Authorís note: China Hartz is an original character, created by myself. If you wish to use her in a story, please ask my permission first. Thank you.
ìFox! Bogie on your tail!î
Fox McCloud glanced down at his radar screen, which was blinking a warning. He pulled back on the stick in his Arwing fighter and performed a summersault, dropping down behind the intruder. One crippling shot to the engine brought the enemy down with a crash.
ìThanks Peppy, I guess I didnít realize he was there.î Fox said with a sigh.
ìDonít mention it Fox.î Peppy tossed a worried look in Foxís direction, which of course he couldnít see.
It had been nearly three months since Androssís defeat, but still things seemed as they were before. Those who had been loyal to Andross still made chaos in his honor, including the Starwolf team. Andross had been defeated, and was now serving time in the fiery depths of Hell... Or so Fox hoped. Fox McCloud, leader of the Starfox team, and the one who had defeated Andross, didnít seem as happy as he should, or as alert as he might be. Ever since death of his archenemy, something had been bothering him, and Peppy knew it. Peppy had known Fox since he was a pup, and could read his emotions like a book, as he could with Foxís father, James McCloud. Of course, it didnít hurt that Peppy had mild, telepathic powers. That is, he could read or feel thoughts or emotions without having to see or hear them. But Peppy didnít need those powers to know that something was troubling his leader; but he didnít know if there was anything he could do.
ìFox, donít look now, but guess whoís coming in on radar.î Slippy Toad warned as Fox looked down to see four white blips, shaped like class two Wolfen fighters, heading in their direction.
ìOh no.î Fox sighed, irritated.
ìOh yes!î A harsh voice with a familiar accent chimed in, as the image of a rugged grey wolf, wearing an eye patch on his left eye, appeared on Foxís com-link screen. ìStarting the party without us McCloud?î
ìYou werenít invited!î Said Falco Lombardi. ìBut weíll be happy to take you down anyway!î
ìAllow us! You cocky menace to society!î Leon Powalski laughed as he dropped down behind Falcoís Arwing. Falco performed summersault after summersault, U-turn after U-turn, but still couldnít shake the crafty chameleon off his six.
ìShoot! Heís right behind me!î Falco yelled in alarm. Fox dropped his pursuit on Wolf and turned to help his wingman.
ìOh no you donít!î Wolf called as he followed in direct pursuit of his enemy. Fox pulled a last minute loop, catching his pursuer off guard. Wolf broke away, buying Fox just enough time to help Falco. He caught Leon from behind, clipping his wing with a laser shot, forcing Leon to break away from Falcoís six.
ìI guess I should be thankful.î Was Falcoís reply, too proud to come right out with a decant thank you. But Fox knew not to expect that from Falco, so he just smiled.
Only a split second later did both Peppy and Slippy call mayday, and Fox once again had his hands full. But Wolf would not let Fox save his friends. He banked and barrel rolled, following in hot pursuit of his opponent. Fox struggled, but couldnít break free.
ìYou fool!î Wolf taunted. ìYou were so busy fighting us that you didnít even realize that there was a bomb, ticking away in Fortuna base!î
Foxís eyes widened. ìWhat, no originality Wolf? Havenít you already tried that bomb at Fortuna base thing already?î
ìBut... My dear rival, then we did not have these magnificent Wolfen II fighters, with which we could hold you off long enough for the bomb to explode!î Fox took his chance while he had it. As Wolf was unfolding his plan to him, he pulled a summersault, catching him off guard. Fox then dropped down behind him, and fired. A single on-target charged laser bolt hit Wolf directly in the engine, sending him sprawling toward the Fortuna surface.
In the last minute, Wolf cried out, ìstill three more of us! It only took one to bring down your father!!î With that, Wolf hit his ejector seat, and parachuted down to the ground. Still, it was a rough landing, and Wolf was knocked unconscious.
Fox glanced down at his com-info screen. The clock was ticking. He had to disable that bomb, and fast! But his wingmen were in terrible need of assistance, and he had to take care of that first. But would he have enough time?
Just when things looked their worst, and Fox was falling into dismay, a voice chimed in on his com-link, but with no picture.
ìYou boys look like you could use some help,î She said.
Fox was grateful for the offer of assistance, but still wasnít sure of whose side she was on, if she could be trusted. ìPilot, identify yourself.î
ìThe nameís China,î She replied. ìChina Hartz. And Iím here to help. Iíve been experienced in bomb training, and I can disable that thing, while you hold off those flea-carriers!î
ìHey! I donít have fleas! WAAAAAAH!î Andrew Oikonny cried in his usual whiney tone.
China made her way toward the base, not wasting any time. She flew in and started to defuse the bomb. 5... 4... 3... 2... Then the countdown was silent, and the clock hit zero, just as the last Starwolf member was sent to lay with his leader. The bomb had been defused, Starwolf was defeated, mission accomplished. Still, Fox was not about to leave without showing his gratitude to the mysterious pilot. Falco, Peppy and Slippy were curious as to who she was as well. The four of them, along with their female Ali, landed near the Fortuna base to thank her in person.
When their ships had landed, they watched curiously as a tall, thin arctic fox, stepped down from her ship and began walking toward them. She held out her hand and Fox shook it politely, as so did the others.
ìThank you for your help. We just wanted to let you know it was greatly appreciated.î
ìI can say the same to you.î China smiled.
Fox thought for a moment. What could he have done that she wanted to thank him for? ìWhat for?î He asked curiously.
ìItís not very often I get to do something as exciting as this. I am not a very good pilot. I havenít been flying long, so I never thought that knowing how, and only how to diffuse a bomb, would ever really come in handy, unless I could fly. But it did today... So I thank you.î
ìWell in that case youíre welcome.î Fox chuckled.
ìFox,î Peppy chimed in. ìMaybe it would be a good idea if she came with us to see General Pepper. You know him; he likes any and all persons involved in a mission to be there for the debriefing. You can dock your ship on Great fox young lady.î
Fox looked at china. ìYou know heís right. You really should see General Pepper.î
China nodded, and the Starfox team, along with their new passenger, made their way toward Corneria.
The debriefing was a short one. General Pepper made sure to emphasize his gratitude towards China for her help in taking care of the bomb. Yet he seemed preoccupied somehow, like there was something on his mind. All of a sudden, he turned towards Fox, and motioned to him.
ìFox, Iíd like to see you in my office, in private if you please.î
He had a stern expression on his face, which worried Fox, but still he followed. Pepper led Fox into a large room, with red carpeting, and a desk in the far center. It was no room Fox hadnít seen before. Pepper pointed to a large, leather chair, and motioned for Fox to sit down. Fox was now officially worried. General Pepper wouldnít have him sit down if it was nothing important. Something was very wrong.
ìFox... I... Iím not quite sure how to word this... but... well... read this.î Pepper handed Fox a sheet of paper, obviously a holograph message. Fox read aloud.
ìWhen years ago by path tíwas chosen, by one man I had been frozen. Years spent in my icy grave, I am back and you shall pay. A trick, my friend was played on you, when at last you thought the threat was through. As it was in times of old, only father and son can break my code.î
Fox looked up, puzzled. ìSir, I donít understand...î
ìI donít expect you would. It happened a long time ago; you were just a boy...î Pepperís voice trailed off.
ìWhat happened sir? What does this mean?î Fox knew he was in for a long story, but didnít care. What was this ridiculous poem supposed to mean? Why was Pepper so upset about it? But the answers were soon to follow.
ìIt happened years ago. An insane man named Calmeran Darke with a hatred for Corneria and its people built a machine with the properties of a bomb, that could bring all matter it was fired at down to zero degrees Calvin.î
ìBut sir, isnít that impossible?î Fox interrupted.
ìIt was thought to be, until he managed it. Anyway...î Pepper continued. ìHe had this machine, codenamed the Darke 1, aimed directly at Corneria from his post on Titania. It was set to go off three days later, for it needed a lot of time to charge. We sent our best man on the task of destroying the Darke 1 and its creator. That man, was of course, your father. He was successful in disabling the bomb, and then went after Darke. Darke didnít like the bitter taste of defeat, not one bit! So he fired his own machine at himself. It had just enough power left to freeze him, and leave him as an icy corpse. And thatís just what he did, turned it on himself, all the time laughing insanely until he met his icy death.î
ìWith all due respects sir, how does that explain this message?î Fox said, staring down at the holograph paper in his hand.
ìThat letter,î Pepper started, ìis a message from Calmeran Darke himself! That machine preserved him, kept him alive in the icy covering for years, until the intense heat of Titania finally melted it all away, bringing him back for another try on Corneria.î
ìBut I thought you said the Darke 1 had been disabled.î
ìThat, my boy, is what that letter is all about. It took me some time to figure it out, but it means that the countdown was only falsely deleted.î
ìYou mean, it wasnít a real countdown?î Fox asked, confused.
ìIt wasnít the real countdown.î Pepper continued. ìIt was a fake. To make even your father think it had been shutdown. The real countdown was set for twelve years later.î
ìYou mean... Itís gonna go off...î
ìIn three days.î Pepper interrupted. He lowered his head in utter dismay and frustration. ìIt canít be stopped. The code is unbreakable, the letter tells what it is, but we can do nothing about it.î
ìWell, if you know what the code is, why canít we stop that thing?î Fox asked.
ìThe code, my dear boy, as of three years ago, is unbreakable. Calmeran Darke was, or should I say is, not only a genius, but also a prophet. He could foresee that your father would not be here for this countdown. And he knew you were must too young to go with him for the last one. So he made an unbreakable code. The code being, that both you, and your father, together, must disable the bomb. But you must both do it, together, or the bomb will not be truly disabled. Which is why it wasnít really disabled last time, you were not with your father when the Darke 1 was supposedly shut down. You were much too young then, and on top of that, we didnít know the code then. So it was a lost cause, as it is now. And that lunatic knew your father wouldnít be around this time... He knew... He knew... Everything.î
Fox looked up at General Pepper, whose eyes were moist and misty. Heíd never seen him cry before. There were rumors that he had when James died, but still, they were just rumors.
Just then there was a light knock at the door. China entered with a sheepish look on her face. ìIím sorry if I interrupted you. I overheard what was said. I didnít mean to eavesdrop, but I think I can be of some help.î
Pepperís ears perked up. ìDonít be lurking in the doorway young lady, come in...Come in.î Pepper didnít think there was anything at all she could possibly do to help, but he decided to humor her. ìSo, Miss Hartz... What can you do to help?î
ìWell...î She started, ìI usually donít tell anyone about this, but... Since the fate of the planet is at stake, I guess nowís the time to speak up.î
ìNow would be good.î Fox said, not meaning to sound impatient. ìSorry.î He apologized.
ìThatís all right.î China continued, ìI have strange powers sir. Powers of both reality and illusion. Most of the time, theyíre a curse! Because no one seems to trust me. Everyoneís afraid of me! But at times like this, they come in handy.î
ìWhat sort of powers?î Pepper asked, half believing.
ìTelepathic, and telekinetic powers.î She answered. ìI also have others, but I am not even sure of what I can do sometimes.î
ìYoung lady...î Pepper said, turning his eyes toward the floor, ìIím sure what you say is true. But Iím afraid the only way you could help us, is if your name was James McCloud.î
That would have been Chinaís cue to leave, but she didnít move. ìI can help!î She said firmly. ìFox...î Fox looked up at China. ìI can send you back... Back in time to diffuse the bomb with your father. Iíve never sent anyone back in time before, but I know I have the power to do so.î
Fox only stared at her. He could have laughed, he could have cried, he could have screamed, any reaction at that time would have been appropriate. But instead he only stared, unbelieving. Not of China, but himself. He couldnít understand why he believed her, but he did. Something told him to. He didnít know why, but he believed her. Pepper believed as well, and he too, remained silent.
ìCan you really do that?!î Fox finally said. China nodded.
ìBut before I send you back, there are things you must know.î She warned.
ìLike what?î Pepper asked, curiously.
ìFirst of all, do not say anything about who you are. I must remind you that you will be co-existing with yourself at four years old. There will be two Fox McClouds in the past, and if you walk around saying you are the same person as a local toddler, you may find yourself in a straight jacket. Second, anything you say or do, will not be remembered by the people in the past once you go back to the future. It will be like the whole event never happened. So if you were to tell your father ahead of time how he was going to die, in order to prevent it in the future, it wouldnít work. He wouldnít remember you, accept of course as a four-year-old, never mind anything you might have told him. So I suggest you donít say anything, you may only upset people. Third, and most important, you only have three days. My powers canít hold any longer. I will escort you to the past, but then I must leave. Remember, three days, else youíll be trapped in the past... Forever.î
With that, China left the room. Fox and General Pepper followed. They explained the situation to Peppy, Slippy, and Falco, who were still waiting outside. Peppy and Slippy believed it could be done, but Falco was another story.
ìYou mean to tell me youíre gonna wiggle your nose or somethiní and send him back in time?!î
ìFalco.î Peppy jumped in, ìThis is our only chance! The fate of Corneria is at stake! And something tells me that this young lady is telling the truth! Now stop being so pessimistic!î
ìYeah right! Like Iím gonna believe that this girl can send people back in time! Hey, send me back too! I wanna see how Fox looks in diapers!î Falco laughed.
ìHeíll be four years old you moron! He wonít be wearing diapers! More than I can say for you!î Chinaís face was turning red. Falco thought she was a fake, a con-artist, and sheíd just have to prove him wrong. She turned to face Fox, ìAre you ready to go?î
ìYeah...î He said, unsure if he really meant it. ìI guess so.î
Peppy approached Fox. ìI donít know, but I have a funny feeling that this is gonna work Fox. And if it does, well... Say hi to your father for me.î Fox looked down at Peppy, his eyes stinging. He shook his hand; ìYou can count on it Peppy.î
Just then, his team faded out of view. There were bursts of light flying in every direction, as a misty blue haze surrounded him. As quickly as it had come, it was gone again, and Fox found himself standing outside the Corneria City base. He looked at China, who had taken the trip with him, and could think of nothing to say.
ìHere we are.î She said. ìFourteen years ago.î
ìYou mean, weíre really here?î Fox wasnít sure if he believed it himself, everything looked the same. A plane flew overhead, and the style of the pilotís flying seemed unusually familiar. ìWhoís flying that plane?î Fox asked, his eyes still fixed on the jet.
ìYou wouldnít believe me,î China replied. ìNow, I escorted you here, as I said I would, but I have to leave now. The strands of time arenít strong enough to hold both of us for very long. Itís all up to you Fox. Remember what I told you, and good luck to you.î With that, she was gone.
The little jet dropped altitude and landed on the far side of the base, the setting sun making it appear as only a silhouette. Just then, Fox saw a tall, slim figure make his way toward the plane, as the small pilot climbed out of the cockpit. Fox could see neither of them very well, but it was then that he realized just how familiar those two silhouettes were. As he listened, he could barely make out their conversation...
ìHowíd I do this time daddy?î
ìVery well son. Iím very proud of you little buddy.î
ìLittle buddy?....î Fox whispered to himself. It was then that he realized, that very voice belonged to his father.
Fox could never remember a time when his heart was beating faster than it was at that moment. He took a step in the direction of the two figures so far away from him, and froze. He stood still for a moment, regained himself, and started walking slowly. Fox found himself walking faster and faster, and soon broke into a steady jog. Then Fox found he was running; running toward his father, and who he almost didnít believe to be himself. But it was, it was him, only younger; and unknowing that only years later would he lose the most important person in his life. But Fox knew, and the thought slowed his pace, until he was walking again. All of a sudden, he looked up, and saw he was standing only a short distance away from his father. His throat was dry. He had millions of things to say, but the words just werenít there. Fox practically had to breathe. There he was.
ìExcuse me?î The silence was broken. Foxís heart skipped a beat. ìI donít believe Iíve seen you around here before. Are you new here?î
Fox was dumbstruck. What under normal circumstances would have been an easy question, turned into something of a pop quiz that Fox wasnít prepared for. Just in time he remembered what China had told him. He had to think up a story, and fast!
ìAre you new here?î He asked again.
ìUm... yeah... I just transferred.î It seemed awkward that his own father didnít know who he was. But as Fox looked down and saw a vision of his own youthful face staring up at him, he realized there was no way his father would have guessed who he was. The idea would have been dismissed as simply ridiculous!
ìWhatís your name?î
It was the first time Fox could remember ever having to think about that one. ìMc... Clord. Yes, Fox McClord.î Fox barely caught himself. He hated not being able to admit the name he was so very proud of, but there was no avoiding it.
ìJames McCloud. But donít bother being formal, James is fine. Personally, I hate that ëMr.í stuff. Have you spoken to General Pepper?î
ìNo sir, I havenít.î Now Fox would have to refer to his father as James. It sounded so disrespectful to him, calling his own father by his first name. But he had no choice. He had to.
ìWell, you really should, if youíre new here. Come on, Iíll take you there, I was heading in that direction anyway.î James took his toddler by the hand, while Fox followed close behind. ìDid you say your name was Fox? Thatís my sonís name too. And McClord, well thatís about as close to McCloud as you can get!î
Fox looked down at the little boy walking directly in front of him, who turned around to get a better look at the familiar stranger walking behind him. The pup smiled, and continued on walking. Fox wanted to laugh. Of course the legendary ëfountain of youthí was only a myth, but there he was, staring into it.
When they reached General Pepperís office, Fox broke into a cold sweat. General pepper would more than likely throw millions of questions at him, as he did for all new recruits and transfers. Foxís heart was beating rapidly. What if he canít answer the questions? What if he gives a wrong answer, and they think heís a spy or something? No. He was only fooling himself... Overreacting! Everything would work out. Heíd just have to hope for the best.
James knocked lightly on the door. Fox heard Pepper say ëcome iní, and they entered. Fox swallowed so hard it hurt his throat, as they walked into the very room that Fox had been in only minutes before; but at a different time, a different year.
General Pepper was at his desk, signing papers of little or no importance. He looked up at James and grinned. James had always been a liked man, even by the General. There were few who had met him that could ever say they didnít like him. He had a charming disposition, and a warm sense of humor. He was loved by the best, and feared by the worst. Although out of all who ever knew him, his greatest admirer was his own son. Fox looked up to his father more than anyone, and was so very proud to be the son of the greatest pilot in the Lylat system. He only wished he could be like him, in every way possible.
Pepper pushed back his chair and stood up, stretching.
ìIím glad you dropped by James. I need to speak with you about something.î Pepper paused, then looked at fox, who was barely visible next to James. ìWell, I barely saw you next to this giant,î He chuckled. He looked at James, who laughed. ìI donít believe Iíve seen you around here before.î
James gave Fox a slight push toward Pepper. ìSir, this is Fox McClord. He just transferred.î Fox could never remember ever being afraid of Pepper. As far as Generalís go, he was a pretty lenient one. But it wasnít him he was afraid of, but his questions, and if he could answer them.
ìAh, well in that case welcome aboard young man.î Pepper looked down at the young fox who was still handing his fatherís hand. ìHello there little fellaí, practicing with daddy today were you?î
The little pup smiled. ìYes sir.î
Pepper looked back up James. ìI would like to speak with you James, itís rather important.î
That was it? No questions? No papers? General Pepper obviously had something more important on his mind. Fox overheard Pepper explaining something to James, but could only piece the conversation together.
ìZero degrees Calvin? But sir, isnít that impossible?î
ìNot for him itís not. Now this machine is dangerous! And we only have three days!î
The Darke 1! Thatís what they were talking about! The mission! The same one his father was sent on years ago! Fox listened closer.
ìNow since your wingman, Peppy Hare, is not available right now, youíll have to go alone. No one else really has the skills to go; theyíd only slow you down.î
This was Foxís chance. He had to be the one to go with his father, else the machine wouldnít really be shut down, and the future would be doomed. And Fox had the skills. His father taught him everything he knew. He was the best. He was the best, once his father was killed; a title that Fox would have been more than happy to give up.
ìExcuse me, sir. If itís all right with you, Iíd like to give it a try.î
Pepper glanced at Fox, thinking such a young boy couldnít possibly have the skills to tackle such a mission. But he decided to give him a chance to say what he had to say. ìOh? Can you fly?î was his only response.
ìYes sir, I can.î
ìExactly how old are you boy?î Pepper felt he was beating around the bush. He couldnít come right out with what he was really thinking.
ìIím eighteen sir. But I can fly. And would like to accompany Mr.-î James grunted. ìI mean, James, on the mission.î
Genera; Pepper stared at Foxís hopeful face, and sighed. ìAll right. Be here tomorrow morning, and weíll test your flying skills, you can stay in one of the rooms down the hall.î Fox nodded. He could only hope, that nothing goes wrong.
Early the next morning, Fox hurried to the test area. He arrived only minutes before James and General Pepper. His heart was beating a mile a minute. His palms were sweating as he reached out to shake Pepperís hand. Pepper shook his hand, and turned to James. ìNow James, I want you to be the judge of this. You will be the one he will be flying with, so you should have the most say on weather or not he meets expectations.î Pepper looked around, then back at James. ìDidnít bring the little guy along this time?î He smiled.
ìNo sir, itís too early. Heís staying at his auntís for the time being.î James glanced over at Fox, and smiled. ìYou ready?î
ìAs ready as Iíll ever be,î Fox shrugged.
ìAll right then, down to business.î General Pepper put a stern look on his face, and pointed to several anti-gravity rings floating in the air above them. ìHereís what you have to do. I want you to pass through the first three test rings, then complete a somersault through the last two. Afterwards, hit your boosters until you get to the mess hall building on the other side of the test area, pull a U-turn, and head back through the rings again. We will be timing, so use your boosters wisely. Good luck.î
Fox climbed into the test plane and strapped on his harness. He looked down at James, who was giving him thumbs up, and returned the gesture. He listened for General Pepper over the com-link radio. ìOn your mark... Get set... Go!î Fox was off like a shot, passing through the rings with expert style and grace, completing every task that was expected of him.
James flashed a grin at General Pepper, who was standing frozen, eyes toward the sky. ìHeís very good General. I think itís safe to say heís qualified.î James laughed, and looked back toward the small plane dancing in the sky. ìThereís something unusually familiar about his style. I canít put my finger on it, but still, itís familiar.î
General Pepper didnít take his eyes off the plane. ìYou know James, I noticed that as well; but no matter, heís good, and thatís all that counts right now.î
Fox landed the plane on the runway and climbed out, hoping against hope that he made qualifications. James and General Pepper approached him, their smiles bringing Fox a positive boost of hope; a boost he needed.
ìVery impressive young man.î James looked down at Fox, his sunglasses gleaming in the early morning sun. Fox could hardly remember his father without them, he rarely took the off. If you asked James about it, he would smile and call it his ëthird dimensional signatureí, and that would be it.
ìJames, I do believe youíve got yourself a wingmen.î General Pepper grinned at Fox, then reached into his pocket. ìSucker?î Now that was General Pepperís ëthird dimensional signatureí; he was crazy about lollipops. He never went anywhere without a pocket full of them. Fox turned it down, and sighed, a sigh of relief, finally, not of stress, but relief. As Fox reached into his pocket, he felt a somewhat crumpled piece of paper, and realized it was the holograph letter that Pepper had shown him before he left for the past. He held onto it, thinking it may come in handy.
General Pepper, Fox, and James made their way back to Pepperís office, where they would further discuss the mission. Along the way, Fox tried to make conversation. ìSo... Mr. Mc- Ah, James, where is Peppy Hare? How come he canít fly the mission with you?î
ìPeppy is clear across the solar system, tending to a family emergency. We couldnít get a hold of him if we tried. Wait a minute... Howíd you know about Peppy?î James looked down at Fox, waiting for an answer.
ìUm, well, I heard General Pepper mention it to you in his office.î What a save! Fox was getting good at this, as much as he hated to admit it, even to himself. Lying was not a talent that Fox had ever intended to practice. When they got to Pepperís office, Fox and James took a seat, while Pepper remained standing. He had his back towards them, as he gazed out the window in front of him, thinking, gathering his words.
ìWe only have two days. The countdown ends tomorrow at midnight. It will take you at least a day to get to Titania; and despite not being able to sleep, you must still be alert at all times! Darke does have fighters who are loyal to his cause. There may be a minimum defense around the planet, but donít underestimate him! Heís completely mad! And capable of who knows what! Above all, be careful!î General Pepper cleared his throat, and turned to face James and Fox. He looked Fox in the eye, and didnít pull away from his hard-lock gaze. ìYou are obviously a skilled pilot, but that is all we know, what is obvious... We can only hope, in the name of god, that you are truly trustworthy. But, unusual as it is, I trust you. I usually have to know someone extremely well before I can say I really trust them, but strangely, I trust you.î General Pepper broke away from his gaze, and now turned toward James. ìYou, my good man, are the best pilot in this solar system, there is no doubt in my mind that you can pull this off; and it appears you will be in good company.î Pepper stood erect, and James and Fox stood up before him, saluting. ìGoodbye men. And good luck!î Pepper returned the salute, as James and Fox turned, and left the room. They were finally on their way to rendezvous with Calmeran Darke. As they walked down the long, red-carpeted hallway, Fox stole a glance in his fatherís direction, and smiled. He was going into battler alongside his father; a chance, he never thought heíd get.
ìSo, heís on his way, huh? I guess that foolish general Pepper got the message. I knew heíd find out sooner or later. But at least Iím ready for him... Nothing can go wrong.î A dark form turned in his chair, and with a sinister cackle, threw the papers he was holding onto his desk. He turned to his loyal spy, who was standing across the room, at a safe distance. He put his scaly hands behind his head, and reclined in his chair. ìIn less than two days, my plan will take action. And Pepper wonít even know that it did, until fourteen years from now.î The evil figure stood up, and started in the direction of his spy, who tried desperately not to show his nervousness. The spy had never really seen his master up close before, and his ghastly shadow only frightened him. As the intimidating form stepped into the light, the spy could feel the evil lizardís shallow eyes staring through him, like a laser, freezing him where he stood, unable to move. ìIs the Darke 1 ready?î The Komodo dragon asked, his aching gaze still fixed on his spy.
The spy swallowed, and tried to regain his confidence. ìYesss...Sssir... Th... The... Ccc... ountdown is rready.î He stuttered nervously.
Calmeran Darke reached for his plasma laser. The spy wanted to turn tail and run, but his legs wouldnít let him. ìAre you afraid of me, Lucas? Perhaps youíve heard stories about me? Stories that up until now, youíve refused to believe?î
Lucas kept his eyes on the phaser. ìNo... Ssir, I... I... Didnít believe them, I swear!î
Calmeran aimed his phaser. ìYou shouldíve.î He said, and pulled the trigger. As he stared down at the still body lying at his feet, he laughed. ìI donít like men who stutter.î He put his phaser back into his belt, and turned to face the wall-size radar screen in back of him. ìTwo planes? I wonder who the other is. No matter, he would only be a threat to my plan if he were Jamesí son, which I know he isnít. Ah, poor little Fox. He will be at least eighteen when I return in fourteen years, and by then, daddy will be dead! What an ingenious plan! I canít wait until my revenge in the future!î He chuckled to himself as he watched the two Arwing fighter jets on his radar screen. They would reach him in at least a day. But they couldnít hurt him, or at least he could rest easy thinking that.
ìAll right Fox, now you remember what I told you earlier... Youíre flying with me, so youíll have to follow my rule; never give up, and trust your instincts. Thatís the only thing I ask.î James felt bored in the vastness of space, so he pulled a somersault for fun.
ìDonít worry James, I remember.î Fox had only heard that endless times in his life. It was his fatherís motto, and he lived by it. Fox still felt strange, and almost guilty for having to call his father James. It also felt strange that James didnít even know Fox was his own son. It was a sour note, but Fox tried to ignore it as best he could. ìHow far are we from Titania?î
ìAbout twelve hours now... Wow, itís been that long already? How time flies.î
ìDonít I know it!î Fox laughed. James of course didnít really know why it was funny, but chuckled anyway.
The hours were going by faster and faster, and the two pilots soon found themselves looking ahead, with the bright red planet staring back at them. The airspace seemed unusually quiet as they closed in around the dusty atmosphere. James was growing suspicious. It was much too quiet. He soon found his suspicions were correct, when a massive ambush of enemy fighters appeared out of nowhere, and closed in around them. ìSlip up!î James commanded, keeping his cool, as he was known for. Fox, who normally would have been as calm as his father, could hear his own heartbeat. There was too much at stake this time. Corneria, and the entire future rested on their success! Fox couldnít afford to fail. He banked hard, left and right, somersaulted, and barrel-rolled. He would take no prisoners!
James had his hands full with a nearby group of enemy fighters. He waited until moment, then hit his air brakes, sending his pursuers screaming into the wall of a shallow canyon. He U-turned, and went back to help Fox, who also had his hands full. The two pilots helped each other when needed, and fought until the last enemy fell.
ìHey, we make a pretty good team,î James smiled. ìNow to take care of Darke.î James and Fox docked their planes in a nearby valley, and went searching for Calmeran Darkeís base, which was said to be in that area. They walked for what seemed like hours along Titaniaís burning surface, until they had to down and rest.
ìThe base has got to be around here somewhere... He couldnít just set up in the middle of the dessert.î Fox said, as he sat down. His feet were killing him, and he was exhausted.
James was only happy he had sunglasses on. The intense light from Solar was blinding on that planet. He reached into his pocket, and pulled out an extra pair. He handed them to Fox, grinning. ìHere, I always carry an extra pair, just in case. I never go anywhere without my sunglasses. I guess you could call it a habit.î James sat down, and laughed to himself. ìOne of the biggest mysteries in the Lylat system is probably my eye color.î Fox looked at him and started laughing. Soon they were both laughing, but neither really knew why. Soon, Fox lost his balance, and fell backwards, still laughing. But it wasnít the soft landing heíd expected.
ìOw!î He cried, rubbing the back of his head. ìWhat the heck was that?î
James looked down to see what it was he had hit. ìWait a minute... Whatís this?î Fox leaned forward for a better look, as James brushed the sand away, revealing the small handle to a hidden door. ìItís a trap door! Right here in the sand! It must lead to Darkeís base!î James yelled.
ìNo wonder we couldnít find it. Itís hidden underground!î Fox looked at James, who was trying to open the latch to the door.
ìItís locked.î James sighed.
ìCanít we use our phasers?î Fox asked.
ìYes, that should work. Great idea Fox, I completely forgot about those! You fire at one latch; Iíll hit the other.î They pulled out their lasers and fired, melting the latches. James was then able to get the door open. They looked down into the opening, breathing heavily. Darke was down there, waiting for them, and they knew it. Things had to go right. If they failed, Corneria would be lost, and the future along with it. Of course James didnít know Corneriaís real threat was in fourteen years. He thought the stakes were for right then and there. But Fox knew Darkeís secret. His heart was beating rapidly as they climbed down into the opening, with the entire future at stake.
There was a long, dark hallway beneath them, as they climbed down the ladder to the underground tunnel. The ceiling was dripping with dirty water, and the stone walls were streaked with brown algae. The tunnel looked like it went on forever, and the darkness seemed to swallow them as they further down the tunnel.
ìI canít see a thing. This isnít much of a base.î Fox said, squinting in the darkness. James reached into his holder, and pulled out his phaser. ìWhat are you going to do with that?î Fox asked curiously. James set the power level on stun, and held the trigger down. As the phaser charged, a bright ball of blue light formed at the nose of the gun, lighting their way. ìThe phasers! They produce light when theyíre charging, I completely forgot about that! James youíre a genius!î Fox cried, as he pulled out his phaser and did the same.
ìWhatever you do,î James warned, ìdonít double-click the trigger.î Fox nodded as they made their way down the tunnel, dodging tunnels and potholes. They had been walking for a long time, and Fox began to wonder if they were on the right track, if it was even Calmeran Darkeís base. But just when he was starting to feel doubt, he saw a circle of dim light in the distance. The closer they got to it, the bigger it became.
ìItís an opening!î Fox said, hopeful. ìI thought this tunnel would never end!î
ìKeep your guard now Fox, lord only knows what weíll find in there.î James looked over at Fox for the first time since they were down there, and saw he was still wearing the sunglasses he had given him. ìMy god he looks like me!î James thought. Indeed there was a remarkable resemblance. James may have been taller, but they still looked very much alike.
When James looked ahead again, he saw that they had reached the source of the light. It was an opening, a round doorway, carved into the stone wall.
ìThis is it,î Fox said, hoarsely. ìCalmeran Darke could be just on the other side of this opening, waiting for us.î
ìWell, letís not waste any time,î James sternly said. ìLetís go get that blood- thirsty lizard!î
They passed through the opening, lasers in hand, waiting for anything that might so much as move. Now, it was too bright. Before it had been too dark, but now the light swallowed them. If not for the sunglasses, they would have been blinded. There was another door on the opposite side of the brightly-lit cavern they had passed into; this one was locked. The door was locked, so James shot the latch, and the door flew open, revealing a flight of stairs. They started up the stairs, taking every step with extra caution, and finally reached the top. They found themselves standing in a large, dimly lit room, with metallic walls and red carpeting. The carpeting wet in a straight line, down a short hallway, and led to a large door on the other side of the room. The site was intimidating. The door went clear to the ceiling, at least ten feet up. There was a panel in the center of the door, covered with color- coded buttons. And there was no latch, handle, or knob.
James eyed the door. ìThat must lead to Darkeís main station.î Fox stared straight ahead. There he was. The future depended on the past, which was now the present. The thought made him shiver, as they made their way toward the door, with every step bringing them closer to Calmeran Darke. When they reached the door, it automatically opened, revealing a large, cold, room, with a desk in the far center, and a wall-sized radar screen behind it. A tall chair was placed behind the desk, facing the wall, with the back of the chair facing Fox and James. Slowly the chair turned around, as the sinister form of an evil Komodo dragon turned to face them. His eyes were hard and cold, and they glowed a feverish red in the dim light. His hands were folded on the desk in front on him, and he stared coldly at the two pilots.
ìWelcome,î He said calmly. ìI do believe youíre late. I have to say, I wasnít expecting two of you. Who is this McCloud? A younger, shorter version of yourself? Why, heís even wearing sunglasses, how quaint.î
ìEnough of your stalling Darke!î James said sternly. ìYou know what weíve come for, now whereís the Darke 1?!î
ìOh, you mean my little toy.. I assure you, itís close by.î
Fox was growing impatient. ìNow! You insane lizard!î
ìAll right,î Calmeran Sighed. ìIf you insist.î He reached over to a hidden panel on his desk, and pressed the red button that was hidden there. A keypad was uncovered from a secret drawer in his desk. Calmeran cracked his knuckles, and punched in a series of numbers on the keypad. Just then, the floor shook, and James and Fox were almost knocked off their feet. They looked at the floor, and saw that it was opening up. They saw that ceiling was parting open as well. Then, rising up from the floor, was enormous machine, with a small screen in the center, and a gigantic laser attached to the body. As it went up through the ceiling, they could see that it was pointed right toward Corneria!
ìThe Darke 1!î Fox cried.
James looked at his watch. ìAnd itís gonna go off in fifteen minutes!î
Calmeran was laughing insanely. ìYou fools! Youíll never figure it out! And Iím not done yet!î Calmeran started walking toward a small chamber in the side of the machine. Fox realized Calmeran was going to walk into it, and freeze himself. It was just big enough for him, like a small shower.
ìOh no you donít!î Fox yelled as he charged at Calmeran, knocking him down. ìYouíre not coming back! Iím gonna take care of you now!î Fox clutched his phaser, but Calmeranís struggling arms knocked it out of his hand. Calmeran grabbed Fox and pulled him down. As Fox fell, a small, crumpled piece of paper fell out of his pocket, and onto the floor.
ìFox!î James yelled, seeing his comrade fall. He reached for his phaser, and aimed. But in the struggle, he couldnít risk shooting Fox, and James rushed to help him.
ìStop where you are!î Calmeran yelled, clutching Fox around his neck. ìYou make one move, and he dies!î James froze. He had to help Fox, and the clock was ticking. Only ten minutes left of the countdown! Calmeran smiled, thinking he had won. They couldnít delete the countdown, and even if they thought they did, it would just go off in fourteen years! And if they couldnít delete, or actually stall, the countdown now, he wouldnít have to wait fourteen years. He had it won. He couldnít lose. Just then, Calmeran looked down to see the small, crumpled paper on the floor, and he remembered it had fallen out of Foxís pocket. Not letting go of Fox, he bent down, picked up the paper, and read it. ìYou!!!î Calmeran shouted. Fox took his chance while he had it, and kicked Calmeran in the kneecap, making him let go of his hold. Fox got out of the way as James dived at Calmeran, knocking his head to the floor. As James looked down at the unconscious lizard at his feet, he noticed a piece of paper clenched in his hand. He took it from his hand, and put it in his pocket. James then looked back at the Darke 1; two minutes!
ìCome on weíve got to figure out how to shut this thing down!î James yelled. There were hundreds of buttons and knobs, and the wrong one might just set the machine off early. Fox looked down at the panel, and two identical green knobs caught his eye. They were labeled M1, and M2. Then it occurred to him, the ëMí stood for McCloud 1, and McCloud 2! James and Fox! These were surely the buttons that would delete the countdown!
ìJames, over here!î He called. ìIíll bet these are the buttons that will shut it down!î
James looked at the panel. ìHow do you know?î
Fox smiled. ìTrust your instincts, remember?î
ìCouldnít have said it better myself.î James laughed. The clock was running, 10...9...8... They had to hit the buttons at the exact same time. ìOn the count of three,î James said. ì1... 2... 3!î Their fingers went down at exactly the same time. The machine hummed, and a recorded voice said, ìCountdown deleted.î It was over, and James and Fox could breathe again. Just then, the Darke 1 started to tick, and an electronic voice warned, ìSelf-destruction, in T-minus five minutes.î James and Fox looked at each other, their eyes widened.
ìWeíve gotta get out of here!î Fox yelled. They turned and ran out the door. They ran down the stone steps, slipping on the slimy algae. They were soon running down the endless tunnel, splashing through puddles, not even bothering to light the way with their phasers. They could hear the echoing voice behind them. ìT-minus, one minute to self-destruction.î They barely see the dim beam of light far ahead of them, and ran in a death sprint for it. It was they way out! ìT-minus, thirty seconds to self-destruction.î They reached the opening, and climbed up the ladder, tripping, and grabbing for the edge of the hatch. ìT-minus, ten seconds to self-destruction.î The voice almost seemed to be mocking them, as they scrambled out of the tunnel, and ran for their Arwings. Their engines burned, and they took off at lightening speed, as the shockwave from the explosion followed close behind them. As they left Titaniaís atmosphere, James and Fox breathed a sigh of relief. It was over, and not a word passed between them, as they made their way back to Corneria.
General Pepper Shook the hands of the two brave pilots, and shouted a cheer for joy. The planet was saved! But Fox on the other hand, remained silent. He would have to go back to the future, where there was no James McCloud, not anymore. But it made him think. If Fox were to remain in the past, heíd have to relive his fatherís death all over again. Pigma Dengar would betray James and Peppy again, and would turn them over to Andross. It would be the same as it was before. Peppy would, thankfully, escape with his life, but James would never come back. Fox fought to hold back the tears. He couldnít relive that again. Peppy would lose his best friend, and Fox would lose his father. He had to go back to the future.
Fox walked outside, and James walked with him. When Fox looked up, he saw China in the distance, waiting to take him back to the future. Fox turned to James. ìWe made a great team, but... I have to go now.î Foxís eyes were stinging, and his throat hurt. ìIíll miss you... James.î
James looked down at Fox, and smiled. ìIíll miss you too.. My son.î Fox looked up, his jaw dropped. He knew?
Fox stared at his father. ìBut how?...î
ìI saw the paper that Calmeran had, the one that fell from your pocket. Since it was a holograph paper, I knew the date on it could not be false, or changed, so I knew it was real.î Just then, a small boy ran out of the base, and ran to his father.
ìDaddy!î He jumped into Jamesí arms, laughing. ìThank goodness youíre back! Cousin April was driving me crazy!î
ìHowíd you get here?î James asked.
ìAunt Tess brought me. I knew youíd be back today, so I asked her to.î It was awkward to everyone but him, that there was two of the same person, standing right next to each other. It was indeed strange. The little pup did feel there was something unusually familiar about this stranger, but dismissed the feeling.
ìWhy donít you go in and talk to General Pepper for a minute. Iíll be right in,î James said ìMaybe heíll give you a lollipop.î The little fox giggled, and ran toward the base.
On the other end of the runway, China started to grow impatient. ìCome on Fox! Letís go!î
Fox looked at her, and back at James. ìIíd better go.î Fox started to turn around, but then turned back. He hugged his father, and didnít want to let go. Fox realized he was crying, but didnít care. He didnít want to leave, but had to. ìGoodbye... Dad.î Fox sobbed. Finally, he didnít have to call his father James, and it felt right again. ìBut I donít want to leave.î
ìIím afraid you have to son. You canít co-exist with yourself. And on top of that, I canít have an eighteen-year-old son; Iíd only be nine years older than you would. The media would have a ball with that.î James laughed, trying to break the grief. His laugh had the power to do so. Fox laughed too, tears still streaming down his face. He let go of James, turned and walked over to meet with China, not being able to keep himself from looking back.
ìAre you ready?î She asked, impatiently.
ìYes.î Fox replied, this time, sure that he meant it. Fox kept his eyes on his father, until the blue haze engulfed him, and James faded away. Soon, he found himself standing across the room from General Pepper.
ìI just called you in here to personally congratulate you for a job well done. Fortuna base is saved, and...î Pepper looked up to see China, standing in the room. ìCan I help you young lady?î
ìNo,î She answered, simply.
ìWell then what are you doing in here? I asked to speak with Fox in private.î
ìI was just on my way out,î She laughed, as she turned, and walked out the door. Minutes later, Fox walked out of Pepperís office, with a confused look on his face.
ìWell... What did he have to say?î Peppy asked. He was standing outside the door, along with Falco, Slippy, and China.
ìHe... He acted as if it never happened.î Fox said, confused.
ìWhat? The Fortuna mission?î Falco asked.
ìNo!î Fox said, surprised. ìDonít you remember?î
ìRemember what?î Asked Slippy. Fox couldnít believe what he was hearing. They all acted as if the whole thing never happened! They really didnít know!
China stepped forward, and asked to speak with Fox alone. The others left, and Fox stood, waiting for an explanation. ìNo Fox, it never happened,î China whispered. ìAt least not to anyoneís knowledge. But since I was in the past with you when you left, I remember. Congratulations Fox! You saved Corneria! Whether anyone knows it or not.î Fox reached into the collar of his jumpsuit, and pulled out a silver chain, with two silver flight wings strung on it. Carved on the backs of the wings, were the names, ëFox McCloudí, and ëJames McCloudí. James had given his wings to Fox before he left on the mission he never returned from. Fox gripped them tightly in his hands, and sighed.
ìYou know something China, besides yourself; I may be the only one who knows. But somehow, I donít feel alone on this one. I donít feel alone at all.î