into the massive leather chair by his desk. He leaned his walking stick against the desk, grateful to be rid of the crutch at last. Predictably enough, he had barely yawned before the communicator switch that connected him to his secretary went off.
"Mr. Toad, I have some new documents for you to review."
Slippy Toad, now a wizened old wart, rolled his eyes. "My dear, the day you don't have documents for me to review is the day I can actually go on vacation."
Briskly, the comm snapped off, and his door opened a few seconds later. The secretary, a young wolf-dog interbreed flipped back her light gray hair and peered over her rimmed glasses at him, a stack of manilla envelopes held against her chest as she strolled in calmly.
"So how's the little cub doing these days, Mrs. Cloudrunner?" The President asked calmly, pushing a button on the side of his desk and activating the furniture's coffee dispenser.
Evelyn Cloudrunner smiled a bit as she put the stack of documents on his desk and stepped back. "Tony's doing just fine. He got into a bit of a scrape yesterday between his bicycle and the curb, but aside from a few minor cuts and some hurt feelings, he's doing all right."
"Aah, youth." Slippy chuckled. "Could you be a dear and get me some coffee?"
Evelyn smiled at the elderly gentleman and nodded. "Sure thing. Oh…" Almost as a secondary thought, she reached into the stack of documents on his desk and pulled out a distinctly different print media. "I got you today's newspaper as well."
"Evelyn, I don't know what I'd do without you." Slippy complimented her again, reached his webbed hand for the newspaper as Evelyn turned and walked over to the windowside counter of his office and started the coffee machine.
He sighed as he leaned back in his chair, unfolding the paper and reached into his desk drawer for his reading glasses. For a brief moment, as his hand touched the spectacles, he felt a slight twinge of memory flash back to him…
Peppy Hare. It had been months since he'd last thought of the old codger, long since dead and buried. Peppy may have been old and grizzled, but he also had a sagely air around him. More and more, Slippy thought, he was becoming just like the old mentor of the Starfox team. Of course, Starfox had been disbanded years ago, back when Peppy had died and Slippy, Fox, and Falco had gone their separate ways. Nobody had ever really given much thought to restoring it since then, and for that, Slippy was glad.
It wouldn't have felt right without a McCloud leading.
Spectacles nestled gently on his nose, he scanned through the Cornerian section of the newspaper rather quickly. Boring, really. Stocks going up and down, some public interest stories, a fire in Terriklen. Nothing too important. Abetting the comics and crosswords for a moment, Slippy decided to read the Lylat general news.
It was then that his breath caught in his throat.
Something had happened on Katina.
"Oh, Lord." He muttered quietly. "Well, that isn't good."
Evelyn Cloudrunner walked back over to his desk and set a mug of coffee down on the coaster by his left hand. "What isn't good?"
Slippy blinked his amphibious and somewhat blurred eyes a bit, focusing through his glasses in order to confirm his first glance.
Female McCloud Destroys Katina Defense Force Air Show
"It seems as though things aren't as peachy as they used to be, my dear." Slippy finally said after an elongated pause. Miss Cloudrunner peered over his shoulder, her eyes widening as she saw the article.
"Oh…yes, that." She muttered, stepping away from him and heading back towards the door. "A darned shame, if you ask me. But you know what they say about those McClouds…"
At this, Slippy calmly set the paper down flat and folded his hands, then cleared his throat with a loud croak that distended his cheeks. "What DO they say about those 'McClouds', miss Cloudrunner?"
His secretary paused, then turned with a slight blush of color rising to her face as she caught her faux pas. "Erhh…nothing, much, sir. I apologize."
Slippy didn't offer a response, letting the silence work on her already flustered nerves.
"Didn't you fly with Fox McCloud all those years ago?"
Slippy nodded in reply. "He was the best damn pilot that the Cornerian Air Force Academy ever put out. I was lucky enough to be his best friend, and when things heated up and the Starfox team was reformed, I went with him. I don't believe for a moment that the McClouds are cursed."
At that, his secretary truly did blush, the fur around her face darkening significantly. Slippy merely smiled a quiet knowing smile, knowing the forcefulness of his commentary as well as his age were both imposing on so many people these days.
"Yes, Miss Cloudrunner. I'm well aware of the stories some people cling to these days…how the McClouds are a cursed line. Ever since Fox's father, they've all died of unnatural causes, and always surrounding conflict and war. That does not make them cursed, and don't make that assumption ever again. Look at it merely as an example of how the McCloud line is filled with good-hearted people. They've always accomplished miracles, even at the expense of their own lives. And I don't really appreciate young upstarts like you or anybody else, for that matter, belittling their sacrifices."
"Understood, sir." Miss Cloudrunner said softly, her face now burning with embarrassment and shame. "Will there be anything else?"
"No, I believe I'm all right for now." Slippy said after a pause, his face morphing back into a complacent smile. "I'll call if I need anything."
His secretary offered another brief nod, then stepped outside and closed the door behind her.
Slippy Toad let out a large sigh and eased back into his seat. He was slowly creeping up on being over 90 years old now, and by some miracle, only his body had begun to renege on him. His mind had been left unaffected by the years, unlike so many others who became senile over time. Long ago, his doctors had told him that he should retire from Arspace Dynamics, leave the Cornerian engineering conglomerate to his heirs and settle into a nice quiet lifestyle.
Of course, he hadn't agreed with his doctors then, and he certainly didn't now. Sure, he could have left Arspace in the hands of his grandson…The true passion of engineering had somehow skipped a generation in his family, as his son was a member of the Lylatian Senate, but young Wyatt Toad had proven to be just as mechanically gifted as his grandfather, and just as obsessed with machines.
But in all his years of life, Slippy had learned to love the company that his father, Beltino Toad, had founded. And what was the old saying, he mused…You could take the animal out of engineering, but you couldn't take the engineer out of the animal? No matter. It had eventually reached a point about fifteen years ago when he could no longer do engineering projects, culminating in him nearly fracturing his pelvis when he tried to help his grandson Wyatt build the most aerodynamically sound soap box derby racer possible. So he'd listened to his doctors in part; he'd retired from engineering and put away his wrenches and screws. But he never gave up the lifestyle, and he didn't give up the legacy. After his retirement as head of engineering, he exerted his familial authority and became the President, with very little difficulty. Consumer faith in Arspace had soared, as had the company's stock, upon the announcement that the famous and brilliant Slippy Toad, former wingman of the heroic Fox McCloud was taking over the family business completely. There were some days Slippy missed the smell of oil and hydraulics, and the good honest sweat of laboring hands…but anytime he did, all he had to do was visit the design labs. About five years ago, Wyatt had graduated early from high school and started College at the same time as he began working for Arspace in the engineering department, at his grandfather's urging and his father's vehement warnings. He'd recently completed his Master's degree in aerospace engineering and was working on his doctorate, on top of becoming the head of the engineering department just last year.
It had been a while since Slip had thought of his former wingmen…the last time he'd left his own secluded corner of the world had been at the funeral of Maximillian McCloud, Fox's son and heir apparent on Katina.
The memory quickly washed his smile away. He remembered that day well…
Katina, even after the slow decades of terraforming to make it resemble Corneria, had its moments of ruggedness that made it clear it was an entirely different planet. It had been one such day like that when they had buried Max…buried Fox's only child.
Fox himself had long since died; he had gone up in a blaze of glory not too much different from the fate that Max had perished in. Falco hadn't bothered to show up, if he was still alive. Forty years before, when Fox had died, Falco had up and left. Krystal McCloud, Fox's wife and soulmate, had been there, though. It had been hard for the blue colored vixen to bury her son, Slippy had known that. He'd consoled her as best as he could…but even that hadn't been enough. Krystal had almost fallen apart when Fox had perished…losing Max was the last straw. She packed her bags, climbed aboard her personal spacecraft, and left for parts of the Lylat System unknown. ROB, of course, had gone with her.
But what he remembered most about that solemn occasion was Max's own family. Slippy had known Fox, had known Krystal and Max. But Fox's death had hurt them all, and he'd lost ties with the surviving son. It had only been years later, at Max's funeral, that he'd discovered that in that span of time, Max had grown up and had his own family.
And like his father and grandfather before him…died in combat and in pain.
He remembered them, standing by Krystal, he remembered the looks on their faces. Max's wife had been a catching vixen herself, graced with the unusual trait of having silvery white hair instead of brown. She had stood stoically, trying her best to compose herself. And then there were Max's children, and it was there that Slippy's memory became truly focused.
There had been two of them; a boy and a girl. Slippy learned later, at the reception, that their names were Carl and Terrany. But as Max's ceremonial coffin was interred to the earth, there was one thing that they shared.
The fury in their eyes, the tearful frustration. And Slippy had sensed their pain then, for he'd seen it before.
He'd seen it in Fox's eyes back when they were at the Academy. And he'd known what it meant.
I should have been there to help him.
Slippy wasn't all that surprised to learn later, through the press, of course, that Carl McCloud had registered with the Cornerian Air Force and had begun training at the Flight Academy on Katina. What had surprised him was how easily Terrany had gotten in as well. He'd reviewed her records once, too.
She was good. Just as good of a pilot as her brother, in both simulation and real flight. But there was one particular area that Terrany had always been weaker in.
Terrany Anne McCloud was, in the words of her instructors and wingmates, a loose cannon. She had had the highest enemy kill counts of her class…and also, the lowest ranking in team flight and formation. Fox had been like that too, once. Brash, hotheaded, prone to doing things his way or no way at all. He got results, but he'd always made waves.
Terrany, it seemed, had received her grandfather's flaw and multiplied it.
Quietly, he picked up the newspaper and began to read.
Yesterday, at 1:47 P.M. Katina Standard Time, spectators to the Katina Air Defense Force Air Show witnessed a spectacle that nobody was prepared for. During a complex synchronized flight stunt, Terrany McCloud, senior at the Katina Flight Academy and descendant of the famous Fox McCloud, caused a near mid-air collision that resulted in the crash landing of her Dynamo Class high performance atmospheric fighter into the supports of the control tower at Husky Field, causing the entire base to shut down all operations. No injuries were reported, and all inbound aircraft were safely diverted to other flight bases by the quick actions of a circling radar control Freskin class jet. The Air Show was immediately cancelled.
Husky Field spokesman Devon Kraumire later announced that they would not press charges, provided that the Flight Academy dealt with the guilty party in a proper manner. "The Air Show is one of our defining traditions," Kraumire said at his press conference, "And we will continue to run it. However, we cannot ignore the irresponsibility of the Academy for allowing such an inexperienced, albeit famous, pilot, to participate in this event. It is our hope that in the future, the Academy will use better judgement in selecting their performers for this event."
Representatives from the Katina Air Academy responded quickly. "We are investigating the matter thoroughly," was the statement from Lt. J.G. Miles Wentworth. "Husky Field has our assurances that this irresponsible sort of flying will not happen again. As for Pilot Terrany McCloud, she has been dismissed from service as of today, and will not be allowed to graduate with her classmates. The Academy offers its humblest apologies to any Air Show goers, and to the Husky Field authorities. It is our hope that we can maintain our good relations in the future."
Terrany McCloud was unavailable for comment.
The article went on for a few more paragraphs…and then there was the photograph of Terrany's plane, burying itself into the supporting pylons of the control tower before exploding almost instantly and collapsing the structure. Its sole occupant had seen the plane coming and jumped out, Slippy read, saving his life.
There was a tiny and somewhat blurred shot of Terrany as well, her expression one of disbelief and doubt as she stared at the burning wreckage of her aircraft buried in the skeletal framework of the control tower. She hardly looked like the bitter and vengeful spirit that had stood by her father's grave only a few short years before, and more like a distraught cub.
Frankly, Slippy thought as he put the paper down, they had set her up for the roast. More than likely, from what little he knew of her personality, she had pulled something rash and caused it.
But leave it to the media to jump on the story and her misfortunes like wolves to the lamb.
Disgusted, he pushed the paper off of his desk and into the recycling bin he kept beside his desk. With a light thump, it fell limply into the receptacle, and Slippy turned away from it.
Slippy felt incredibly old and tired just then. He reclined back in his chair, feeling the aches of all his years suddenly weighing down on his aged frame once again. Quietly, he rocked back and forth and looked up at the ceiling of his office, remembering a time so long ago when he and the rest of the Starfox team gallivanted about.
He would be lying to himself if he hadn't silently admitted that he longed for those days again.
Katina; the McCloud household
Julia McCloud came down the stairs with her blue satin robe tied about her loosely. The vixen yawned, her snout's rows of teeth glimmering in the dim light for a moment before she closed her jaw and recognized the child sitting at the kitchen table.
Terrany looked up and raised her coffee cup politely. "Morning, mom."
"Morning yourself." Mrs. McCloud answered, walking over to the coffeepot and pouring herself a cup. "Did you sleep well?"
"Well enough." Terrany said tonelessly. "Skip already took off, though. He told me to say his goodbyes for him."
Mrs. McCloud took a sip of her daughter's brewing before nodding her pale white snout in approval. "Well, I hope he had some of your coffee before he took off."
"Yeah, coffee." Terrany said, rolling her eyes. "The one thing I can make without burning it."
Her mother sat down and glanced about with a frown. "Where's the morning paper?"
Terrany stared down into her coffee cup. "I already picked it up. Tossed it, too. There was nothing worth reading." There was a glimmer of hostility in her tone at that, and the mother looked over to the wastebasket, noticing the partially crumpled paper poking up from it.
Her sharp eyes picked out the Female McCloud Destroys… portion of the main headline, and she closed her eyes. "I see." Terrany's mother finally commented. "Well, there's always slow news days."
"I wish Carl could have stayed longer." Terrany said quietly, taking another sip of her drink. "I'd forgotten how much fun it is to talk to him."
"Well, your brother's a busy man these days. Doing what, God only knows, but the Air Force keeps him cooped up most of the time." Mrs. McCloud observed, spinning her cup on the table. "I consider myself lucky when I see him for more than a day."
Terrany chuckled. "Well, we'll never be able to say he isn't dedicated to his work."
"Speaking of work…" Mrs. McCloud began hesitantly, "…Have you thought about what you're going to do now?"
"Now?" Teri asked, raising her eyes to the ceiling with reluctance. "Now that my career in the Cornerian Air Force is over? Now that I've been kicked out of the academy for reckless flying during an air show? Now that the only thing which has been my focus for…Well, since dad died…is gone?" Her mother nodded in the affirmative and Terrany finally shrugged. "I really don't know."
"Well, old Mr. Hodges is going to be planting his crops soon…And he'll be needing some help with the aerial fertilization."
Terrany frowned. "Crop dropping? Mom, I haven't done that in…"
"I know." Mrs. McCloud replied softly. "But you can't escape flying, you know. It's in your blood. You could try a dozen other careers, and you'd always go back to flying. Even if you can't pilot an Arwing space fighter like your father and brother, you'll always want to fly. And you used to love flying for Mr. Hodges."
"It's not just that." Teri protested, looking more crestfallen than ever. "They…they've marked my permanent record. I can't fly military craft for the rest of my life, and I don't think anybody'd let me behind the stick of any other aircraft, even if I wanted to.
Mrs. McCloud's face became a mask of disappointment. "Oh…well, that changes things." She thought for a moment, then offered a feeble suggestion. "Well…You could at least go see him. Even if you can't fly, there has to be something you can do for him."
Terrany examined the lukewarm cup of coffee in her hands, and blinked once before drinking the rest.
"Yeah." She said, with no feeling at all. "Something."
Somewhere Beyond the Rim of Lylat
His radio chirped in, its crackle as familiar and traditional as it had been two hundred years ago. "Commander, this is Alpha Flight. Checking signal strength, over."
Carl McCloud smiled. "Reading you four by four."
"Roger that. Can you confirm checklist completion?"
His eyes glanced from the oblique tinted canopy of his experimental craft to the monitor that displayed systems diagnostics and other messages. It was finishing its preflight checks as he sat there with the fusion reactor on idle, and by the look of it…
The last item went green. "Confirmed. All systems are go."
"All right, Commander. You know your mission. Remember, avoid Merging. We'll be testing that system later."
Carl tightened the harness over his flight suit one last time and gripped the control mechanisms with newfound strength. "Roger that. We'll see you outside Venom's gravity well in a couple of hours. It's time to stretch this fury's legs a bit."
The comm line went silent, and Carl was left in the darkness of empty space, with only the starlight to change the scenery.
A new voice chirped in, and he jumped before relaxing, reminding himself that it was nothing out of the ordinary. "Going for a spin? And I wasn't invited?"
"With you, Odai, you're always invited." Carl chastised his invisible RIO. "What's on the radar?"
"Squat, Skip. Now put the thrusters on something other than idle, and let's haul out of here. You know how much I hate just sitting around."
"Of course, of course." Carl McCloud exhaled, pushing the engines to a higher setting. The twin-plasma exhaust thrusters went to work, and the G-Diffuser offered only a marginal hum as they slipped farther around the void.
Silence not being one of Odai's virtues, the invisible entity soon spoke through Skip's comm line. "So what are we doing today, Chief? Target practice?"
"Oh, you'd like that too much." The elder McCloud laughed, watching the highlighted spatial debris through the green half-visor that covered his right eye. "No, this trip the hyper laser is staying safely offline. This is a speed test only."
The voice laughed. "Yeah, if you want your atoms scattered halfway to Macbeth. Say what you want…but I'm keeping them online. You never know when you'll need to blast something."
Carl rolled his eyes and pushed the thrusters faster. "No chance I can convince you to reverse that decision?"
"About as much chance as we have of breaking the temporal barrier, but we'll give it a try. How much are we pushing the engines this time?"
"Standard thrusters only, Odai."
"Aww, you're breaking my heart. Standard thrust only? Are we using the FTL drive, at least?"
"Once we finish our trial run." Skip replied to his comrade. "Watch the heat levels, Odai. The millisecond you think they're going to blow, shut them off. Don't wait for my signal."
"I don't know if the G-Diffuser can compensate for that kind of shock, Skip…"
The McCloud only grinned wider and pushed the throttle as far open as it could go. "That's what we're going to find out."
The spacecraft pulled three downward spinning barrel rolls while the plasma jets screamed to maximum, and shot off as a blink of blue and white, vanishing into the empty maw of space.
A few seconds later, the observation probe that had been keeping sight of the McCloud and his sterling-winged craft shook from the vibrations of the void shockwave.
The energy burst disrupted its communications for a full three seconds.