Star Fox: Inertia
Krystal, again a member of Star Fox and hero of the Lylat System, now faces a more personal challenge: can she forgive Fox for forcing her off the team in the first place?
~ ~ ~
Cornerian fighter pilots had a saying: "The safest place aboard an assault carrier is outside in a fighter."
Watching the outdated ship from her cockpit, Krystal did feel safe, if a little bored. Above her, the cruise liner Serenade of the Stars hung, plump and gleaming white, against the boundless depths of space. The rest of the Star Fox team flew out of sight, at various positions around the luxury ship, but the fighter's HUD projected little green arrows at their position on the canopy glass.
As her fingers drummed on the controls of her Arwing, she let her mind drift toward the cruise liner, to the few hundred tourists aboard. Their emotions crackled on the fringes of her consciousness—vague amusement, social jockeying, a few instances of mattress jockeying. Without meaning to, the vixen tuned in on a couple having sex, feeling a pang of jealousy and a creeping warmth between her thighs. She'd never met the lovers, didn't even know their species, but their entire cruise seemed an exercise in tender, passionate lovemaking. Quite distracting. She bit her lip. A few more hours in this cockpit and the joystick would start to look pretty tempting.
A hard-won peace reigned in the Lylat System, which meant mercenary work got rare…and strange. They'd been babysitting this "extreme space cruise line" for over a week, with weeks to go, as it lumbered from planet to planet. The tourists didn't care—they'd paid for a chance to see the deadliest battle sites, the most tempestuous planets, and, presently, the most notorious former criminal hideouts in the asteroid belt. While having the legendary Star Fox as their escort no doubt sold extra tickets, the tourists now hardly batted an eye at the Arwings.
Falco's voice echoed over the comm: "First they wanted to see the monsters living in the sun, now they want to go pirate-watching?" He clacked his beak in annoyance. The 3D setup of the cockpit speakers made him sounds like he was perched on the canopy. "I could think of plenty of better ways to waste their money."
"Since they're paying us, you'll get the chance." Fox McCloud's voice came from above and starboard.
The falcon scoffed. "I'm not gettin' paid enough for this. I hate waitin' around and I really hate being gawked at."
"We should be thankful to have work at all." Fox's video feed flickered onto the canopy glass. "It's been a while since the Cornerians threw us a bone."
The vixen adjusted her trajectory to miss a slag of wreckage. This place really had seen some fighting. The Sargasso Space Zone had once hosted the pirate gangs formed from the dregs of Andross's army. The Cornerian navy had cleared out that rat's nest, leaving only scattered pockets of criminal activity.
Slippy chirped onto the channel, the squat little amphibian appearing next to his wingmates on the display. "We'd better stay on our toes. If Katt thought this run was too dangerous…"
Falco rolled his eyes. "'Cause she knew it would bite. This'd never happen if I picked our missions."
Fox smirked. "Falco, the last time you were in charge of a team, you named it the 'Hot Rodders'."
"Hey, that's a sweet name." The avian squawked. "It's fast, it's dangerous—"
"—and it happens to sound like a gay porn troupe." He smiled a toothy vulpine grin.
"Ya know what, foxy?" The bird tilted his head at the screen. "Up yours."
Krystal clicked on her own cockpit camera. "I'd watch a vid from 'The Hot Rodders.'"
"Ya see this?" Falco extended his middle feather in front of the camera. "Take a screen cap and set it as your default display."
"It basically already is—whoa." A red light lit the underside of Fox's muzzle. Professionalism hardened his features. "We've got a collision alert. Come in, Serenade: you've got some asteroids headed your way."
"We see them, Star Fox One." Small blue flames jetted from the side of the ship. "Evading now."
Arms crossed, the falcon grumbled. "Remind me why you get to be One?"
"Because my name is in the team name." The red fox adjusted his controls, looking around the canopy windows. "It's an industry standard."
"I should at least be Zero."
"That would confuse our clients." Fox switched to general broadcast again. "Serenade, I'm still showing a collision warning. Why haven't you moved out of the way?"
The maneuvering jets on the cruise liner fired again. "We moved, Star Fox One. We should be in the clear."
The vixen pulled up the collision warning on her display. They had about a minute until the first impact.
"Still showing objects inbound." Fox cocked his head in the direction of the still-unseen asteroids. "Falco, take 'em out."
"I'm on it." His Arwing tore off in a burst of blue light.
"Looks like three or four of them." Slippy croaked to clear his throat. "About a meter across."
Fox nodded. "We should be able to vaporize them."
"I could use some help here, Fox!" The light of weapons fire washed Falco's face a pale green. "And somebody teach Slippy to count."
Fox spiraled his Arwing down beside her. With the G-diffuser canceling out its inertia, the heavy fighter tumbled like a falling leaf. As it righted itself, he flashed a little smile that conveyed more than a comm channel ever could. "Krystal, let's give him a hand."
She couldn't help but smile back. "Copy that."
"Star Fox One, what's going on out there?" The commander of the cruise liner grumbled. "Those rocks are still headed right for us."
"Standby, Serenade. We've got this." Fox fired his engines and zipped after the falcon. "Stay here and stay sharp, Slip."
The frog snapped an earnest little salute. "You got it!"
Gunning the engines, Krystal followed at Fox's wing. Together, they wove around the house-sized asteroids, pebble-sized ones plinking off their hulls.
"Geez!" Falco cawed. Laser blasts lit the Meteo field ahead. "These suckers have engines!"
"Engines?" Krystal armed her laser cannons. "How many are there?"
"Ten? Fifteen?" More flashes splashed like lightning through the asteroid field. "I dunno—can only see the flares from behind and they keep shufflin' around."
The vulpine leader glanced down at his radar display. "Slippy, why aren't we detecting energy signatures?"
"It wouldn't take much of an engine to move small meteors." The startled frog reached to adjust some controls. "I'll recalibrate our sensors to look for smaller engine wash."
She checked the impact timer, nearing half a minute. "No time; we'll have to target them manually."
Fox nodded, chasing down asteroids as they scattered from their previous trajectory. "Affirmative; fire at will."
"Let's take 'em all out!" The avian vaporized half a dozen rocks, most of which had engines.
"Where did these even come from?" Krystal swung in behind Falco. Each modified meteoroid had a trio of maneuvering jets affixed to it. With a breath to steady her hands, she focused on one of the tiny lights and squeezed off a shot. A silent flash of vaporization and the rock careened sideways into a minor planetoid. "This feels like a diversion."
"Ya think?" Falco flicked down his targeting eyepiece. "Boy, wish I was a psychic."
Her ears flicked back. "Just take them out before—"
"Drones!" Slippy seemed about to croak from surprise. "Fox, we have drones cutting into the Serenade's cargo bays! And ours!"
"Geez…" A few hundred meters above them, McCloud annihilated another group of targets. "Can you take care of it?"
"No! Maybe! I don't know!"
"Hey Slippy, ya know that trigger you installed that fires lasers?" Falco chuckled. "You should pull it."
"Very funny." Muzzle flashes lit the frog's flustered face.
"Krystal, leave the asteroids to Falco and me." Fox's Arwing pitched up into a U-turn. "Take care of those drones."
The vixen broke off, checked her radar, and burned back toward the Serenade. "I'm on it."
Not for the first time, Fox's voice softened: "Be careful."
She switched off her mic, sighed, and switched it back on. "Yes, sir."
The vulpine froze for a second in the HUD, then his face returned to a mask of concentration.
Falco grumbled at the Serenade. "And if ya look out yer port window, you'll see the saviors of Lylat riskin' their lives."
"Sensor recalibration complete!" Slippy croaked with pride. "Here it comes."
Krystal switched off her visual comm and focused on ducking asteroids. The white bulk of the cruise liner came into view. Dozens of red dots popped up on her radar, all clustered around the cruise liner. "Lovely…" Then dozens more appeared, then a few duplicates of the Serenade.
"They've got us jammed!" Slippy croaked in alarm. "Long-range comm inoperative—radar's down too!"
Fox gave a dark chuckle. "Pretty good tactics."
The frog swept up from under the belly of the Serenade. "Radar jamming is coming from the cruise ship!"
"Okay, so terrible tactics." McCloud growled. "Serenade, turn off your radar jammer. Now!"
"Negative, Star Fox One." With his lumbering ship at full burn, the Serenade captain sounded scared, but kept an iron grip on it. "Company policy—"
"They already know where we are. We need to know where they are." The vulpine's tone got harder. "Turn off the jammer."
"We'll do what we can." The captain breathed a haggard wheeze. "It automatically stays on for an hour."
Krystal could feel McCloud grit his teeth through the void of space between them. Clear of the field for the moment, she cut the engines and zoomed in with her eyepiece. The can-shaped drones gleamed in the docking lights of the Great Fox and, a ship's length away, the Serenade. Tiny torches arced into both sets of bay doors, sparks of molten metal flickering against the black depths. She decided to clear the ones on the luxury liner first, knowing their carrier had no one in the cargo hold to get blown into space, as well as nothing of value.
Clearing her mind, she locked the targeting reticle to each one in turn, unleashing a volley of plasma magnetically tuned to the bogeys. They popped with a crackle of static over the comm; the signature sound of a core breach.
Slippy's voice bounced into the channel. "Before the radar cut out, I detected at least a dozen drones, along with some kind of larger ship. All in poor repair and with Venom IDs."
Falco muttered: "We shoulda kicked Andross's monkey tail harder—left too much for these lowlifes to salvage." A light flared at the corner of her vision. He crowed a laugh. "I got the last one!"
"Great. Come help with mine." Fox hesitated then continued, softer: "Krystal, we're cleaning up the stragglers—"
"Hold still and let me shoot you!" Falco cried out in predatory glee.
"—you okay down there?"
The vixen squeezed off a few more shots, then watched as the final drones burst in clouds of pale fire. "Serenade bay doors clear."
"Slippy here, they're moving too fast! I keep hitting the Great Fox!"
Krystal rounded the gleaming hull of the Serenade of the Stars just in time to see the cargo doors of the Great Fox tumble off in silence. A rush of detritus billowed into space, peppered with barrels, crates, and spare parts. The drones wasted no time in snapping up whatever they could get their claws on and rocketing off. The swarm of little robots disappeared with their loot among the asteroids.
In his Arwing below her, Slippy watched in shock as a case of cream-filled snack cakes detonated and froze against his cockpit glass. "Uh-oh…"
Fox growled a little. "Slip, I get nervous when my mechanic says 'uh-oh'."
"Slippy's hit!" The frog squeaked in distress, his Arwing adrift. "I'm flying blind—frosting everywhere!"
Paws gripping the controls, the blue vixen plowed through the cloud of food wrappers, dust, and shed fur. "I'm chasing the drones that stole our cargo."
"Our cargo?!" The bird gave an indignant squawk.
A final burst of color glinted in her rear display. Fox gave a quick sigh and tried to keep his cool. "That should be the last of the asteroids. We're on the way."
"Understood." With a feather touch, she wedged a wing under the drone towing a water barrel, then jerked the joystick sideways and catapulted the machine out of sight. The freed barrel bumped against the underside of her fighter before she pitched the craft down to crush another drone, rescuing a fuel cell.
Ahead of her, the rest of the drones zipped off, some carrying blasters, others crates of ration packets, still others spare parts and tools. They seemed to be heading in a single direction.
A rust-red hulk emerged from behind a cluster of boulders. A line of drones paraded into large bay doors open along the keel.
At the prow, heavy guns aligned on her.
Plasma bolts streaked through space, searing, angry, and silent save for a hiss on the radio.
"Dang!" A quick double-tap of the thrusters kicked the ship into an aileron roll. The star field careened around her, followed by a scattering of deadly yellow light. When the ship stabilized, she felt obliged to be dizzy, but wasn't. Instead, she hit the boost, cruised under the ship's firing arc, and fired at its underbelly. "They've got a Sargasso battlecruiser!"
Her shots crackled along the energy shields. Diving for cover behind a ship-size boulder, she unleashed a few more shots, but to no avail.
As the last of the drone scooted aboard, the engines at the back of the craft glowed. A hum of energy translated over the comm.
Fox and Falco whipped around the last cluster of asteroids, weapons already charged. Volleys of green light rained down on the pirates, only to disburse along the shields. In the blink of an eye and with a flash from its hyperjump engines, the lumpy red craft streaked off into the depths of space.
As avian profanity echoed over the comm, Krystal tipped her head back against the neck supports, her fighter drifting among the rubble. Her breath caught up to her. She wasn't sure how long she'd been holding it. The feelings of the tourists returned too, more amused than before. The couple had finished their lovemaking, now laying in afterglow, oblivious to the battle outside.
On the control surface before her, the radar screens degaussed and just showed the Arwings, the Great Fox, and their clients, who had just now decided to stop jamming them.
~ ~ ~
Hours later, the team sat in the briefing room, surrounded by bare bulkheads, seated in scuffed chairs, and around a scored steel table. Several gaps remained where military tech had been pulled before the ship had been sold, dangling wires draped out like vines.
"We can replace what we lost." Fox scrolled through an inventory list of what they'd recovered. "Food, fuel, the spare targeting computer: mostly non-essential stuff."
"What'd ya mean 'non-essential'?" Falco pounded the briefing table. "Those suckers stole my feather mags!"
Fox looked at him with mild exasperation, Krystal with amusement, and Slippy with undiluted curiosity.
He spread his wings in aggravation. "They're literature!"
Tail swishing, the vixen said nothing and simply basked in the wave of embarrassment rolling of the falcon.
"Look Falco, I'm saying it could've been a lot worse."
"We shoulda boarded their ship." Feathers ruffled, he tapped a boot against the bulkhead. "Probably better than this rust bucket."
"Hey!" Slippy bounced in his chair. "It's not that bad."
The vulpine patted a paw on the table before Slippy to redirect the conversation. "Falco, where're ya going with this? How would we have boarded it?"
Falco grinned. He counted down the steps on his primary feathers. "Smart bomb their shields, fly in after the drones, storm the ship." He leaned back, wings behind his head. "Badda-bing badda-boom."
"Possible, but risky." Fox leaned in, his fingertips set on the steel table. "Problem one: taking an unknown ship with just our blasters. Two: the navy would impound it as evidence when we turned them over." His muzzle tilted out the porthole at the gleaming cruise liner. "Three: our reputation's the only reason we got the Serenade contract; we're not plundering in front of them."
"Okay, okay." He waved a wing. "So we keep the rust bucket for now."
The automatic door shuddered open, ROB clanked and clattered into the room. "Transmission from Serenade of the Stars: Please accept these buffet coupons as a token of our thanks." Paper vouchers printed from his chest on a narrow curl of paper.
"Hey look!" The avian tore the coupons free and slapped them onto the table. "That makes it all worthwhile."
"I'll take your ticket, Falco." The squat amphibian shrugged, chipper as ever. "I like their buffet."
He slid the coupons away. "Ya already licked all my snacks off your Arwing."
The frog blinked. "You said you didn't want them!"
With low whistle of resignation, Fox skimmed the inventory list, then tapped it on the table. "I think we're done here."
"Good." Falco stood and nibbled at a stray feather on his wrist. "I got other stuff goin' on today."
Toying with the beads in her hair, Krystal smirked. "Literary pursuits, I'm sure."
With a crass caw, he crossed his wings. "Like we don't know where yer staff's—"
McCloud shot him a serious glance, ears back.
His beak clacked shut.
While she hadn't liked where Falco had been going with that comment, having Fox save her like that brought out a tangle of emotions.
"I'll bill the client for our lost inventory." Fox pulled up some info on the display. "Just give me a total, Falco."
His beak opened to snark.
The vulpine flashed a toothy smile. "The real total."
Falco rolled his eyes, smoothed his crest, and stood up.
The robot clattered after him. "Do you want to play Gyromite?"
"No, ROB." Not looking back, the bird strode out of the briefing room.
It clanked down the hall beside him. "Do you want to play Stack-Up?"
"No!" His footsteps faded down the corridor. "I can't believe we lost an entire carrier and all those pieces for your stupid games survived."
"…Do you want to play Gyromite?" The door did not shut behind them.
Back at the briefing table, Slippy grabbed his buffet coupon and smiled a wide amphibian smile. With the slap of bare frog feet against the deck, he ambled off toward the hangar.
His departure left the vulpines alone together. Krystal resisted the urge to probe his feelings; it felt wrong somehow, like they'd lost that part of their connection. Instead, she cleared her throat. "Are you busy, Fox?"
"I just have to write up today's 'incident' and send it to our client. And to the Cornerian Navy." He looked up from the display pad. "Why?"
Her hand waved off his concern as she rose. "I'll find you when you're done."
His ears lifted. "How'll you know?"
With a pause at the doorway, she tapped her temple and pointed his way.
Fox gave a sheepish smile. "Right."
Rounding the corner, she stepped out into the corridors of the Great Fox II and followed the sound of Slippy's flippered feet to the hangar.
~ ~ ~
"While I'm doing Arwing maintenance, is there anything you want adjusted on yours?" Slippy donned his tool belt, which somehow made him look even shorter.
"Only the pilot." Krystal patted the side of the Cloud Runner. "Guess I'm still not used to flying without inertia. Are you sure you can't turn the G-diffuser down ten percent or so?"
"I don't know…" He waddled up, set a ladder against the Arwing, then looked at her with concern. "Fox would get pretty mad if I liquified your organs."
"I suppose I wouldn't be happy either." She rested her arm against the cool metal of the nosecone. "What was Fox like while I was gone?"
"He spent a lot of time in his quarters. Peppy thought he was crying. Falco thought he was masturbating." After pulling a panel from the side of Fox's craft, he thought for a moment, then shrugged. "I guess they could both be right."
Her tail swished. Small comfort for being kicked off the team, but at least she'd been missed. "Poor guy."
The frog touched a control surface behind the panel and frowned. He pulled the whole console free. "Sorry, was that too much information?"
"It's fine, just don't tell Fox."
"I think it's great you guys are back together. Or whatever you are." Trotting back to the workbench, he pulled a screwdriver from his belt and went to work. "Falco said it was stupid that you broke up without ever being together."
"For once, he and I agree."
"Me too." The frog's deft digits opened the console's case and unplugged a few wires. "Mammal reproduction is inefficient enough already."
The vixen chuckled. "I'm glad you stick to improving fighter efficiency."
"And I'm glad you're back with Star Fox." The frog grabbed another spanner, tightened something inside the case, then snapped it closed. "When we're an all-male team, I start to turn into the girl."
She patted his shoulder. "Oh Slippy, just because you're a sensitive soul…"
"No, I literally turn into a girl. It's an amphibian thing, to maintain breeding ability in a mono-gendered population." He tightened a final screw and turned the console over to admire his handiwork. "I try to avoid it; there's this weird transitional phase where I can't get anything done because of the hormones."
Krystal had absolutely nothing to say to that. She looked around. "My forced retirement got me thinking: have you boys ever thought what you'd do if you couldn't make ends meet? Even selling a run-down carrier would buy some nice houses."
"Fox mentioned that, but he's not sure what he'd do."
"Teach at the Flight Academy?"
Slippy shrugged. "Falco kept bringing up retiring to race those plasma-powered hovercars." He returned the console to its home panel. "But then Fox said something about a driver's license and Falco did that pouty thing where he pretends he isn't mad."
"I know what I'd do." He swung the panel shut and locked it. "Go back to working at my dad's lab. Purpose-built equipment, generous budget, full staff, nightcrawlers in the break room…"
"What keeps you here?"
"I don't want purpose-built equipment, a generous budget, or a full staff. Around here, I get to be creative with what I've got." Slippy licked a finger, then rubbed out a scuff on the fuselage. The scuff reacted a lot like freeze-dried banana frosting. The frog licked his finger again, then smiled over his shoulder at her. "Wouldn't turn down some nightcrawlers, though."
~ ~ ~
An hour or so later, Fox tidied his quarters, trying to settle his nerves. Regret clung like drag as he kicked a pile of red scarves into the closet. Part of him insisted he'd blown his shot with Krystal, but would she really come back just to make them both miserable? He'd never been an ace at reading people, but she threw him for a loop. Were all psychics this stoic? Biting his lip, he straightened the bedsheets, his whiskers, and some stacks of papers on the desk.
A tinny chime rung at his door.
He double-checked his fur in the mirror, then stood up straight while trying to seem relaxed. "Come in."
The door hissed open. The blue vixen stood in the doorway. She'd changed out of her flight suit, wearing the shorts, sandals, and modified vest that comprised her interpretation of the team uniform. The white patterns on her fur peeked, half hidden, from under the fabric. Those aqua eyes had a tighter lock on him than any targeting computer ever could. "Hey."
He swallowed, telling himself to calm down. They'd chatted in his room a hundred times, but not once not since she came back to the team. "Hey."
Her tail swayed as she slunk into the room, then brushed a deft paw over the door control. The metal plating slid in, scuffed grey against her vibrant form. An etched necklace and hairband glinted gold in the pale light. She let out an anxious breath. "A moment together at last."
An unsteady smile rose to his lips. "Oh… uh... yeah." Taking a seat on the bed, he gestured to the lone chair at his desk.
"You're looking good, Fox." The vixen sat and let her gaze linger on him. A moment later, she broke eye contact and curled that silky tail close to her body. Arms crossed, she nodded toward space. "Out there, I mean."
"You too." Heat rushed his ears. "I should've charged more for this contract."
"Defense and a show?" She crossed her ankles.
"They think we're miracle workers." Palms on the blankets behind him, the vulpine leaned back.
"As you said, we have a reputation."
McCloud glanced over to his case of medals, one of the few things mounted on his walls. Replicas, of course; the originals had gone down with the Great Fox I. "I wish our lives were simpler sometimes."
"I imagine most heroes do. For most Cornerians, though, you're forever frozen at the ceremony where you got your medals." She ran well-groomed claw tips down her exposed lower thigh. "Did you know there's a rumor the whole Star Fox team has artificial legs? That you had them removed to prevent you blacking out."
Fox nodded, his tail swishing over the bed. "Anyone who believes that needs to study up on G-diffusion."
"That's not why the rumor exists. It exists because people like the idea someone would do anything to protect them." Her muzzle inclined at the medal case. "People like heroes."
"I'd feel like more of a hero with my father's Great Fox." He looked around the metal box that served as his quarters. "And not scraping by from job to job."
"People are less enthusiastic about everyday heroics."
"I know, but I miss fighting monsters and tyrants; I almost feel sorry for crooks like we saw today." He nodded over his shoulder. "If my life had gone differently, I could be just as desperate."
"Everyone who fights is desperate for something, even if they don't know what it is."
"You're younger than I am." A genuine grin found Fox's muzzle. "How'd you find the time to get so wise?"
"When you can read everyone else's emotions, you either become a sage or a sociopath." She cocked her ears and lifted her chin. "You should be thankful I'm content with being wiser than you."
"I need that sometimes."
Slowly, she shook her head, the thin chains of her headband tinkling. "You need a kick in the tail sometimes."
"That too, especially since Peppy retired." He shrugged, then found himself caught in those teal eyes. A smirk crept to his lips. "About the tourists: they're treating our fighting off pirates as a stage show. We could always let them get kidnapped for ransom, then swoop in to save them. They'd appreciate us then."
Her tail relaxed, tracing the clean steel deck in amusement. "If we start counterfeiting heroism, we should just hang up our flight suits."
He shrugged. "What if we show them something really amazing, then? Something they didn't pay the tour company to show them?"
"You've always got a plan, haven't you?" With a light laugh, her sandals whispered to the floor. She glanced at the comm on her wrist. "I'd better go back to watching our client before they steer themselves into a star. I'll give some thought to what might impress them, though." She stood.
Fox got to his feet too. He thought about hugging her. They'd hugged before, but that was before he kicked her off the team. They'd hugged when he convinced her to come back, but that was a moment of wild emotions. "Krystal…"
She paused at the doorway.
He straightened, stiff as he'd been at Academy inspection. "It was good…us talking."
Her paw rose, then pulled back to guard her heart. She settled on a soft smile. "Yes." Her gaze met his. "It is." With the hiss of a door opening, the blue vulpine slipped out into the corridor.
Long after the door closed, long after her subtle scent faded from the air, Fox stood in the bare little room. His tail swayed above heavy flight boots. Life might be messy and unpredictable, but at least that meant he couldn't justify losing hope. And, as fighter pilots had known for centuries, despair meant certain failure, while hope gave you a shot.
Fox liked having a shot.
~ ~ ~
7 January 2014 at 08:42:31 MST
Krystal, again a member of Star Fox and hero of the Lylat System, now faces a more personal challenge: can she forgive Fox for forcing her off the team in the first place?
So I finally caved and wrote *Star Fox fanfiction. We all knew this would happen. X ) More chapters on the way!
Art: Zaush: (Used with permission.)
Edits: Slate, T-kay, Apollo, Flack, Sillyneko345, Anakuro
Proofs: Thefunkyone, Darkdragon452, Dracovar, Archaesophilia, Eljot