The Catharpa Series Part One
by Björn Cole
A bright, red sun shone upon the beautiful world of Zoness. Gently rippling, blue-green waters lapped against white pebble beaches, and power boats cruised along, their pilots bouncing happily on the surf. The beach that the water licked belonged to a tropic island, with giant, shining buildings in the center, and recreation parks and beaches occupying the rest of the island. Multicolored sun worshipers lay on the ground, barely covered by their swimwear. All of the Lylat races frolicked and breathed the warm, lazy air: the Lizards, Lagomorphs (Rabbits), Lombardia (Avains), Primates and Canines.
Happily watching the play from his large, air-filled chair, sat a Canine, of the order Fox. Fox McCloud to be exact. He had traded in his large overcoat and flight suit for a pair of long swimming shorts, and held a large fruit drink in his hand. Beside him stood a large, golden trophy, which he lugged about for the last couple of days.
The trophy came from a flight tournament that Fox won a couple of days ago. He especially relished the victory because he pulled out a near defeat to vanquish his friend, Bill the Dog, in the final round. The prize wouldn’t be shown to Bill too many times, which would be tasteless, but Fox wouldn’t let his flying pal forget the match soon, either. A smile came from behind the juice drink’s straw.
Fox sat back and reflected on recent history some more. A year had passed since the war with Andross, which proved to be very short, but very intense. Some 30% of the adult population of Lylat had perished, with orphanages opening and filling in the same day. Many worlds, including Zoness were poisoned or nearly sterilized. The island that Fox relaxed in was one of the few that had been cleaned up and usable by living creatures. However, the water was rarely safe to swim in, and this was one of those rare days.
Other effects came into Fox’s mind. After the attack that Fox and his crew led, it took about two months to finish off the remaining resistance to Corneria. Most of that resistance came from rampant bio-weapons, which also caused a large portion of the fatalities. Luckily, most of the elite forces were wiped out by StarFox and other teams, so they didn’t pose much of a threat during the mop-up actions.
When peace finally settled, Fox went on vacation. The pay that StarFox received during and just after the war allowed him to pay off the rent that his father owed on Great Fox and his Arwings. In fact, the team had just upgrading to the new P-7 frame, with added reinforcement, shockwave dampeners, new G-Diffusers and myriad other new features. And they all had enhanced weapons systems.
General Pepper kept the StarFox team at work, though, putting down minor rebellions, repelling the few attack forces that constantly trickled out of Venom. Talk floated in the air about a possible strike to Venom, just to finish off the shadow of Andross’ attempt at twisted empire. Fox didn’t really care anymore, since most of the missions proved to be routine.
The only aftereffect of the war that puzzled Fox was Katt’s disappearance. Even when the headlines screamed about Corneria’s glorious victory, she failed to remain and celebrate. Instead, she opted to return straight away to her home star system, Issus. Fox knew that following her would involve a long trek, due to the fact that Cornerian interstellar technology existed in a primitive form. She, however, could travel between systems in a couple of weeks. It took Corneria months.
A heavy, white ball struck Fox in face. "Hey, Fox! Get off your duff and play some beach volleyball with us! We need a fourth guy," Falco said, retrieving the ball.
Slippy and Peppy also ran up. "Why so introspective, Fox?" Peppy questioned.
"Oh, nothing. Let’s go play some V-ball. Maybe Slippy can block a spike with something besides his head this time."
"Thanks a lot, Fox."
For the first time in several months, Fox awoke in the middle of the night. His eyes shot open, and he could feel his entire body pulsing along with his forceful heart. He knew that he had to walk this dream off. The disgusting feel of cooling sweat marked the peeling of his back from the bed. He slid into his robe, but not before using a towel to soak up some of the sweat from his body.
His pupils constricted painfully from the light of the Great Fox bridge, as he stumbled along to the captain’s chair. "Late night?" ROB-64 mechanically intoned.
"Yeah, you could say that," Fox said, noticing the high tremble in his voice. "Maybe if you would get some coffee or something..."
The dream pounded back into Fox’s head, despite his efforts to block it out. He found himself on the bridge of Great Fox, watching the StarWolf team close in for an attack. Gallantly, he rushed to his P-7 fighter, and flew out into space. He saw Wolf, Leon the Chameleon, and Pigma Dengar all laughing at him cruelly. The P-7 dodged the enemy attack beautifully, and a Concussion (much better than Shockwave from StarFox 64) bomb destroyed them all at the touch of a button. Fox felt a victorious surge of energy travel through his spine. Maybe he had mastered this dream.
Then, in a new Wolfen fighter, nearly equal to his own P-7, blasted out of hyperspace, charging Fox. Fox dived, dodged, counter and spun, nearly at an equal match with this phantom pilot. Finally, he succumbed to the phantom pilot’s power, and crashed down. He fell through an empty void, losing all feeling of gravity, even as it conquered him. He fell, down, down and down into an endless, black shaft.
Then, a giant white glove caught him. Fox looked up, and saw that the attached body belonged to Katt. She smiled at him, then curled her hand into a fist, and hurled him into a strange world. There, he saw his father, James McCloud, being held in a strangle hold by Andross, and finally, both of them being flung into the sun of Lylat, Solar. Finally he challenged a taunting, black face.
"Fox, you have failed! Failed your family by allowing your father to travel to Venom alone. Failed by allowing him to leave on his own again. Who knows what is happening to him? Or do you care?"
"That’s a lie! I lived for my family!"
"And they died for you!"
A white flash launched Fox back onto the Great Fox bridge, breathing heavily. A second coat of sweat now covered his body, and ROB-64 had returned. "Maybe you don’t need the coffee, Fox," his tinny voice came.
"Whoever programmed you really did a helluva job on your sense of humor, did you know that?"
"Why thank you, Fox," he extended the coffee.
"Never mind," groaning from between sips.
Oddly enough, the coffee helped settle Fox into sleep. In fact, it worked so well that most of the StarFox crew had dressed and eaten before they noticed him, collapsed in the captain’s chair. "Must’ve been a bad night," Peppy said. "Let’s let him sleep in while he still can. He usually gets this dreams for weeks on end."
"Amen to that," Falco said, while he slurped the strong, but tasty coffee brew. "Good coffee today, ROB. Better remember the way you made this batch."
"File saved to memory."
"Oh, and add about a spoonful of sugar and another spoonful of caramel extract to each cup, will you?"
"Revision saved to memory."
"You’re a doll that way."
"Automaton to be exact."
Falco decided to walk away from that conversation. "Well, Slippy, what’s on our day planner for today?"
"I dunno. I’m an engineer, not a secretary. Pepper advised me to start outfitting the Arwings again, though. I have a feeling that the Venom strike rumor may be true."
As if by cue, Pepper’s canine visage crackled onto the bridge’s viewscreen. "StarFox, I have a mission for you. Where’s Fox?"
Falco gave the team leader a good jolt with his elbow. Fox jumped up, dark-eyed with hair mussed and in a slovenly robe. "Love call for you."
Fox saw Pepper through his temporary cataracts. "Hello, sir. I apologize for the appearance."
"Shouldn’t a guy like you be awake by now?"
"Bad dream, sir. Anyway, what’s the mission?"
"I want you and the StarFox team to investigate Venom. It’s weird over there. Andross is gone and the reptilian race on Venom released, but forces are still coming to and fro. It seems like lots of technical data from Andross’ archives has vanished as well. And to top that all off, there are rumors of StarWolf still hanging around. I want you to disperse that."
"Yes, sir. We’ll take care of it." After the viewscreen went blank, Fox motioned to ROB-64. "Prepare for hyperspace jump. The rest of you, let’s get ready to fight again. Vacation’s over."
After a joking group of groans, Fox moved off to the shower.
Falco lead Fox onto the Great Fox bridge, overlooking the Great Z phenomenon. "I’ve seen this before, Falco. Why did we slow down before we reached Venom?"
"Oh, I needed you to help us with something. Even Slippy can’t figure it out. We can’t identify this ship on the radar screen."
Great, groaned Fox inwardly. Just what they didn’t need was an unknown fighter coming at them. Or worse, perhaps it was the dark warrior in his dream. His teeth clenched as he concentrated on the task of identifying the ship. "Did you try the Bolse technique on it?"
"We tried, but it’s at closer range now. Maybe it’ll work this time."
Fox powered up the laser pods. The trick to the Bolse technique was to hit the ship’s shields at just the right frequency and power. Not enough to make the attack show up, but enough to get a definite ripple pattern from the shields as they absorbed the shot. The return readings didn’t quite make sense. "ROB, get me the shield patterns of all ships we or anything on Corneria has contacted."
The results came in loud and clear. The ship was a custom job, only present at Great Fox a few times. Fox’s spirits soared as the recognition struck him. The Catspaw. At that moment, the viewscreen changed. "Bolse technique, eh, tiger? I was expecting that." It was Katt! "Getting lonesome out there, Fox?"
"Hey, Katt, come on in. We’re about to go to Venom."
"I guess I need some target practice. Things have been pretty quiet in Issus... But, something tells me that you need my help. And soon."
"I don’t know what you mean, since this is a routine mission, but I’d be glad for your help." And your presence, Fox noted. For some odd reason, Katt had been attracted to Fox almost the moment they met, but she left soon after, during the StarFox Charge. He knew that her feelings were mutual, and she probably knew, but she left nonetheless. Hopefully, she’d stick around this time.
Soon after, the StarFox team and Katt were whisking over the surface of Venom, moving for the main information complex. "This is Fox McCloud of Corneria. By Section 3.9.2. of the Oikonny Treaty, I order you to stand down all weapons and give us full access to this site."
"Thiissss isssss SSSSlither SSSerpentaaa." Peppy instantly recognized that voice. It was the voice of the snake creature that had helped him to escape from Venom over a year ago. "Yooouu have permisssion to land, SSStarFoxxx."
As soon as the landed, Peppy burst from his Arwing, and threw his arms around the serpentine creature. "Slither! You’ve been one of the most important people in my life, and I’ve never known your name! How are you, now that your people are free?"
"It will be a long time befffore we are fffreee, Peppy Hare. But it issss far more bearable than when Androssss ruled thiss world." Peppy could almost detect a terrible sadness in the reptile’s voice. Perhaps Andross’ damage ran extremely deep on this world. He had obviously looted from its best treasures while he built up his army: warriors, metals, fuel, and money. Even freed, this world’s government and economy must be in shambles.
"Can you give us a tour of this place?" Peppy asked.
"But of coursssse. Anything for the sssavior of Venom."
As the tour got underway, Peppy and the rest soon filtered out the hissing from the snake. "As you all can see here, this is the information center of Venom, with all of the secret technologies created and maintained by Andross, when he was still here. Some of this stuff could be sold to Corneria as civilian technology, but it’s all disappearing. Corneria’s top data experts are trying to figure who or what is swiping these specs." Even as he spoke, several mammalian workers from Corneria walked about with clipboards and white coats.
Fox dug his hands into his pockets as Slither continued his speech. He figured that only Slippy, and possibly Peppy, would be interested at this point. A thumb jerk from him drew the attention of Falco and Katt, and they walked off to another part of the data complex.
"What do you think about this, guys?" Fox said.
Katt answered, "Probably some forgotten faction of Andross’ forces trying to make a grab for power. Maybe he just wants the cash, since a lot of those fighter designs are far cheaper to build than ours. Maybe Andross’ brain-dead nephew Andrew is trying to build up power again."
Falco added, "Either that or the natives," pointing to Slither, "just want to scare up some more cash from us. Can’t really blame ‘em, though."
Fox pointed to a lit door. "If I remember right, there’s a balcony that overlooks the main research lab. Maybe someone’s working on a new fighter."
Katt walked closer to Fox, "I’m in, how ‘bout you Falco?"
"Sure." But if they looked behind them, they’d notice Falco bouncing his head back in forth, mouthing, "I’m in, how ‘bout you Falco," then grunting.
The trio walked onto a wide catwalk, which overlooked a stainless steel and linoleum lab. Lights, meters and transistors sparked and danced, waiting for laboratory workers to give them commands. To Fox, it was a sad sight, indicative of a thriving area collapsing into a ghost town. Only a couple of lab techs walked about, mostly trying to extract the few remaining secrets in the computers. It would probably be a few more years before any original science would again come from Venom.
"Let’s see what those two are up to," Katt said, pulling slightly on Fox’s arm. Falco walked along just behind.
On the wall stood a lever marked, "Pull to lower power lift." Falco took a firm grip, and jerked downward. Gears ground beneath them, but nothing happened. "The lift must be coming up," Fox said.
"Or broken," Falco amended.
A loud bang shot out from beneath them, and Fox swore that something struck his heel. The floor beneath the three fell out, leaving a six foot square hole, and funneled them into a chute. Light vanished, and gravity seemed to fail to hold them. But it returned when they all landed with a crash. "What the hell was that?" Falco shouted. "There must have been explosive heads on the floor bolts!" Another pair of cries came from above, and Slippy and Peppy fell onto the three.
"It’s nice to have the entire StarFox team together again!" an unfamiliar voice squealed.
"Who are you?"
"Greetings. I am Werdan the Great, heir to Andross’ throne! And I shall do what he could not. Finish the StarFox crew! Andross built many an underground complex to each of his buildings. This information facility doubles as a prison, population five."
Fox pulled a thick glove from a pocket on his overcoat. Donning it, he pressed a button in the palm, and long, diamond-tipped claws extended from it. "We’ll be out in now time, Werdan the Fool!" A door with bars stood just to his left. He charged it, slashing with the claw. But, when it hit the bar, a powerful current shot through his arm. After landing on his posterior, he slashed at a nearby wall, with the same result.
A week passed for the StarFox team in the prison. The others, including Katt, had gone into a kind of passive percolate. Fox, however, fought at every chance that he got. It became so bad in the last day that he was to be restrained every time the guard brought food or water around for the prisoners. He tried to steal forks, spoons, anything that he could turn into a weapon. But he knew exactly what he was doing.
A guard came around this time with a slimy stew and a glass of water. "It’s about time for your two-day progress report to Pepper," the ape said. Fox growled and lunged towards the guard in an animal way, straining against the shackles. "And we have the usually degressive behavior from the leader of StarFox, am I correct?"
"Totally!" Fox shouted, pulling extra hard on the shackles. The corroded metal, chipped away with continual strain, broke free. Fox swung the chains about, trying to strike the guard, who nimbly dodged about. Finally, the guard slammed Fox up against the wall, knocking the wind from him.
Katt jumped into action, flying into the air and wrapping her legs around the guard’s head. Falco wound up and slugged the guard in the gut repeatedly. As the guard slowly lost consciousness, Peppy slammed both of his fists into the base of guard’s neck, after Katt leapt away. The guard landed with an ungraceful thud.
"Would you like a hand with those?" Katt asked Fox.
Katt pulled the claw glove from Fox’s pocket, and slashed the chains away from the manacles. "Those will have to stay for now."
The StarFox team walked briskly along the main hallway of the cell block. The hall extended for at least a half a mile, with four levels of cells along its entire length. Fox heard that this place had about three blocks, all of this size or greater. Andross must have been able to hold more than a million prisoners during the height of the war. But this pathetic dictator could scarcely hold five for an extended period.
The hall stopped suddenly. Apparently, a secret code was needed to unseal the door, so that it couldn’t even be pried open. "Hey! Look at this, Fox!" Peppy shouted. "There is a handle on this little crawlspace here."
The door opened to reveal a chute that lead to a launch bay, and held the P-7 fighters in it. "This was an incredibly easy escape," Slippy remarked, "All we have to do is—" Just as he opened his mouth, Slippy saw a flame shoot across the passageway.
"Just time the flames, guys," Fox said. Another flame blasted across. "One one thousand." Flame. "One one thousand, two one thousand." Flame. Then a 3-count, then a 5, and a 7. Finally, there was a one second gap. "They’re prime numbers. Follow me." After the 5-second pause and flame, Fox quickly crawled through, pulling Katt and Peppy with. Then they waited for the next 5-second gap and jerked the other two across. "You’re right, Slippy, it’s too easy...."
The P-7's flew out of orbit at high speed. "There’s a secondary outpost by the old Area 6, where some more information could be. Katt, we need you to take your ship over to Corneria’s laboratories. See if Arspace Industries can adapt its hyperdrive to our Arwings. I have a feeling we’ll need it, just call it a hunch..."
"Aye aye, Captain," she said, with a hint of frost to her voice.
"Now, look," Fox said to the others. "This Werdan doesn’t seem smart enough to raid the other complexes. We’ll probably be able to get some much needed information here."
Area 6 wasn’t an extremely long flight, perhaps a couple of hours. A few large motherships remained in inactive sentry. No fighters patrolled the area, and Fox couldn’t detect any deflector shields or scrambling devices. "It looks mighty clear around here, guys. Let’s download the data cores and get out of here. ROB, hack into their systems and pull us some info."
"Acknowledged. Bypassing computer security and establishing override command shell. Downloading files into data bank."
"He took the bait, quite nicely, wouldn’t you say?" came over Fox’s intercom. Wolf O’Donnell’s voice....
"I would say so, yes!" Andrew gloated. "StarWolf team, attack!"
Four Wolfen 3 fighters flew out from behind a mothership, the rough equals to the P-6 Arwing.
"Falco, take on Andrew! I’ve got Wolf...."
Fox pulled in behind Wolf, who taunted the StarFox leader over the radio. Fox fired a salvo of hyper lasers, which bounced away from the ship’s G-Diffusers. Okay, so Wolf wants to play it rough. Fox charged the Wolfen, hitting the new power boosters to get nice and close. Wolf flipped around and behind, taking advantage of Fox’s temporary loss of ability to boost (it has to do with charging up an extra plasma reserve in the fighter’s engines). Only Fox’s barrel rolling G-Diffuser kept his ship from taking damage.
Fox took a quick glance at his teammates as he dodge. Falco made a somersault in front of Wolf O’Donnell, who failed to follow. He also failed to whip out the G-Diffuser when Falco shot him down. The radio crackled, "Noooooooo!" then the sound exploded, and dwindled into nothingness.
Fox jerked his mind back to the pain to his rear, which continued to follow, barely missing with his laser fire. A cloud of luminescent gas fluttered up ahead, giving him an idea. He dove into the cloud, weaving about so that Wolf would lose him. "Now to go nail him," Fox murmured to himself. The Wolfen flew straight at him, strafing. Fox rolled and swerved to dodge, but the Wolfen’s sharp point tore the Arwing’s wing straight off. With it went the hyper lasers.
"Damn!" Fox punched the P-7's inner wall. I wonder how many dings Slippy has to pound out, flashed through his mind. Wolf closed in fast, and Fox knew that the G-Diffuser’s power had been severely crippled. Fox flipped a fail safe cover open, pushing the red button inside. "Impulse Drive engines may cause plasma engines to overload in two minutes."
"Do it!" Fox shouted. He hit the boost, flying away from Wolf, and headed straight for a mothership. "Got to time this just right." He pulled under one, then, deactivated the impulse drive while he pulled off a 180-flip. Wolf closed in at full speed, perfectly willing to go through Fox, who had pulled right in front of the mothership.
Fox opened fire on the cockpit of the ship, sending light beams everywhere. He pulled up and out of Wolf’s way, sending the Wolfen fighter straight into the mothership. Actually, the fighter only made it about ten meters into the mothership’s hull before exploding. "I’ll get you, StarFox!" he shouted as his ship exploded.
Fox sat in his Arwing, staring out into space, not heeding any of his wingmen’s calls. He checked his scanners and realized something. This StarWolf team had been a fake, mere robots! Obviously this Werdan hid behind the shadow of Andross’ rule and power. But somehow, he felt that Andross was still alive, somewhere....
A flash of light struck Fox’s eyes, propelling him into a semi dream state. He saw his father, James, flying away from him at Venom. Why? Then, he saw his father in Andross’ grip once again. He beat unsuccessfully at the bloated ape Andross. Andross merely smacked him aside, into another plane of his dream. That same shadow figure taunted him once again. "I lived for my father!" Fox protested the shadow’s unspoken accusation.
"And he died for you!"
Another flash hit his eyes. Fox clenched his teeth to fight the mental assault, but he knew what he had to do. "Open up those data cores, ROB, and see if you can locate Andross!"