Authors 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.

 

Rising Darkness

Fox! Bogie on your tail!

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.

Thanks Peppy, I guess I didnt realize he was there. Fox said with a sigh.

Dont mention it Fox. Peppy tossed a worried look in Foxs direction, which of course he couldnt see.

It had been nearly three months since Androsss 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, didnt 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 Foxs father, James McCloud. Of course, it didnt 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 didnt need those powers to know that something was troubling his leader; but he didnt know if there was anything he could do.

Fox, dont look now, but guess whos coming in on radar. Slippy Toad warned as Fox looked down to see four white blips, shaped like class two Wolfen fighters, heading in their direction.

Oh no. Fox sighed, irritated.

Oh yes! 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 Foxs com-link screen. Starting the party without us McCloud?

You werent invited! Said Falco Lombardi. But well be happy to take you down anyway!

Allow us! You cocky menace to society! Leon Powalski laughed as he dropped down behind Falcos Arwing. Falco performed summersault after summersault, U-turn after U-turn, but still couldnt shake the crafty chameleon off his six.

Shoot! Hes right behind me! Falco yelled in alarm. Fox dropped his pursuit on Wolf and turned to help his wingman.

Oh no you dont! 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 Falcos six.

I guess I should be thankful. Was Falcos 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 couldnt break free.

You fool! Wolf taunted. You were so busy fighting us that you didnt even realize that there was a bomb, ticking away in Fortuna base!

Foxs eyes widened. What, no originality Wolf? Havent you already tried that bomb at Fortuna base thing already?

But... 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! 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, still three more of us! It only took one to bring down your father!! 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.

You boys look like you could use some help, She said.

Fox was grateful for the offer of assistance, but still wasnt sure of whose side she was on, if she could be trusted. Pilot, identify yourself.

The names China, She replied. China Hartz. And Im here to help. Ive been experienced in bomb training, and I can disable that thing, while you hold off those flea-carriers!

Hey! I dont have fleas! WAAAAAAH! 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.

Thank you for your help. We just wanted to let you know it was greatly appreciated.

I can say the same to you. China smiled.

Fox thought for a moment. What could he have done that she wanted to thank him for? What for? He asked curiously.

Its not very often I get to do something as exciting as this. I am not a very good pilot. I havent 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.

Well in that case youre welcome. Fox chuckled.

Fox, Peppy chimed in. Maybe 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.

Fox looked at china. You know hes right. You really should see General Pepper.

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.

Fox, Id like to see you in my office, in private if you please.

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 hadnt seen before. Pepper pointed to a large, leather chair, and motioned for Fox to sit down. Fox was now officially worried. General Pepper wouldnt have him sit down if it was nothing important. Something was very wrong.

Fox... I... Im not quite sure how to word this... but... well... read this. Pepper handed Fox a sheet of paper, obviously a holograph message. Fox read aloud.

When years ago by path twas 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.

Fox looked up, puzzled. Sir, I dont understand...

I dont expect you would. It happened a long time ago; you were just a boy... Peppers voice trailed off.

What happened sir? What does this mean? Fox knew he was in for a long story, but didnt care. What was this ridiculous poem supposed to mean? Why was Pepper so upset about it? But the answers were soon to follow.

It 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.

But sir, isnt that impossible? Fox interrupted.

It was thought to be, until he managed it. Anyway... Pepper continued. He 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 didnt 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 thats just what he did, turned it on himself, all the time laughing insanely until he met his icy death.

With all due respects sir, how does that explain this message? Fox said, staring down at the holograph paper in his hand.

That letter, Pepper started, is 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.

But I thought you said the Darke 1 had been disabled.

That, 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.

You mean, it wasnt a real countdown? Fox asked, confused.

It wasnt the real countdown. Pepper continued. It was a fake. To make even your father think it had been shutdown. The real countdown was set for twelve years later.

You mean... Its gonna go off...

In three days. Pepper interrupted. He lowered his head in utter dismay and frustration. It cant be stopped. The code is unbreakable, the letter tells what it is, but we can do nothing about it.

Well, if you know what the code is, why cant we stop that thing? Fox asked.

The 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 wasnt 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 didnt know the code then. So it was a lost cause, as it is now. And that lunatic knew your father wouldnt be around this time... He knew... He knew... Everything.

Fox looked up at General Pepper, whose eyes were moist and misty. Hed 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. Im sorry if I interrupted you. I overheard what was said. I didnt mean to eavesdrop, but I think I can be of some help.

Peppers ears perked up. Dont be lurking in the doorway young lady, come in...Come in. Pepper didnt think there was anything at all she could possibly do to help, but he decided to humor her. So, Miss Hartz... What can you do to help?

Well... She started, I usually dont tell anyone about this, but... Since the fate of the planet is at stake, I guess nows the time to speak up.

Now would be good. Fox said, not meaning to sound impatient. Sorry. He apologized.

Thats all right. China continued, I have strange powers sir. Powers of both reality and illusion. Most of the time, theyre a curse! Because no one seems to trust me. Everyones afraid of me! But at times like this, they come in handy.

What sort of powers? Pepper asked, half believing.

Telepathic, and telekinetic powers. She answered. I also have others, but I am not even sure of what I can do sometimes.

Young lady... Pepper said, turning his eyes toward the floor, Im sure what you say is true. But Im afraid the only way you could help us, is if your name was James McCloud.

That would have been Chinas cue to leave, but she didnt move. I can help! She said firmly. Fox... Fox looked up at China. I can send you back... Back in time to diffuse the bomb with your father. Ive never sent anyone back in time before, but I know I have the power to do so.

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 couldnt understand why he believed her, but he did. Something told him to. He didnt know why, but he believed her. Pepper believed as well, and he too, remained silent.

Can you really do that?! Fox finally said. China nodded.

But before I send you back, there are things you must know. She warned.

Like what? Pepper asked, curiously.

First 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 wouldnt work. He wouldnt remember you, accept of course as a four-year-old, never mind anything you might have told him. So I suggest you dont say anything, you may only upset people. Third, and most important, you only have three days. My powers cant hold any longer. I will escort you to the past, but then I must leave. Remember, three days, else youll be trapped in the past... Forever.

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.

You mean to tell me youre gonna wiggle your nose or somethin and send him back in time?!

Falco. Peppy jumped in, This 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!

Yeah right! Like Im gonna believe that this girl can send people back in time! Hey, send me back too! I wanna see how Fox looks in diapers! Falco laughed.

Hell be four years old you moron! He wont be wearing diapers! More than I can say for you! Chinas face was turning red. Falco thought she was a fake, a con-artist, and shed just have to prove him wrong. She turned to face Fox, Are you ready to go?

Yeah... He said, unsure if he really meant it. I guess so.

Peppy approached Fox. I dont 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. Fox looked down at Peppy, his eyes stinging. He shook his hand; You can count on it Peppy.

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.

Here we are. She said. Fourteen years ago.

You mean, were really here? Fox wasnt sure if he believed it himself, everything looked the same. A plane flew overhead, and the style of the pilots flying seemed unusually familiar. Whos flying that plane? Fox asked, his eyes still fixed on the jet.

You wouldnt believe me, China replied. Now, I escorted you here, as I said I would, but I have to leave now. The strands of time arent strong enough to hold both of us for very long. Its all up to you Fox. Remember what I told you, and good luck to you. 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...

Howd I do this time daddy?

Very well son. Im very proud of you little buddy.

Little buddy?.... 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 didnt 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 werent there. Fox practically had to breathe. There he was.

Excuse me? The silence was broken. Foxs heart skipped a beat. I dont believe Ive seen you around here before. Are you new here?

Fox was dumbstruck. What under normal circumstances would have been an easy question, turned into something of a pop quiz that Fox wasnt prepared for. Just in time he remembered what China had told him. He had to think up a story, and fast!

Are you new here? He asked again.

Um... yeah... I just transferred. It seemed awkward that his own father didnt 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!

Whats your name?

It was the first time Fox could remember ever having to think about that one. Mc... Clord. Yes, Fox McClord. 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.

James McCloud. But dont bother being formal, James is fine. Personally, I hate that Mr. stuff. Have you spoken to General Pepper?

No sir, I havent. 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.

Well, you really should, if youre new here. Come on, Ill take you there, I was heading in that direction anyway. James took his toddler by the hand, while Fox followed close behind. Did you say your name was Fox? Thats my sons name too. And McClord, well thats about as close to McCloud as you can get!

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 fountain of youth was only a myth, but there he was, staring into it.

When they reached General Peppers 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. Foxs heart was beating rapidly. What if he cant answer the questions? What if he gives a wrong answer, and they think hes a spy or something? No. He was only fooling himself... Overreacting! Everything would work out. Hed just have to hope for the best.

James knocked lightly on the door. Fox heard Pepper say come in, 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 didnt 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.

Im glad you dropped by James. I need to speak with you about something. Pepper paused, then looked at fox, who was barely visible next to James. Well, I barely saw you next to this giant, He chuckled. He looked at James, who laughed. I dont believe Ive seen you around here before.

James gave Fox a slight push toward Pepper. Sir, this is Fox McClord. He just transferred. Fox could never remember ever being afraid of Pepper. As far as Generals go, he was a pretty lenient one. But it wasnt him he was afraid of, but his questions, and if he could answer them.

Ah, well in that case welcome aboard young man. Pepper looked down at the young fox who was still handing his fathers hand. Hello there little fella, practicing with daddy today were you?

The little pup smiled. Yes sir.

Pepper looked back up James. I would like to speak with you James, its rather important.

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.

Zero degrees Calvin? But sir, isnt that impossible?

Not for him its not. Now this machine is dangerous! And we only have three days!

The Darke 1! Thats what they were talking about! The mission! The same one his father was sent on years ago! Fox listened closer.

Now since your wingman, Peppy Hare, is not available right now, youll have to go alone. No one else really has the skills to go; theyd only slow you down.

This was Foxs chance. He had to be the one to go with his father, else the machine wouldnt 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.

Excuse me, sir. If its all right with you, Id like to give it a try.

Pepper glanced at Fox, thinking such a young boy couldnt possibly have the skills to tackle such a mission. But he decided to give him a chance to say what he had to say. Oh? Can you fly? was his only response.

Yes sir, I can.

Exactly how old are you boy? Pepper felt he was beating around the bush. He couldnt come right out with what he was really thinking.

Im eighteen sir. But I can fly. And would like to accompany Mr.- James grunted. I mean, James, on the mission.

Genera; Pepper stared at Foxs hopeful face, and sighed. All right. Be here tomorrow morning, and well test your flying skills, you can stay in one of the rooms down the hall. 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 Peppers hand. Pepper shook his hand, and turned to James. Now 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. Pepper looked around, then back at James. Didnt bring the little guy along this time? He smiled.

No sir, its too early. Hes staying at his aunts for the time being. James glanced over at Fox, and smiled. You ready?

As ready as Ill ever be, Fox shrugged.

All right then, down to business. General Pepper put a stern look on his face, and pointed to several anti-gravity rings floating in the air above them. Heres 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.

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. On your mark... Get set... Go! 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. Hes very good General. I think its safe to say hes qualified. James laughed, and looked back toward the small plane dancing in the sky. Theres something unusually familiar about his style. I cant put my finger on it, but still, its familiar.

General Pepper didnt take his eyes off the plane. You know James, I noticed that as well; but no matter, hes good, and thats all that counts right now.

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.

Very impressive young man. 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 third dimensional signature, and that would be it.

James, I do believe youve got yourself a wingmen. General Pepper grinned at Fox, then reached into his pocket. Sucker? Now that was General Peppers third dimensional signature; 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 Peppers office, where they would further discuss the mission. Along the way, Fox tried to make conversation. So... Mr. Mc- Ah, James, where is Peppy Hare? How come he cant fly the mission with you?

Peppy is clear across the solar system, tending to a family emergency. We couldnt get a hold of him if we tried. Wait a minute... Howd you know about Peppy? James looked down at Fox, waiting for an answer.

Um, well, I heard General Pepper mention it to you in his office. 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 Peppers 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.

We 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 dont underestimate him! Hes completely mad! And capable of who knows what! Above all, be careful! General Pepper cleared his throat, and turned to face James and Fox. He looked Fox in the eye, and didnt pull away from his hard-lock gaze. You 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. General Pepper broke away from his gaze, and now turned toward James. You, 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. Pepper stood erect, and James and Fox stood up before him, saluting. Goodbye men. And good luck! 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 fathers direction, and smiled. He was going into battler alongside his father; a chance, he never thought hed get.

 

So, hes on his way, huh? I guess that foolish general Pepper got the message. I knew hed find out sooner or later. But at least Im ready for him... Nothing can go wrong. 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. In less than two days, my plan will take action. And Pepper wont even know that it did, until fourteen years from now. 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 lizards shallow eyes staring through him, like a laser, freezing him where he stood, unable to move. Is the Darke 1 ready? The Komodo dragon asked, his aching gaze still fixed on his spy.

The spy swallowed, and tried to regain his confidence. Yesss...Sssir... Th... The... Ccc... ountdown is rready. He stuttered nervously.

Calmeran Darke reached for his plasma laser. The spy wanted to turn tail and run, but his legs wouldnt let him. Are you afraid of me, Lucas? Perhaps youve heard stories about me? Stories that up until now, youve refused to believe?

Lucas kept his eyes on the phaser. No... Ssir, I... I... Didnt believe them, I swear!

Calmeran aimed his phaser. You shouldve. He said, and pulled the trigger. As he stared down at the still body lying at his feet, he laughed. I dont like men who stutter. He put his phaser back into his belt, and turned to face the wall-size radar screen in back of him. Two planes? I wonder who the other is. No matter, he would only be a threat to my plan if he were James son, which I know he isnt. 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 cant wait until my revenge in the future! 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 couldnt hurt him, or at least he could rest easy thinking that.

 

All right Fox, now you remember what I told you earlier... Youre flying with me, so youll have to follow my rule; never give up, and trust your instincts. Thats the only thing I ask. James felt bored in the vastness of space, so he pulled a somersault for fun.

Dont worry James, I remember. Fox had only heard that endless times in his life. It was his fathers 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 didnt even know Fox was his own son. It was a sour note, but Fox tried to ignore it as best he could. How far are we from Titania?

About twelve hours now... Wow, its been that long already? How time flies.

Dont I know it! Fox laughed. James of course didnt 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. Slip up! 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 couldnt 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.

Hey, we make a pretty good team, James smiled. Now to take care of Darke. James and Fox docked their planes in a nearby valley, and went searching for Calmeran Darkes base, which was said to be in that area. They walked for what seemed like hours along Titanias burning surface, until they had to down and rest.

The base has got to be around here somewhere... He couldnt just set up in the middle of the dessert. 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. Here, I always carry an extra pair, just in case. I never go anywhere without my sunglasses. I guess you could call it a habit. James sat down, and laughed to himself. One of the biggest mysteries in the Lylat system is probably my eye color. 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 wasnt the soft landing hed expected.

Ow! He cried, rubbing the back of his head. What the heck was that?

James looked down to see what it was he had hit. Wait a minute... Whats this? Fox leaned forward for a better look, as James brushed the sand away, revealing the small handle to a hidden door. Its a trap door! Right here in the sand! It must lead to Darkes base! James yelled.

No wonder we couldnt find it. Its hidden underground! Fox looked at James, who was trying to open the latch to the door.

Its locked. James sighed.

Cant we use our phasers? Fox asked.

Yes, that should work. Great idea Fox, I completely forgot about those! You fire at one latch; Ill hit the other. 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 didnt know Cornerias real threat was in fourteen years. He thought the stakes were for right then and there. But Fox knew Darkes 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.

I cant see a thing. This isnt much of a base. Fox said, squinting in the darkness. James reached into his holder, and pulled out his phaser. What are you going to do with that? 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. The phasers! They produce light when theyre charging, I completely forgot about that! James youre a genius! Fox cried, as he pulled out his phaser and did the same.

Whatever you do, James warned, dont double-click the trigger. 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 Darkes 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.

Its an opening! Fox said, hopeful. I thought this tunnel would never end!

Keep your guard now Fox, lord only knows what well find in there. 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. My god he looks like me! 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.

This is it, Fox said, hoarsely. Calmeran Darke could be just on the other side of this opening, waiting for us.

Well, lets not waste any time, James sternly said. Lets go get that blood- thirsty lizard!

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. That must lead to Darkes main station. 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.

Welcome, He said calmly. I do believe youre late. I have to say, I wasnt expecting two of you. Who is this McCloud? A younger, shorter version of yourself? Why, hes even wearing sunglasses, how quaint.

Enough of your stalling Darke! James said sternly. You know what weve come for, now wheres the Darke 1?!

Oh, you mean my little toy.. I assure you, its close by.

Fox was growing impatient. Now! You insane lizard!

All right, Calmeran Sighed. If you insist. 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!

The Darke 1! Fox cried.

James looked at his watch. And its gonna go off in fifteen minutes!

Calmeran was laughing insanely. You fools! Youll never figure it out! And Im not done yet! 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.

Oh no you dont! Fox yelled as he charged at Calmeran, knocking him down. Youre not coming back! Im gonna take care of you now! Fox clutched his phaser, but Calmerans 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.

Fox! James yelled, seeing his comrade fall. He reached for his phaser, and aimed. But in the struggle, he couldnt risk shooting Fox, and James rushed to help him.

Stop where you are! Calmeran yelled, clutching Fox around his neck. You make one move, and he dies! 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 couldnt delete the countdown, and even if they thought they did, it would just go off in fourteen years! And if they couldnt delete, or actually stall, the countdown now, he wouldnt have to wait fourteen years. He had it won. He couldnt lose. Just then, Calmeran looked down to see the small, crumpled paper on the floor, and he remembered it had fallen out of Foxs pocket. Not letting go of Fox, he bent down, picked up the paper, and read it. You!!! 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!

Come on weve got to figure out how to shut this thing down! 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 M stood for McCloud 1, and McCloud 2! James and Fox! These were surely the buttons that would delete the countdown!

James, over here! He called. Ill bet these are the buttons that will shut it down!

James looked at the panel. How do you know?

Fox smiled. Trust your instincts, remember?

Couldnt have said it better myself. James laughed. The clock was running, 10...9...8... They had to hit the buttons at the exact same time. On the count of three, James said. 1... 2... 3! Their fingers went down at exactly the same time. The machine hummed, and a recorded voice said, Countdown deleted. It was over, and James and Fox could breathe again. Just then, the Darke 1 started to tick, and an electronic voice warned, Self-destruction, in T-minus five minutes. James and Fox looked at each other, their eyes widened.

Weve gotta get out of here! 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. T-minus, one minute to self-destruction. 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! T-minus, thirty seconds to self-destruction. They reached the opening, and climbed up the ladder, tripping, and grabbing for the edge of the hatch. T-minus, ten seconds to self-destruction. 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 Titanias 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, hed have to relive his fathers 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 couldnt 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. We made a great team, but... I have to go now. Foxs eyes were stinging, and his throat hurt. Ill miss you... James.

James looked down at Fox, and smiled. Ill miss you too.. My son. Fox looked up, his jaw dropped. He knew?

Fox stared at his father. But how?...

I 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. Just then, a small boy ran out of the base, and ran to his father.

Daddy! He jumped into James arms, laughing. Thank goodness youre back! Cousin April was driving me crazy!

Howd you get here? James asked.

Aunt Tess brought me. I knew youd be back today, so I asked her to. 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.

Why dont you go in and talk to General Pepper for a minute. Ill be right in, James said Maybe hell give you a lollipop. The little fox giggled, and ran toward the base.

On the other end of the runway, China started to grow impatient. Come on Fox! Lets go!

Fox looked at her, and back at James. Id better go. Fox started to turn around, but then turned back. He hugged his father, and didnt want to let go. Fox realized he was crying, but didnt care. He didnt want to leave, but had to. Goodbye... Dad. Fox sobbed. Finally, he didnt have to call his father James, and it felt right again. But I dont want to leave.

Im afraid you have to son. You cant co-exist with yourself. And on top of that, I cant have an eighteen-year-old son; Id only be nine years older than you would. The media would have a ball with that. 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.

Are you ready? She asked, impatiently.

Yes. 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.

I just called you in here to personally congratulate you for a job well done. Fortuna base is saved, and... Pepper looked up to see China, standing in the room. Can I help you young lady?

No, She answered, simply.

Well then what are you doing in here? I asked to speak with Fox in private.

I was just on my way out, She laughed, as she turned, and walked out the door. Minutes later, Fox walked out of Peppers office, with a confused look on his face.

Well... What did he have to say? Peppy asked. He was standing outside the door, along with Falco, Slippy, and China.

He... He acted as if it never happened. Fox said, confused.

What? The Fortuna mission? Falco asked.

No! Fox said, surprised. Dont you remember?

Remember what? Asked Slippy. Fox couldnt believe what he was hearing. They all acted as if the whole thing never happened! They really didnt know!

China stepped forward, and asked to speak with Fox alone. The others left, and Fox stood, waiting for an explanation. No Fox, it never happened, China whispered. At least not to anyones 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. 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, Fox McCloud, and James McCloud. 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.

You know something China, besides yourself; I may be the only one who knows. But somehow, I dont feel alone on this one. I dont feel alone at all.

 

 

 

 

THE END