The Catharpa Series Part Five
by Björn Cole
Fox McCloud sat in his captain’s chair aboard the Great Fox, gazing into Lylat space. The Great Fox stood guard on the Venom side of the Lylat system, waiting for Andross’ Catharpian attack fleet to come in. Even now, Fox could almost feel the poisonous vapors warm the sides of the star destroyer. In a poignant flash, he thought of his father, suffocating and waiting to perish in Andross’ hands. Was the escaping Arwing that led him out of Andross’ exploding complex really his father, or another of Andross’ perverted illusions?
Fox had an unfamiliar crew aboard his ship, since the other members of StarFox had been assigned duty elsewhere by General Pepper. However, he did know the commander fairly well. "How’s it going, Captain?" Katt asked from over his shoulder.
"Just thinking. Nothing’s more boring than waiting for an assault fleet to exit a three-day, at the least, Quantum Jump. We should have gone back to Atzerri to make sure of Andross’ attack plans."
"We’re stuck now, tiger." Katt sat down beside him. "Mind if I share the seat?"
The Intimidator’s Stasis field broke off about two hours before the Quantum Jump would end. Andross had planned it that way, and called all of his generals to him. "Since we easily outnumber the Lylat forces, we have the opportunity to send out a feint attack that is powerful enough to crush the real Lylat defenses. I want you to take about a third of our forces to meet the Cornerian defense band that is adrift near Aquas and Sector Z. There are token resistance forces around the rest of Lylat, and I will bet that StarFox is planning to go where most of us are.
"You have your orders. Awaken and debrief your troops by a secure comm channel."
The four Atzerri generals, including Diono, the phony rebel leader, marched out of the war room. Wolf, Leon, and Pigma entered the war room afterwards. "Alright, Andross, what’s the game plan?"
"I’m taking you with me to the main attack. You will link up with my nephew and his attack forces to take down StarFox. He has been training all of them in the procedures of forming a Psychic Projector array, from which I will be able to devastate the minds of the StarFox team. Except for Fox himself and probably that annoying Katt. They are both powerful enough to block these nightmares out, but they will be incapacitated enough for you to bring them aboard the Intimidator. Leave the others for dead."
"Excellent," Wolf grinned.
Fox and Katt flew side by side, both in P-7 Arwings. "How does it fly, Katt?"
"Not quite like the Catspaw, but it’s rather nice. I might keep this."
"Let’s try a hard right somersault." Katt amazed Fox with her close following distance. She turned out to be quite a fast learner. She had only been working with the Arwing for the last couple of days.
"Um, Fox, is this 3-dimensional or 2-dimensional radar?"
"Because it looks like an attack force is coming from Venom."
The comm crackled with another voice. "Hello, Fox McCloud. Who’s your new student? That lovely Katt that you’ve taken to?" It was a whiny, primate voice. Andrew.
"Hey, Andrew. What rock have you been hiding under?"
"Just the crown of Werdan the Great. You should see my training school. Enough alumni to take out Lylat."
Werdan’s never brave enough to attack on his own, Fox thought. Uncle Andross must be planning to help him out. Fox switched to a secured channel. "StarFox team! Converge on our position. Andrew is at Venom, and I’m sure Andross is coming behind him."
Falco responded, "StarFox team is incoming. Engaging emergency Quantum Jump."
"What is that?" Katt asked, pointing.
On the edge of Venom’s sickening atmosphere, Fox made out an almost human shape. His vision blurred and he feared another one of those visions. "You damned shadow," he growled over the comm, "how long will you torment me?"
Andrew cackled. "You damned fool," he said in a mocking version of Fox’s growl. "I see that my uncle’s mind tampering has been taking effect. You’re almost crazy now."
Instead of a haunting image of Fox’s father, a giant robot flew out of the darkness. It was just like the silver space knight that Fox fought on Sector Y. "You can’t even fly a Wolfen right. What makes you think that you can beat me with one of those things?"
To demonstrate that, Andrew bounced a laser shot off of Fox’s G-Diffuser pod. The Arwing rattled quietly and a soft voice said, "G-Diffuser power down to 30%. Insufficient power to shield from aggressor’s laser blasts." Great, Fox thought.
"My turn," he grunted, charging the space knight with a salvo of hyper laser blasts. Andrew threw his shield into their path, then sidestepped the Arwing and kicked it under the fuselage. Fox’s body slammed against the harness. The Arwing flew upward and pitched around for a couple of seconds, until Fox could muscle it into control. A couple of laser shots ricocheted off of Fox’s feeble G-Diffuser system.
"Katt," Fox said over the com, "Let’s try buzzing him from both directions." Fox pulled a 180 flip and steered for Andrew’s head. Katt aimed for the same area. At the last second, Andrew ducked out of the way, sending the hyper laser blasts into the wings of both the space fighters. Both began to slowly drift in space, crippled beyond the automatic repair system.
Fox switched to Katt’s emergency channel. "We can only play possum right now. Let’s wait for StarFox to show up. In the meanwhile, see if you can do emergency repairs from in here. For now, we’re sitting ducks."
Falco Lombardi flew at full speed about one hundred million miles out from Venom. Behind him trailed the rest of the StarFox team. On the emergency channel, Fox’s signal to Katt barely broke through. "Space Knight . . . new design . . . we’re sitting ducks."
Falco smashed his fist into an Arwing panel. "Terrific. Our great leader is down behind enemy lines again." Falco’s radar alarm went off, and the display become one giant blip. "And if things couldn’t get any worse. Andross seems to be right on top of us. Prepare to engage the enemy. We don’t have much other choice . . ."
Aboard the Intimidator, Diono and the other Atzerri generals stood around Andross, planning for the final attack. "Our secondary attack is nicely wiping out the Cornerian defensive forces." He grinned wickedly, which was becoming quite usual. "We will be able to smash this pathetic system with ease, under the sheer weight of our numbers."
Diono protested, "But that will result in many unnecessary deaths, my Liege. Shouldn’t we attempt a more tactical approach?"
"I tried tactics when I went to liberate this system of its stupidity before. I had a superiority of numbers when Pepper defeated me. Now, his army will simply perish. My only tactics will be to unleash my space-born bioweapons when I get the chance."
"Andross, I will take up the cause of commanding the forces, just enough to make the fight less risky for our troops."
"Correction: Your troops. And any meddling beyond allowing them to fight will weaken us. We have the advantage, so let’s not waste it on foolish ideas about limiting losses."
"It is folly to waste so much in such a simple fight."
"If you speak to me that way again, I will strike you down where you stand."
Diono, as did other Atzerri, had a unique ability to feel the life energy being radiated from the people around him. For a few seconds, he felt that Wolf O’Donnell approached him, preparing to strike his back. When the fatal blow came, Diono dodged away, snagged Wolf’s wrist, and ripped his laser sword away from him. He waved it about, challenging Andross. "Now, would you strike an armed man? One that could fight you back?"
"Why not, fool? I have time for a little blood warming exercise." Diono charged, slashing wildly with the laser blade, missing Andross every time. Finally, he connected, but Andross didn’t even flinch.
"You fight dirty, Andross!"
"You were my general for over six months, and you didn’t know that yet? You truly are a fool."
With a flick of the wrist, Diono spun and hurled the sword at the power controls for the forcefield.
"And I know how to equalize an advantage." Diono jumped on top of Andross, trying to pound the primate’s face with a bulky fist. Andross rolled over and picked Diono up by the front of his cloak.
"I know how to make the opposition . . . disappear." Andross squeezed Diono’s neck, with blue energy streaks climbing up his arms. The sound of a plasma engine warming up echoed through the room, and Diono began to hyperventilate. He tried to gasp something, but his wrinkled lips began to flap freely. His entire body became spastic and began to glow. With a final shriek, his entire body ignited into a flash of light, then died down. Andross laughed evilly, then turned to his generals. "Does anybody else dare to question me?"
"I’ve worked out a solution," Fox breathed to Katt. "I think I can beam the components we need for an auto repair to the needed areas of our Arwings from Andrew’s Space Knight. The only problem is that we also need to divert his shield power." Andrew’s Knight suit floated in space, holding a giant gun to Fox’s Arwing. It also floated in front of Katt’s Arwing.
"I think I can get a Concussion Bomb off. How would that be?"
"Excellent. As soon as the blast is over, initiate the sequence that I’m transmitting over to you. We’ll have to jettison the wings and fly with the back-up wing stubs. Then, we have to move for the Intimidator and stop this war at the source."
Fox switched to a "secure" channel (which he knew that Andross had cracked) and spoke to Katt. "Alright, Katt, I think I’ve got my Arwing working again. But I’ve only got a few shots of laser power left. I’ll have to bluff my way past him."
Andrew’s gun leveled on the front of the Arwing. In that second, Katt launched a powerful scarlet bomb at Andrew’s back, draining the shield’s power. The Knight spun towards Katt, preparing to fire. Katt began to type rapidly, following the instructions that flowed into her communications channel. Just before the gun launched its deadly projectile, the Knight froze up and began to convulse.
"Plasma engines are back on-line! Get out of here NOW!" Both Arwings flew away from the exploding Space Knight, but their power supplies were drained. Fox spoke to Katt after a few moments of silence, "We’ll have to stay low and let our plasma reactors recharge the ship. Something tells me that we had a power leak while Andrew was gloating."
The primary force of the Cornerian army had been shifted by General Pepper to cover the Venom side of Lylat, with a feint defense to try and block the feint offense. Luckily, the StarFox team gave Pepper enough time to construct some defense satellites and defense stations to make up for the lack of manpower. Meanwhile, the StarFox team had another miracle to work: getting to the Intimidator.
Falco Lombardi spearheaded the attack, helped by a few other squadrons. "Omega flight, this is flight group leader. All Squadrons, check in."
"Red Squadron of Six, present."
"Blue Squadron of Seven, present."
"Yellow Squadron of Six, present."
"Silver Squadron of Five, present."
"And this is StarFox Squadron of Three, present," Falco concluded. "We have only one objective, guys. We have to punch a hole to the Intimidator and bring it down. It looks a bit too quiet, though . . ."
"Silver Leader reporting, sir. There appears to be a few Battle Saucers ahead. Several star fighters, Invader and Wolfen class in the area, sir."
"That must be the doorway. Let’s hit it hard!"
Peppy charged to the front, leading the assault with a well-placed Concussion Bomb, scattering the star fighters, which broke up to take on the few Cornerian fighters. Falco instantly found a ship behind him, but heard Slippy bleating over the radio, "I’ve got an entire squadron on my back, I can’t get loose!" Slippy’s shields were obviously failing. Spinning his G-Diffuser the entire way, Falco flipped the Arwing over to see Slippy, and hit the turbo boost to catch up.
"Let’s see how these Photon Bombs work." A blue ball of light formed on the Arwing’s nose, and Falco waited for the target lock. Now, just a couple more seconds while they form up . . . a couple more . . .
"Just fire the damn bomb, Falco!" Slippy shouted. The ball flew away, tracking the center of the squadron on Slippy’s back. With a brilliant explosion, all five fell into a fiery ball. Falco pulled a tight somersault, then blasted the fighter on his back into hot slag.
"This is Red Leader! We have a problem here!"
"We’re way deeper in enemy territory than we thought. They’ve got us pincered—" Static.
Katt and Fox’s Arwings refused to build power, reducing them to a very low travel speed. "At this rate, it’ll take us three months, just to return to Venom," Fox said from the back of his Arwing. In a dangerous move, he had taken the spacesuit from his emergency ejection seat (basically a bubble that shrink-wrapped to its passenger) and began to work on the plasma drive. The radiation alone could kill him swiftly if he opened the drive compartment too far. "These power conduits look almost totally slagged. I’m surprised that the engine worked at all."
Katt replied, "Fox, we have a little company!" Fox looked up, and saw three Wolfen fighters descending on their position.
"Damn it," he muttered, "what a time to be caught by StarWolf." Fox resealed the drive, then scurried back to the cockpit. "But if StarWolf wants a fight, I’ll be glad to oblige."
"Don’t worry about that, Fox," Wolf O’Donnell sneered. "I just want to take you for a ride. And from the looks of your plasma drive, you’re in no position to argue."