Star Fox: Inertia - Ch. 9 of 14 by Tempo (critique requested)

Star Fox: Inertia - Ch. 9 of 14 (critique requested)

Tempo

8 June 2017 at 11:53:57 MDT

Star Fox: Inertia
Chapter 9
by Tempo

The team settles in at the station as they meet one of Lylat's other famous pilots.

~ ~ ~

The next morning, the team met for breakfast in the station's board room. Fox surveyed the space, which featured a polished wooden table and the commissioner croaking merrily about proposals while standing at a projection screen. Falco and Slippy were already there, engaged in an eating contest. He decided against telling the ace those hash browns comprised mainly of crickets.

The vixen settled into a chair and poured herself a tall glass of striped melon juice, which settled into stripes again in the glass. She drank it with eager grace, gaining an alibi for licking her whiskers at him.

Blushing a little, Fox sat down and unwrapped a muffin. "Okay, so what do you have in mind?"

"Oh, nothing too strenuous—" The mustachioed frog glanced down at his buzzing wrist watch. He pressed a button on it, activating a small hologram projector.

The face of a lizard in a control headset winked into being. "Commissioner! We have an unscheduled Cornerian Army shuttle in-bound. ETA three minutes. The pilot claims you knew she was coming."

"Superb!" The frog clicked the projector off and beamed at the team. "Star Fox, if you'd be so kind as to accompany me to the cargo bay, we're getting a special delivery."

~ ~ ~

Fox entered in the hangar bay, followed by his team and Beltino. The sprawling space stood four decks tall and wide enough to dwarf the four Arwings parked along one wall. Power, fuel, and data cables strung from the familiar fighters, as a cheetah mechanic ran diagnostics from a workstation that could retract flush with the deck if more landing space was needed. Massive hydraulic lifts rested in the corner like snoozing sauropods.

Beyond the glow of the atmospheric screen, a spark in the distance grew to a small silver ship. Transport shuttle, one of millions in the Lylat System, used by everyone from bakeries to bandits. This one bore the green stripes and registry number of a military craft.

A soft crackle of energy announced its passage through the atmo screen. The shuttle spun an adroit turn above their heads and settled to the hangar deck. Its rear cargo door unsealed with a hiss and thrummed open. A slender fennec in a Cornerian flight suit strode down the ramp. She stood about level with Fox's chest. She pulled her helmet off two considerable ears and tucked it under an arm, raising the arm other to the elder frog. "Beltino. How's the competition?"

The rotund amphibian straightened his posture and his tie. "Your father is keeping me from any meaningful share of the civilian market, as ever."

Closing in fast, she turned to the team and extended a slim paw. "Fara Phoenix. Chief test pilot of the Cornerian military."

The red fox gave it a firm shake. Her glove felt almost hot. She must have its internal heater cranked. "Fox McCloud. Unemployed mercenary."

A subtle twinkle of amusement entered her features. She nodded to the rest of the team, then locked back onto Fox. A smooth gesture snagged a tablet from her belt, on which she examined a cargo manifest. "Secure comm equipment, electronic countermeasure suite, solid-state targeting computer..." She looked up. "Commander Grey pulled some serious strings to get you this tech. Most of the fleet's running older gear than this."

Fox smiled. "Good old Bill. I'd have to buy him a beer."

A cynical caw took flight from his wingman's beak "I think Bill likes somethin' a little more substantial in his off-hours."

"Not just here to watch the construction then?" The older frog waddled up beside her. "It's not every day we build a new Dreadnought."

"Nor should you. More than one would flood the market." The fennec's massive ears lifted. "I do find ship construction soothing, though. It reminds me of my childhood."

A cargo robot trundled onto the shuttle and carried the blue metal containers out one at a time. Each crate bore a Cornerian military emblem on the side, along with a small touchscreen keypad on the front.

The small vulpine punched a code into each, which elicited a loud clank as it unlocked. Her ears barely poked over the top. "Self-destructs disabled. They're all yours, Beltino."

With a croak of excitement, the amphibian stumped forth to examine the devices.

Fox raised his ears. "Just how destructive are they?"

The ghost of mischief manifested on her muzzle for a moment. "Sufficient to discourage curiosity."

The cargo robot wheeled out a fourth crate, this one flame-orange with a stylized phoenix logo.

Krystal inclined her muzzle toward the box. "Your luggage?"

"A gift from my father." Mirth tinged her voice. "The old todd unwinds by building shield generators. This one's always been his favorite. Use it in good health."

"Father Phoenix is feeling generous?" Beltino tapped a finger on his lips. "Now there's an interesting anomaly."

Her whiskers lifted a millimeter for a fond smile. "He's come to the conclusion that invasions are bad for business."

"Ah. Now that does sound like my old rival." The commissioner verified that his mustache was still affixed.

Pride added an inch or so to her height. "And he likes to make his little girl happy."

Krystal gave a look of comprehension. Her banded tail swished a subtle wag. "You asked on our behalf."

The fennec nodded. "You may be a wrecking ball, Star Fox, but you swing the right direction. And the harder you hit, the smaller the pieces the military has to clean up." She hooked her helmet to the belt of her flight suit. "Not that you'd get a chance without us there to pin the enemy down."

"Excuse me?" The avian ace crossed his wings. "Maybe you haven't heard about the cloaked pirate battleship we just sunk all by ourselves."

Those shapely ear lowered behind her head like a diving eagle's wings as her muzzle swooped up at him. "A squad of Arwings can punch through almost anything, but when was the last time you fought a delaying action or blocked forces from reaching a planet? We all have our roles to play, Mr. Lombardi. Today, my role was to bring you some very expensive presents without attracting undue attention." She jerked a thumb back at the cargo shuttle.

Falco opened his beak to retort, only to have Fox leap up and press it closed with both paws. Sharp, avian eyes flashed to the mammal. "Mmf mah m-mm-mah-mah mmf…"

McCloud gave a toothy grin, not letting go. "He says 'thank you very much.'"

A wry look rose on her muzzle, though she quickly turned her gaze to the fighter craft before her. "I've never seen production Arwings in person." She ran a paw along the nose cone of Slippy's starfighter, her paw pads coming away with a fine dusting of soot. "Yours look...well-loved."

"That particular charring is carbonized snack cakes." Slippy puffed up with pride.

After processing that comment for a moment, Fara nodded. "I flew the Arwing prototype, what feels like a lifetime ago." She tucked the tablet back into its holster on her flight belt. "I recommended their adoption, but command played it safe with the FX-15 and 16. More parts in common. Less radical design."

McCloud released his friend, but remained ready to tell the bird to go stuff himself. In the years since the Academy, he'd forgotten how poorly the former delinquent reacted to authority figures.

Falco immediately crowed: "How's that workin' out for ya?"

Her green eyes narrowed on the bird. "Considering they get a whole squadron of FXs for the price of an Arwing, they're happy." She continued her inspection of the blue and white fighter craft. "I petitioned to have the prototype taken out of mothballs for my personal use during the Lylat Wars, but my CO refused because we didn't have the support systems or spare parts."

"You should see what Slippy's done to the things." The avian smirked and hooked a feather toward the fighters. "They're mostly duct tape and chewing gum on the inside now."

"I tried chewing gum once…" The frog blinked and stroked his lack of a chin, thinking back. "…Never really figured it out."

Fox leaned over. "You don't have teeth, Slip. It makes a difference."

His eyes widened. "Ohhhhhh."

Beltino straightened his spectacles. "Had it not been for the intervention of James McCloud—"

"—and his apparently stellar credit score—" A coy smile flashed white across the tall vixen's blue muzzle.

"—the entire Arwing project might have been scrapped." His green hands waggled up into the air.

The red fox ran a paw over his white hair. "So where is this prototype now?"

Those ample ears swiveled to him, followed by her delicate muzzle. "The lobby."

"That thing's real? Jeez laweez!" He flapped with outrage. "Why isn't mine painted gold?"

"It's not painted gold." She cast him a deadpan glance. "It's just made of gold."

His crest rose as his beak fell open. "Why am I only learnin' this now?"

"We had to make the G-diffuser casings out of gold." Beltino rocked side to side, pleased with himself. "We ran out of funding, and it was the second most effective option."

McCloud glanced askance at his avian friend. "Remember that next time you think I'm exaggerating our repair costs."

"So what material are they now?" Krystal toyed with a string of beads in her hair and eyed the casing.

"It's the most resilient conductive ceramic ever devised." Slippy interlaced his fingers behind his head kicking his stumpy legs up as he paraded around the group. "Painted blue."

Beltino beamed with pride. "Trademark: Beltinolium."

"I've never given it much thought." Fox cast a fresh glance to the very familiar craft. "Why were they painted blue in the first place?"

"Your father added that to the order at the last minute." The older frog hooked his thumbs into his belt. "It was going to be a 79.5-year loan, but he wanted a nice round number. He nearly chose flames instead."

"Ugh!" Falco groused toward the distant ceiling. "I'm livin' in the lamest possible universe."

From the opposite side of the hangar, a raccoon-dog and a rabbit in Space Dynamics overalls arrived to inspect the delivery. They opened the orange crate to reveal a domed metal cylinder, nearly as tall as a fennec. Metal coils girded the device, nowhere showing a single seam or weld. Every centimeter of the generator shone with polished chrome, save for the occasional component coated in blazing orange enamel. A massive flaming bird soared above the control panel, its wingtips just shy of the support struts. The rabbit lifted and lifted her ears at a bag of individually bubble-wrapped chrome bolts. Each bore a miniature version of the company logo on the head.

Beltino ribbited: "Ostentatious, as ever."

Krystal peered down at the chrome contraption. "It's lovely."

"I'll say!" Slippy nodded.

"I'm glad Father listened to reason and donated it to the project." Fara crossed slender arms over a modest bosom. "I was starting to worry he was saving it to be my wedding gift."

Falco and Fox exchanged a glance of disbelief.

The few other techs on deck ambled over, drawn over by the shining shine to shield generator workmanship. They pored over its enclosed technical manual with reverence and revelations. Slippy leaned back, hoping to see the schematics, then wobbled and almost tipped backward.

Its metallic sheen caused Fox to reflect on the previous topic. "Is the prototype Arwing any different?"

"It's faster and less armored." The test pilot gave a mild shrug. "A single ion missile could probably take it down. Barely has room for a pilot, thanks to the oversized plasma reactor needed to fire all three lasers simultaneously."

"Sounds great." The bird's crest rose with a smirk. "Let's trade."

"Oh, Mr. Falco, you don't want that one." The older frog chuckled and waved a flipper at the thought. "We never could get the landing gear to work right."

He crowed with delight. "Why would I ever land?"

Slippy's father turned away from the bird and to the fennec. "We were just heading up to Lab 2. If you wish to join us..."

"I promised Father I'd oversee the installation of his pet project personally." Fara tilted her delicate muzzle to the generator, which the technicians were loading into the mechanical mandibles of a worker bee construction unit. "Seems he doesn't trust you not to disassemble it."

"Only to see how it worked!" Beltino croaked indignantly.

"We'd put it back together!" Slippy chimed in.

"I'm sure." She pulled her helmet back on over those massive ears and clipped the chin strap in place. "I'll be along."

"Very well." The older frog nodded. "I can have one of the engineers show you the way up."

"I know my way around, Commissioner." She waved a small paw in the air without turning around. "I'll be by after a little industrial espionage." With a hop of surprising height, she climbed into a second worker bee. Her sandy tail trailed in after her as she closed the canopy. The engines flared to life the next instant and the craft hovered out the atmo screen after the first bee.

Beltino adjusted his glasses. "Well, I suppose I can always scan it later... Come along, Star Fox. I think you'll be impressed by our latest efforts."

~ ~ ~

Krystal shadowed the others into a lift, silent and soaking up their interesting bouquet of emotions. The lift doors whispered shut. The floor rumbled lightly as they ascended several decks.

Wings crossed, Falco leaned against one bulkhead. "Well, well: test pilot, daughter of a shipbuilding tycoon, and ears from here to Sector Z." His beak switched to all-smirk mode. "You must be regrettin' the wild blue yonder now, eh Foxy?"

"Eh, not really." His paw rolled back and forth in the air before him. "She looks a little too much like my mother."

The blue vixen chuckled. Not that she judged Fox for involuntary bursts of attraction. Once she broke through his shields a little more, perhaps she could watch porn with him.

"Oh, lemme guess." He scoffed. "Yer mother was a naturally-occurrin' color."

"Thank you, Falco." The vulpine rolled his eyes. "When Peppy retired, I worried nobody would bring up my dead parents in every conversation."

She reached over and quietly took his paw. He couldn't detect her emotions from physical contact, but a little crackle of comfort translated through their touch, letting her know the message had been received.

The doors hissed open. The team followed Beltino down a corridor, then through a wide door.

Before them stood a laboratory, packed with strange equipment and stranger scientists. The air hummed with electronics and the chatter of technicians, fluorescent lighting abuzz overhead. Krystal stepped out from behind the privacy curtain, settling the black catsuit's gloves onto her fingers. While she appreciated denying Falco the chance to leer at her changing, she smiled at how body-shy Cornerians could be. Back on Cerinia, being glimpsed naked now and then was almost expected, like someone seeing you having a nap—a risk on sunny days.

Heavy as the fabric felt, it allowed a nice range of movement. Not bad for a spacesuit. Through the expert tailoring, she noticed thin wires in the seams, as well as a metallic weave to the surface cloth.

A collie technician knelt beside her and adjusted a flexible readout on the thigh. "Anything pinching?"

"No, it's quite comfortable. The trouble was getting it on my tail." She glanced back to watch the strangely compact appendage sway.

The tech's floppy ears waggled as quick paws tapped in calibration commands. "The full-body scanner has trouble accounting for fur thickness."

"That scan better not turn up anywhere!" The avian cawed. Wings crossed, he leaned against a bulkhead. "I didn't sign yer paperwork."

Seated on a steel bench, McCloud groaned. "Falco, would you shut up about their nondisclosure agreement?"

The blue vixen tapped a claw to her chin. "Considering the scan would show him without any feathers, I can think of at least one pink feline who'd be curious."

"I don't know about you guys..." Slippy waddled in with cheery indifference, looking for all the world like a covert-op potato. "...but I'm finding this suit really supportive!"

Fox and Falco declined to ask how, failing to hide their discomfort even from non-telepaths. The super-clingy black body suits didn't hide much either.

With a contemplative murmur, Krystal ran a paw down one slinky sleeve of her suit, then the other. The fabric clung to her every contour. "I think it's very flattering." She cast a glance down her lover's body.

Catching her looking, he tossed her a little smile, even as he shifted uncomfortably. "I think it makes me look scrawny."

"I love you for your heart." She patted a paw on his shoulder, slid it over his chest, then leaned to his ear. "And your cute bum."

Ears sprung stiff, he reached to touch her fingers. He looked her outfit over with a nervous chuckle. "Don't you already own one of these?"

"Several…" She swished her tail. "...but none that are also a spacesuit."

A scoff rasped from the pilot's beak. "I know ya just recently discovered wearin' more than underpants, but I got a thing to show ya. It's called a t-shirt."

The vixen flashed him a stern look. "I can lay bare your innermost secrets on a whim."

His feathers ruffled with panic. "What?!"

Krystal crossed her arms. "I said I know what t-shirts are, Falco."

"No, you didn't!" The bird scowled at her, anger radiating off him.

Ignoring them, Fox stood, which gave her an excellent view of his rump. Did his suit have more tail room? It looked like it did. She contemplated checking with a quick grope, but a door to one side of the lab opened.

A group of engineers brought out four suitcase-like devices. With the help of the collie tech, Krystal stepped into hers, reached in to grip it with both paws, and stood. With an intricate series of clicks and clatters, the unit unfolded over her body. A quiet whirr tightened plates in place to form a light suit of segmented armor. Leaving her head and hands free, the suit moved with her, its weight distributed over the heavy boots. Not bad.

She stole a last look at Fox's hindquarters before they too vanished under a rolling wave of metal plates. Lights flicked to life around the suit. The rest of the team suited up too.

Her fellow vulpine clicked a button at his collar. Those green eyes locked on hers, halves of a helmet flashed with a gleam as they rose to close over his smirking muzzle. Through the faceplate, a HUD lit his face a pale green. "Well, now I know how to activate the helmet. That's a start."

From a control console at the far end, Beltino Toad tottered onto the center of the room. "The suits exchange CO2 for O2 whenever possible, so no manual refilling is required. Even in a toxic environment you, they'll continue to process any ambient oxygen."

"Does it come in red?" The bird inspected his gloved wing, then smoothed his crest. "'Cause black does nothing for my plumage."

"It's designed to keep you alive in space." The todd cast him a narrow glance. "Why do you care what color it is?"

Krystal examined the tiny pockets designed around her claws. "I'd take a nice deep violet, to go with the silver plates."

Fox rolled his eyes.

Slippy croaked with glee. "The outer-suit's highly conductive, for additional protection against electrocution and lasers."

"Oh swell." With a squawk of derision, the bird poked his friend's chest. "Instead of a little hole burned through me, I get roasted."

The frog's father looked up from his clipboard. "We used a shear-thickening fluid as the sealant gel, so it should cushion impacts. Combined with the para-aramid fiber lining, it will stop most projectiles."

The younger frog grinned with pride. "All in a couple millimeters of thickness!"

Falco flicked him in the temple.

"Hey!" The squat frog glared at his wingmate, rubbing the site of the attack. "What’s the big idea?"

"Found a flaw." He lifted a feather. "It doesn't work if you hit him in the head."

The techs scribbled this observation down. Bentino nodded with particular interest.

Fox clicked his collar control again, the helmet splitting back to settle on his chest and back. "That's why we have these." He turned to the older amphibian. "I have some actual feedback: all these glowing parts will make it hard to sneak around."

The vixen's ears rose. "When have you snuck anywhere, Fox?"

The spectacled frog looked up from his clipboard. "Some are indicators. Others are to illuminate the area around you."

"Maybe make them turn down when you switch off the helmet lamp?" McCloud watched as a shiba inu in a lab coat connected leads from a handheld device to various points on his suit. "Overall, my first impressions are good."

"Excellent." Bentino flicked through a few pages on his digital clipboard. "While I have you as captive audience, I thought I might bring up some other projects we'd like you to test."

Fox shrugged as much as he could in the calibration equipment. "Fire away, Commissioner."

The elder frog gestured his assistants to dim the lights, then activated a 3D projector. "First of all, and we're very excited about this one, we have a system to transform the Arwings into mecha."

Slippy's eyes grew wide, the image of a convertible tank reflected in them. "Cool!"

Falco pumped a fist. "Heck yes!"

Fox groaned. "No."

"Now Fox, the upgrade will only reduce the flight capabilities by about ten percent." Slippy's dad gummed at the end of a stylus, muttering. "Maybe fifteen."

The todd gave him a serious look. "The last thing I need is a reduced-capabilities fighter that turns into an inferior tank so it can get too smashed up to fly."

"It's not a tank, strictly." The old frog pushed up his glasses. "More of a light mecha."

The bird eyed the hologram's spindly legs. "It's a chicken-walker."

"Just give us a tank again." Fox spread a paw. "You have to be developing one."

Beltino pushed his glasses up his broad nose. "Tanks are very expensive."

McCloud lifted his arm so the techs could get at an access panel. "So are Arwings."

Krystal perked up. "Wasn't that the point of the Landmaster? A tank with Arwing parts so you can save on costs?"

The mustachioed frog tapped on the clipboard for emphasis. "Yes, but why not have a tank that can airlift itself into combat?"

The red fox rolled his eyes. "Okay, so build that and we'll test it."

"Hmm. We've also been developing a hovercraft that drops a combat drone." The bespectacled amphibian skipped to the next projection. "As you can see, the drone can pick up and use any small arms on the battlefield."

The blue vixen nodded. "That might be useful. We could drop it behind enemy lines to flank or create a diversion, then fly off before they could target us."

"Oh, no. You can't leave it." The elder amphibian tapped a few buttons, evoking a holographic gunship dangling a robot. "To secure it from hacking, we eliminated any wireless technology."

Falco's lower beak dropped. "That sucker's on a tether?"

Slippy's father adjusted his necktie and pointed it out in the 3D projection. "A combined power and data cable, yes. I assure you, it's a very secure platform."

Fox sighed. "Assuming we don't get shot down hovering in one place, what's to stop someone cutting the cord?"

"Ah!" He scribbled notes on his tablet. "See, this is just the sort of valuable expertise we consult you for."

The vixen pointed to the underside of his holographic gunship. "Why not just attach it to the ship directly and call it a turret?"

Half-listening, Beltino scrawled on the schematics, causing armor to spring into existence on the holographic cable. "Well, then it wouldn't be a drone...."

"Ah, so you are Slippy's father." She smirked. "I was beginning to wonder."

The calibrations continued. A small crowd of technicians hovered around, taking notes.

"Can you rig it so can I fire all three of the laser cannons at once?

"Certainly!" He croaked agreeably. "The Arwing itself doesn't produce enough power for that, but so long as the ship is connected to a sufficient external power source, like a docking bay, it can fire all three."

"So my fighters are at their most destructive when they're inside my carrier." Fox stood with arms outstretched as a tech strapped him into a vest covered in tiny blinking lights. In trying to help them, his paw brushed some of the buttons on the chest. With a beep, the emergency space helmet deployed, snapping closed over his head and directly onto his whiskers, prompting a yelp of outrage as he fumbled for the retract controls.

Krystal winced at the spike of unexpected pain from her boyfriend. Once he'd gotten himself sorted out and given the suit a proper glare, she made sure to meet his eyes and give him a look of sympathy. Whiskers were sensitive and whisker-pulls were the worst.

The vixen's ears perked toward the main lab door. Someone was coming down the corridor. Fire-forged determination and hard-won confidence stood out against the excitable curiosity of the techs. She'd only felt this aura once before, down in the hangar bay, but she recognized it instantly.

The doors hissed open to admit the petite form of Fara Pheonix. "I thought you should be aware that our host is installing scavenged Venomian tech in your ship." She waved a tablet displaying a close-up photo of the construction.

"A product of our reverse-engineering efforts on the industrial sites of Eladard. We aren't entirely sure what alloy it's made of, but its heat density is through the roof!" The frog corrected the point pointedly. "We've fitted as a dedicated heat sink for the T&B-H9 hyper lasers." He puffed up with pride. "By our calculations, it should allow you around 17 seconds extra of firing time."

The todd nodded. "And if we fire it after that?"

"It melts through the hull and safely exits the ship." A summoned a new hologram, this one showing an irregularly-shaped object emerging from just above the lower flight bay, glowing with heat.

Krystal raised a gloved paw. "Isn't that a tad...dangerous?"

"Not as dangerous as it staying in place." He chuckled and patted his considerable middle, then swept an index finger at her. "Once it cools, you simply collect it from space and replace any melted components."

Without a word, Fara pressed past the technicians and held the tablet up to Fox's nose.

His teeth bared at the image. "Why is it shaped like Andross's face?"

"It looked like that when we dug it up!" The middle-aged frog propped flippered fists on his hips. "Its melting point is obviously quite high, so melting it down just to recast it seemed a waste of resources for an additional 0.3% boost in performance."

"It'll have an impact on my performance if half of Deck 4 is taken up by a glowing metal bust of that psycho." He was struck by an image of Falco cooking burgers on it.

He shook his head and made some notes on his clipboard. "Very well. Though half the deck is a vast overestimate. Ten percent, at most." A pout somehow appeared on his wide face. "I never can factor in the tendencies of endotherms."

The avian turned to the blue vixen. "Ya ever get the feelin' we're only alive because nobody'd tell Andross which designs were horrible?"

"Whatever do you mean, Falco?" Krystal feigned shock. "I personally see no design flaws with a giant spider robot with one tiny gun to guard its massive, exposed, glowing reactor core."

"Let's not complain too much about that." Fox glanced between them. "I would've liked a glowing reactor core to shoot when I was being chased by the RedEye King."

The bird groaned. "Jeez. The guy gets attacked by a T-rex one time and we never hear the end of it..."

"I was psychically linked with you for that one." Krystal looked him over in amusement. "I've never seen you jump that high again."

McCloud ran a paw over his face. "Dinosaurs trying to eat me have that effect."

~ ~ ~

I've always thought Fara was a cool character (I have a soft spot for badass ladies), though it took me a while to figure out how she could integrate into the current timeline. As is my policy for fanfics, I extrapolated everything I could based on SF2 and the old comics. This chapter is also packed with even more obscure SF references than usual. X)

Editors: Kohaku Nightfang, Slate, Pharrox, Eljot001, SillyNeko345, StarFox94, CarlMinez, Archaesophilia
Art: :iconNimrais: (Used with permission.)

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