Chapter 3: Flying into a Trap
Fox had trouble sleeping that night. Flashes of his friends kept taunting him, the suffering they had endured now pressing heavily on his dreams. He hated himself a times and wanted to cry out in anguish. But what Peppy had said rang through him still, kept him calm. ‘The End’ had been so engraved in his mind he hadn’t believed there was still a choice left to him. But his dreams always led to those ominous letters chasing him down trying to crush him. But as the night progressed, sometimes they did crush him but other times he would triumph. The game was still anyone’s to play for and Fox found he was unwilling to accept this fate as final. He came through the night aged, but with a new resolve.
The next morning before he met with his friends in the conference room, he took a trip through the hangar to examine the Arwings from all those years ago. Pepper had done his best to keep them in good condition but measured up against Fox’s, which hadn’t aged a day Out of this Dimension, they were worn down by harsh battle and now disuse. Slippy’s was in the best state and it seemed he’d updated some of the technology over time, probably with whatever he’d salvaged over time. Peppy’s however was most changed. Much of its hull had been replaced with inferior metals, and what remained of the original build still carried the scorch marks of the blaze that had consumed the craft. Finally there was Falco’s, still largely the same as it had been ten years ago, but had faded in its disuse no longer the proud vehicle it had been on Corneria. He saw what his friends had dealt with through their Arwings, but one thing he knew for sure was that they were all still here in one way or another, and none had thrown in the towel yet.
“I want to find Falco,” Fox declared to the others. “I need to make sure he’s okay, I need to apologise to him too.” The other exchanged uneasy glances.
“Falco took your disappearance to heart Fox. Since then he’s not been as communicative with us as we’d hoped. I tell you we’ve tried but he’s shut himself off entirely. Finding him won’t be easy,” Peppy replied.
“Yeah nowadays he’s all like, “If I need you I’ll find you okay!”” Slippy added. Fox smiled a little.
“So at least one thing hasn’t changed; he’s still just as stubborn as ever!”
“Yeah, stubborn and really annoying,” Slippy added again.
“Annoying! He’d probably say the same thing about you Slippy,” Peppy chortled and for the moment the three friends found themselves comfortably in their former days together.
“We must be able to find him somehow. Do we not know the ship he’s flying these days?”
“He flies something new on every mission he goes out on, wants to avoid being tracked at all costs, by Andross and his employers.”
“Then he must have a base of some kind, he can’t be flying constantly can he!” Fox was resolute. “Maybe we could search for some of his employers and find out how they get in touch with him. It’s worth a try; surely he can’t hide forever!”
“Indeed Fox, nobody can hide forever, not even us,” Pepper joined the discussion for the first time this morning. Even the return of Fox McCloud couldn’t break the malaise he often found he sunk into. Andross had sieged everything so cleanly, he had failed so truly in his duty and these last ten years he’s simply spent waiting for his destruction to become absolute.
Fox remained unperturbed however and began to probe his friends for any more information they might have on Falco’s whereabouts. Little did he realise Falco was to come to them after all.
“General Pepper! This is Falco Lombardi calling in an emergency alert.” The group stood to attention as Falco’s image blew up on the communications panel. The signal was horribly scrambled making the pilot almost indistinguishable. But the voice on the other end could not be mistaken. “I might be a goner here but I needed to report to somebody before it was too late. Andross has some kind of energy building up on Macbeth. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen. He’s planning something big and… I needed to let you guys know.
“Falco what’s happening to you?” cried Peppy. It was clear he was under intense enemy fire.
“I’m sorry I couldn’t help. Good luck and keep safe.” A great field then engulfed Falco and the communication link was severed.
“Falco, this is Fox, come in Falco!” Fox knew his friend had gone silent but he couldn’t help himself calling out. Could Falco really be dead, just like that? Something told Fox that just wasn’t possible.
“I’m going to Macbeth!” he declared. “Falco’s in trouble and he needs help.”
“But Fox we don’t know whether Falco is still alive, it’s too much of a risk!” Pepper commanded though rather sheepishly in the wake of Fox’s furore.
“That was a tractor beam they unleashed on him, I’m sure of it. It looked like the same thing they tried on me in the Asteroid Belt. I can’t be certain but… it doesn’t seem like they’ve killed him just yet. I’ve got to help if that’s the case. I can’t abandon my friends again Pepper.”
“Then I’m c-c-coming with you Fox!” Slippy cried with more enthusiasm than he had mustered in years.
“You both be careful you hear me.” Peppy added. “And while you’re there, make sure you get a look at that energy brewing up on that planet. Falco wouldn’t have risked filling us in if it wasn’t important now.”
“Roger that!” Fox saluted his General and both he and Slippy made a dash down the corridor towards the hanger.
“And don’t damage my Arwings!”
The pair made another treacherous trip through the Awesome Black Hole and, with Slippy’s direction, found themselves on the outskirts of Sector Z. The area was however swarming with Andross’ fleets meaning Fox and Slippy had to proceed with as much caution as they could to avoid being spotted. Soon enough Macbeth was in their sights. Slippy however was feeling uneasy.
“It’s been really quiet Fox. I feel like we’ve made it here far too easy.”
“We’ll take every bonus we can get Slippy.”
“But something doesn’t feel right about this. We finally get you back and the very next day Falco contacts us and gets taken c-c-captive. It just feels wrong. Falco is usually way more careful than this. It feels as if we’re walking right into a trap here.”
“I know Slippy.” Fox conceded. “I’m just as cautious as you are.” They were now merely moments away from entering Macbeths’ atmosphere. After a geological event shrunk the planet’s core, Macbeth become a strangely hollow planet. Unfortunately back in the early days of this war, Andross capitalised on this aspect and began using it as a military stronghold to mass produce his weapons. Ten years had passed since then and rumours of the atrocities committed here had made it one of the most feared planets in the Lylat System. Chemical mutations, animal testing, Atomic explosions; the planet had been abused to such an extent it could no longer sustain its own life as it had once done. A ticking time bomb now, whatever business Falco had here it couldn’t have been any good.
The two Arwings began their descent towards the planet’s surface.
The clouds were thick with dust and fumes from the factories, which provided the perfect cover to fly in unnoticed, provided they weren’t picked up on radar immediately. As they descended strange eruptions of light pierced through the smog, and Fox and Slippy got their first taste of the kind of energy brewing within the shell of the planet. Using the last known co-ordinates of Falco’s ship they began to see the outline of a giant structure ahead. But as the fumes began to thin out a metal cannon flew between them both causing their Arwings to lurch horribly as it passed. However why they didn’t expect was the cannon to make a return journey and it swiped powerfully across Slippy’s hull. Thankfully the impact caused more surprise than damage and their course was retained as the smog began to get sucked behind the trajectory of the cannon. Directly ahead was a giant stronghold floating on multiple stumpy legs; several of these cannonballs swirling around a spire on its underside. Someone had been expecting them.
Without hesitation the machine flung itself through the air and was headed directly for them. Slippy pulled himself off to the side, while Fox dared a somersault to make some distance away from the thing. It crash landed with terrible force directly where the pair had been flying moments ago, and digging its many legs into the ground, kicked up a huge cloud of dust to blind the fighters once more. But almost as soon as it landed it leapt into the air again and Fox only narrowly avoided being crushed on the side of this thing as it crossed by him to land with another explosion of dust. Mid-flight it fired all of its cannonballs directly at Fox and he had to perform an accurately timed barrel roll just to avoid having his wings blown off by the impact. The stronghold began its battle tactic again as the cannons made their return journey and it became abundantly clear there was no pilot inside this thing; it was an automated craft, but the speed and ferocity which it launched itself at the pair was enough to cement it as a truly deadly foe.
“We have to stop it launching those cannons before one of us is smashed to pieces!”
“Don’t worry Fox, I’ve already analysed the thing, I’m sending the data to you now.” All kind of data suddenly appeared across Fox’s control panel, including its specifications with its weak points clearly highlighted for him. With a quick glance at all the data he realised the specifications on this new foe were unreal.
“How’d you do all this Slippy? And that thing, it’s so technically advanced! This reality is crazy!”
“The world didn’t stop t-t-turning for ten years Fox and technology has been moving with it! You worried you’re out of date perhaps?” Slippy returned and dived through the strongholds legs and straight towards the spire in its centre. With a sharp series of laser blasts he attacked the spire and took a huge chunk of power out of the machine’s armour. But he misjudged the machine’s position as it began to crash land directly towards him. He tried to get clear but a leg scraped against the side of his Arwing, taking a huge chunk of wing with it beneath it heel. Slippy began to spin out of control and for the moment he was alive but no longer in this battle.
“Not worried Slippy. It’s actually nice to have a challenge for once,” Fox said to himself. Flying blind as the dust covered his ship once more he waited for the burst of energy that would fire those cannonballs at him. It came, he caught where the dust became disturbed and as the cannons whizzed past his ship he threw a Nova Bomb into the fray. His aim rang true and with the explosion the returning balls flew far off course. As the smog began to be pulled back towards the machine he fired his lasers straight at the spire, breaking the core. “Got it” he cheered.
But as Fox flew from beneath its body, and the explosion began to engulf the machine, he realised its great body was poised on one final attack. Dragging itself towards Fox at an unmatched speed, it was determined to crush Fox before it fell apart entirely. Unable to escape he braced himself for the impact.
“Not today pal. Get a load of this!” Slippy had returned, flying directly towards the kamikaze attack with a new gun attachment poking out from above his cockpit. A sharp, booming noise erupted from the attachment and a long stream of laser was fired straight at the opposing ship. Slippy swiped the controls and the beam sliced across the bulk heading straight for Fox. The power broke the machine into two parts before it almost immediately exploded from the devastation of the attack. Fox darted side to side to avoid the smoking debris and soon enough the pair knew they had been victorious.
“Slippy Toad, you sure are full of surprises these days.” Fox was well and truly impressed with his friend.
“Hey Andross has been developing all kinds of new technology. Somebody has to try and keep up with him. Of course I haven’t used many of my new g-g-gadgets before, we usually avoid battle at all costs,” Slippy laughed.
“I never thought I’d say this but Slippy you might just be the most dangerous pilots in the entire Lylat System,” he replied only half joking.
With their way now clear they continued their search for Falco. But as they moved along more strange eruptions of light boomed out from the beneath the surface. “Fox my sensors indicate theirs only one source of organic life in the area. That must be Falco! If you head towards that hanger I have a good feeling you’ll find him there.”
“Where are you going Slippy?” Fox asked as his friend turned off course.
“I’ve got to check out this energy inside the planet. Something about it is making me really uneasy.” Fox wished his friend good luck and continued to where they believed Falco was being imprisoned.
A small hangar bay lay just ahead and he slowly fly his Arwing inside. Landing his ship he climbed out to begin his search on-foot. But after only a few steps the sound of a conveyor belt brought the hanger to live and Falco Lombardi was dragged into view hung up by chains and gagged. The falcon’s muffled gesticulations revealed that despite his situation he was certainly alive.
“Greetings Fox!” A voice boomed around him, Andross knew he was here. “You managed to hide from me for so many years. I commend you for your skill in cowardice. But I’ve finally found you prancing about an Asteroid Belt. You fools should have stayed hidden.”
“Andross! What have you done to Falco? Where are you? Come out of your hiding!” Fox cried.
“I don’t hide Fox, for I am in every part of this galaxy! And soon I’ll have the power to control any galaxy I desire.”
“What do you mean? Come out and face me!”
“All in due time Fox McCloud. But for now I’m pleased to invite you to witness the destruction of the last defence of Corneria! That whale won’t be able to protect Pepper from what I have planned.” With foreboding laughter, Andross’ transmission ended. Fox was struck cold. So cold in fact he failed to notice a furious heat overcome Falco. The need for his imprisonment ended, his chains were released remotely but without thinking he marched straight over to Fox and punched him square on the jaw.