As the commercial break drew to a close, Rossi dashed back to his desk on the side of the set, seating himself and leaning in to listen to some inaudible words from one of the production crew. With a nod, the last crew member scurried off stage, and the white-haired avian raised his hands up to invite applause from the audience before turning to the main camera.
"Welcome back! Now, I don't know about you, but all throughout the evening I've been noticing a glimmer of nervousness in some of my guests' eyes..." he started, holding one hand out to the row of interviewees that were now seated in the front row of the audience. A couple of nervous laughs were audible as the camera panned over them. "And you've probably noticed that one of our new regular features hasn't made an appearance yet tonight..."
A solitary whoop came up from somewhere near the back of the audience. "Yes, I think someone can tell what's coming..." Rossi continued with a smile, pointing out in the vague direction of where the noise had come from. "We've got two surprise guests left to meet, and something else that at least someone in the audience has been waiting for - please welcome them both!"
A recorded trumpet fanfare burst into life over the speakers, as Rossi extended his hand towards the back wall of the set behind him. To the sound of applause, the middle panel of the set slid aside to reveal the show's gunge booth, and the noise from the audience turned into cheers as the two guests seated on either side of it came into view - on the left hand side was a red fox with a thin light strip of headfur, and opposite him was a blue-feathered avian. Both were wearing dark flight suits, and they each gave nervous acknowledgment to the audience in the form of a nod and wave as the studio lights swung around towards them.
The applause settled into a rhythmic clapping along with the music as the platform with the booth on it began to move out into the main set, and Rossi got up from the desk, joining in with the audience as it came forwards. The cubicle was made to look like an old-style wooden phone booth with a clear half-height door on the front and a curved section disguising the top. On either side of the top section, two white cardboard props had been attached to look like the wings of a pilot's badge.
As Rossi stepped forwards, the platform suddenly came to a stop, making the two guests jerk forwards a little with the momentum. Up above, the right wing tilted down the way and then fell off completely, causing the avian beneath it to duck, raising his hands above his head as its shadow fell across him. The thin cardboard wing flipped outwards and spiraled as it fell at Rossi's feet, and he looked down at it, putting his palm to his face as he laughed.
"You know..." he started as the applause died down, bending over to pick the flimsy prop up and then holding it out to his side as he stepped up on to the platform. "I remember that we told the stage people to do this thing up with some theming for our guests this evening..." He stretched up in an attempt to reattach the wing, but quickly gave up. "I think they must have misheard it as 'Please give us the world's worst-put-together totem pole'..."
Coming around the back of the tank to the other side, he reached to the other wing and ripped it away as well, and the fox next to him gave an anxious smile as he tossed the two of them aside. "Okay, that's looking much more elegant..." Rubbing his hands a little, he stepped back and looked the booth up and down. "I wouldn't want this section to look anything less than as classy as possible...!" he smiled, before moving to the front of the tank.
"Really, I don't think anybody needs any explanation as to what's going to happen here by now, but if you really haven't got the idea... " He pointed behind him to the top of the cubicle, and the vulpine and avian looked up at it as he continued. "One of our two last guests this evening is going to leave with their fur... or feathers... clean and dry, but the other's going to find themselves inside our gunge tank. Who that's going to be... that's going to be up to our viewers, so get ready to place your votes!"
"And I don't think our guests need any introduction either. Fox..." The red-furred vulpine visibly jumped a little despite his attempt to appear unfazed as the host spun around and said his name, and he took his eyes off the cubicle next to him to face Rossi.
"On screen, you've saved your home planet and - actually, the whole solar system from certain destruction... multiple times..." The red fox nodded along with his description, tapping his forefingers together as Rossi put his hands on the head of the chair behind him. "So I suppose we've got you to thank for that... tell me, can you give us any more reasons why you shouldn't go in there?"
The red fox's shoulders shook in a brief laugh despite himself, and he brought one hand up to scratch the back of his neck as he looked up at the top of the tank. "Uh..." he started. "If I stay out, I'll get Krystal in there for you next time?"
Rossi's eyebrows raised as he looked up at the reaction from the audience, which started off as a cheer from a few people that was drowned out by a pantomime-like hiss and eventually gave way to laughter, with a couple of whoops rising up above the noise.
"An unusual reaction there..." he concluded, prompting another laugh. "I don't know, it's hard to tell what they think of that idea... but I think that you've just secured yourself one vixen's vote, at least!"
He patted the fox on the back, and he winced a little, bringing one hand up to squeeze his muzzle and then propping his head up on his arm as he watched Rossi walk around to the other side of the tank.
"And up against the fox tonight, we have someone who's appeared alongside him from the very start, as a comrade with what I would say is also a bit of rivarly..." The blue avian tilted his head a little, and then nodded in agreement. "This thing's already tried to attack you once tonight - are you hoping that it won't get the chance again?"
"Huh, it's not as big as some things we've been up against..." he responded, looking from the seat inside up to the ceiling above it.
"So I've seen, but you might be getting a bit more close and personal with this one. Actually, seeing as you mentioned your other opponents... over the last fifteen years or so we've seen you having to be rescued by your partner over there quite a few times, haven't we?"
The blue avian rolled his eyes, but then nodded his head slowly. "Yeah, but not as much as some people I could mention..." he answered, smirking at the audience's response. "I could always handle myself..."
"Oh, sounding pretty confident..." The white-haired avian stepped around him and returned to the front. "So you think our audience is going to want to see him in there instead of you?"
The avian hesitated just for a moment. "Yeah," he started, but the pause was enough for a cheer to have built from the back of the audience. He sighed and looked to the ceiling again briefly before folding his arms, tapping one hand on his other arm. "Maybe not now..." he finished.
"We'll see!" Rossi stepped forwards away from the platform as he addressed the audience once more. "Fox or Falco, it's your choice... get placing your votes, and we'll be back very soon to see which pilot you put in here!"
The main camera swept in on the stage again as a stagehand silently counted in the seconds from the final advert break. Rossi stood in front of the gunge tank platform, his hands clasped behind his back as he nodded to acknowledge the applause.
"Welcome back to the Friday Night Party - it's almost over, but we've just got time to find out which of these two was unlucky tonight and secured more of the viewer vote. I can see they're just dying to know..." He looked behind him, chuckling as he made eye contact with the fox and the avian in turn. "The results are coming in now, and once again it's a very close one...!"
The screens above the audience changed to show a split screen arrangement as the two guests leaned forward to watch on the camera monitors, the left camera following the fox as he craned his neck anxiously to the side to see around Rossi. The noise from the studio audience gradually increased as two bars representing the votes raced each other up the screen, virtually together all the way. Two separate chants started up as they slowed down, still neck and neck, before one final blip put one of them just ahead of the other.
Rossi turned around and pointed at the side of the platform. "Falco!" he announced above the cheering, dashing up to stand next to the blue avian's seat.
"Oh, man..." the falcon started, bringing his palm up and clasping it across his eyes, then leaning on his elbow as he looked over at the clear cubicle beside him. Rossi stepped around to the front of the chair and offered his hand.
"Come on, you were just saying you've been through worse!"
The blue falcon looked through the booth at his opponent, who was trying to disguise a relieved grin. Shaking his head, he got up, ignoring the other avian's hand, and Rossi stepped back, waving to his side to usher him over instead. The fox also rose from his seat, his arm outstretched as his partner strode over, and they clasped hands at shoulder height briefly as Rossi opened the door of the booth behind them.
"Oh, I like that - some sportsmanship after a fair contest," he smiled as the falcon turned around. "Unfortunately it was one that had to end up with someone inside here..."
Nodding his head and raising his eyes for a moment as he faced the front, Falco turned to the booth and took a cautious step inside. He turned to face out the way as he seated himself on the plastic chair, leaning on one elbow again and drumming the fingers of his other hand on the chair's arm. Despite his act, he couldn't help glancing up to the nozzles above him, a hint of a cringe visible on his beak.
"Fox..." The vulpine's ears perked as his name was mentioned. "I think this time you should be at the controls for your wingman..." Rossi continued as he patted the top of the lever. The red fox walked past the tank and looked in at the avian, who folded his arms, watching him as he turned around and put his hand on the handle. The vulpine looked up to make eye contact with him and then hesitated, looking away with an uncomfortable grin across his muzzle as the falcon stared back at him.
"Come on, you earned this!" Rossi laughed as he stepped forward again, putting his hand over the vulpine's on the lever, and the fox yelped as he pushed it towards him, letting go as soon as his hand was released. Inside the tank, the blue avian twitched as an alarm bell rang, joined by a siren as a flood of bright yellow stuff spewed from of the tank's ceiling, and he closed his eyes just before the gunge splurged wildly over his head.
The fox ducked and retreated a little as a thick yellow wave came out of the tank and slapped on to the platform in front of it, then the flow of gunge settled into a smooth dome shape as it continued to pour down on to the avian inside, hiding his face and pouring on to both shoulders to drip down the front of his clothing. After a second, he leaned forwards, his beak and then face breaking through the heavy dome - the top half of his face had been painted with the smooth yellow slime, his eyes closed and beak in a grimace as the goo dripped around either side of it. As he hunched his shoulders up, the yellow stuff splashed upwards in a wave from the back of his neck, splattering on the wall of the tank behind him.
He bowed further down under its weight and blinked his eyes open, twitching upwards again as two jets of foam started spraying from either side of his feet - green from one side and yellow from the other. As the tank quickly began to fill with the thick foam, he slithered his feet back and shifted backward in the seat, the yellow stuff slumping down over his face again for a second before it shut off, leaving the gunge-coated avian in a rain of drips from the edges of the nozzle. He picked his slimy hands off the arms of the seat, wiping them on each other in front of him above the knee-high foam and squirming to one side slightly, turning his face away.
The noise from the audience got louder again as four diagonal streams of green stuff spurted from the top corners of the tank, splattering heavily into the gungy avian's lap and on to his shoulders. He twitched again as they began to slowly move in circles, leaving streaks of dark green across his yellow-stained feathers - as one licked across his face, he tossed his head aside and raised his arms up, the ooze splashing off his open palms and sliding down his arms as the foam continued to rise to tummy height.
The klaxon gave one last long blare, and the falcon cringed a little further down as the yellow downpour from the ceiling turned on again, splattering in a wide arc off the side of his neck and left shoulder and making specks of the bright foam fly into the air as it flopped down into it. Pushed by the falling gunge, the level of foam rose and spilled over the door, breaking away in thick blobs to pile up in front of the tank as the green streams finally began to subside. As they eased off and became drizzles at the corners of the cubicle, the soaked and messy falcon put his hands under the foam to steady himself as he squirmed upright again. He leaned a little forward as the last of the yellow flood from above him slowed to a gentle pour, then a drizzle, and finally a stream of blobby drips.
Picking his head up, he shook it rapidly to spray slime out the front of the tank, and slowly opened his eyes to look up at the host and fox through the open front of the booth. He blinked as drips of the yellow gunge slid down across his face, drizzling in long strings into the foam from his chin and the tip of his beak. Rossi joined in with the applause for a moment, and then waited for it to die down.
"I love this thing," he concluded with a grin and a shake of his head. As another mild laugh came up, he stepped towards the tank and reached up to slap the top side of it. Another cascade of thick yellow dollops of slime fell out of the nozzle and down on to the messy falcon, who twitched a little as they spattered over him. Bringing his hands out of the foam, he shook them a little before drawing them in to wipe his eyes, leaving streaks of blue visible underneath the yellow slime coating his head and shoulders.
"I really don't know why we didn't start doing this sooner," Rossi said as the avian sagged in the chair, folding his arms but then jerking them away as the foam and gunge on the chest of his flight suit squished into him. "Falco, we've given the people what they wanted, but I think it's safe to say we haven't done much to help with the rivalry..."
"Yeah, you got that right," he answered while taking care not to open his mouth, his head still bowed slightly against the rivulets of thick yellow gunge pouring from his forehead. With a grimace, he brought one hand up to comb through the sagging spike of feathers at the back of his head.
"Well, thanks for being our last guests tonight and especially to you for playing along - we'll let you out of there to get cleaned up as soon as we've got this fox a safe distance away..." The red fox watching from behind Rossi smiled awkwardly, staying next to the lever but leaning around him to watch.
"Great," he answered distractedly, still slipping his forearms through his hands to scrape the gunge off, leaving a slick off-green layer on his feathers.
"And next week, we'll have someone who isn't you in there - but once again, it'll be up to them to decide!" Rossi hopped off the platform again, facing the audience to give his last piece to the camera as the falcon continued futilely to drag his hands over his head. "That's the party over for now, thank you for being part of it - I hope that you'll join us next time!"
The second FNP vote is dedicated to Susi and Scani, who both encouraged me to pit these two characters against each other :)