2 – Almost broken
Krystal watched as Fox threw his suit coat on the bed, pulling the buttons loose on his dress shirt in a desperate manner.
"What's wrong?" she asked, pulling a gold earring from her ear. Her sense of him was muddled with their rush.
"He'll tell you everything in a moment. I'll get Slippy and Falco to meet us in the briefing room." Half-dressed and rummaging through his closet, he added, "Hurry and change. Peppy wants to radio us the full report."
Falco, already released from the fancy suit he was forced to wear and into his regular flight suit, held the blade under his desk's lamp, admiring the artistry of the object. It wasn't any kind of metal he had seen, resembling something more akin to ceramic, but it didn't seem fragile. The beautiful substance even made up the handle, and was further enhanced with a meticulously carved iris-like design.
In spite of the threatening way he received it, the blade itself was completely dull. Letter-opener dull, he thought.
The intercom clicked over his head. "Falco, come to the briefing room," ROB demanded.
The avian let out a groan as response to being interrupted, and slipped the blade into his supply pack.
Peppy's frown was deep, almost painful looking. He sat in a private chamber, staring down at the three pilots beaming through the communication line.
Fox stared up at his mentor through the screen, arms crossed in a stoic manner. Krystal stood to his right, a hand on her chin, staring at Fox, searching him for any hint at the message to come. Slippy stood to his left, fiddling with his cap and unable to make eye contact with the hare on screen, but at the same time, admiring the bold red and gold uniform he now wore.
Suddenly, the metal doors slid open, the characteristically late member finally joining. He stepped up beside the frog, crossed his arms, and looked up at Peppy without saying a word.
"Everyone," Peppy started in a gentle manner, "I want to all know that you mean a great deal to me."
The statement caught the four off guard.
"Because of that, I need to know that I won't regret telling you what I'm about to, or giving you the missions that I may have to in this position."
Fox spoke, his arms still crossed, "You already know the answer to that."
If it was possible, Peppy frowned further. "I just want to hear each of you to say it out loud. Then I won't have any doubt."
"Well, fine," Falco interceded. "Won't be any different to me if you're the one writing the checks. I'm still flying, even if it gets ugly."
His blunt response completely diffused the moment.
"He's right," Krystal warmly added. "I don't have it in me to drop out now. Everyone is too important to me."
"Me too," Slippy piped. "I'll work harder."
Fox, still in his stoic manner, added, "You heard it from them, and my answer is still the same; I won't let you down."
Peppy relaxed. "I'm glad. If anyone knows what you all are individually capable of, it's me, but I'll still worry." He let out a sigh.
"Peppy," Fox said. "That's not all you wanted to say."
Noting the four pilots looking up at him through the screen, Peppy began, "Team StarFox, I currently don't have a mission for you, but I do have some information I want to pass along."
The aging hare paused, closed his eyes, and pulled his thoughts together. "The neighboring star-system of Ansigma is showing signs of military mobilization," he began; voice low, "The four High Noble families of their system have been in talks over their dwindling resources. Our defense forces are still in recovery from the Aparoid's attacks. However, we have a far greater wealth of resources that Ansigma doesn't have access to. "
There was small pause. "Ansigma's kind of backward, aren't they?" Slippy suddenly quipped. "What kind of damage could they actually do?"
Peppy nodded. "Ansigma has a deeply ethnocentric society, refusing to deal with other planets outside of their core system, and by enforcing strict immigration and trade laws, have always been a few steps behind Lylat and other neighboring systems in technology. They do, however, vastly out-populate Lylat, and their past shows that the leaders think little of anyone not of their class or kind."
"What do you mean by that?" Slippy asked, seemingly the only one willing to ask questions.
Peppy pressed on. "The Nobles, up until recently, had been preoccupied with their own inner power struggles. This all changed three years ago, when one planet suddenly gained a great deal of power and popularity among the people. That planet was Einzfra. The other families banded together and launched a ruthless assault on the planet. In a very short amount of time, the planet was left unlivable, and countless soldiers and civilians were killed."
The old hare shook his head with grief. "Within its own borders, it appeared to be another stunt for power. For those of us outside, it was genocide. These people are not to be fooled with, but they never deal with anyone outside their system, so it may very well be a false alarm."
"But it's not something to take the chance on," Falco said.
Peppy turned to him and slowly let his gaze drift across the four. After everything, every battle fought and won, seeing and being a part of the bond that made them what they are, he felt incredible pride, but beneath that was an indescribable fear. A fear that only became surfaced the moment he took this position.
Peppy had faith in them as fighters, but he loved the people they were every bit as much.
He suddenly stood up, put his hands behind his back, and taking a militant posture, continued, "Team Starfox, that is all I will say. I will call on you when and if your services are needed."
Fox gave a curt nod. "Yes sir. And thank you."
Despite the intense warning Peppy conveyed, he was able to smile at Fox's words just as the signal cut.
Krystal let out a sigh, her eyes fixed on the floor. "Another war so soon..." Her tone was melancholic and her words aimless.
None of the men responded.
Krystal leaned against the frame of the door, watching over her companion, sitting at the front in Peppy's intended position, his back to her, and staring off into the starlit sky. The only movement in the room came from ROB hammering away at the controls, completely ignoring the pair.
Krystal had always been able to feel the thoughts and emotions of other people, but with Fox, everything was clearer. She could read his heart almost completely, and right now, he was in absolute turmoil.
And with his heart in turmoil, so was hers.
Peppy's words struck Fox deeply. He understood everything his mentor struggled to convey. Peppy just couldn't live with himself if a mission he sent Starfox harmed any of them, and it was a feeling Fox understood, and a feeling he forced aside every battle.
Krystal stared at Fox, unable to bring herself to approach him. There was nothing she could say to ease him. All she could do was try harder as his wing-mate. She wasn't going to let his faith in her be misplaced.
I stood in the center of my living area of my apartment, watching over the tiny green leaves that had begun to break the soil that filled the flower pots that dotted the room. The window was open, warm and salty air billowing in despite the late hour. I hadn't changed out of the party dress yet, my mind distracted by the relief I felt seeing the plants start to grow despite the unsuitable environment.
Zoness was famous. While it was once a stunning tropical paradise, its oceans were greatly polluted in the chaos of war. During the decade that followed, the Cornerian government had poured a massive amount of funding and research into the planet's own to help rebuild and renew the landscape. By now, the environment was rather welcoming, though I'm told it's still nowhere near the beauty of the past.
The little town I was in, however, had taken so little damage in the first place that it now showed no signs of the savage battles that had marred the planet. It's just a sweet little coastal town, far off from the tourist trap cities and the salvaged military bases. It was an exceptionally ideal place to hide, and it was also shockingly easy for Andrew to slip in and out without anyone making a fuss.
Zoness, however, was nothing like my home was. The summers were stifling hot, it never snowed even in the dead of winter, and the soil was such a sandy mess that my dear irises couldn't root.
I didn't have the chance to take many possessions. My move to here was a blur, but somehow I still had one of the most deeply precious objects from my old life, a special breed of iris flowers.
I can't remember if I had gotten them or if Andrew was kind enough to bring a few along. All I knew was that I had a few surviving specimens of the black irises that my father had created for his children, all of us.
That was my father for you. He didn't buy us flowers. He made us flowers. A special mutation of bearded iris reserved for us, and only us. I did everything I could to care for them. They were only proof I had of the time I spent with my family.
My mind flickered back and forth between childhood and the current task. I found myself absently putting on clothing more akin to the old home than the climate of Zoness. I was well beyond thinking clearly at this point.
I was about to kidnap a man, after all.
Slippy sat in his Arwing, the console cracked open, holding a book filled with mathematics and blueprint notes in one hand, and a small soldering iron in the other. There was an experiment he wanted to try with his ship for a while, and only now with the extra money he had made that night did he have the chance.
His glee with the technology in his hands had forced away any worries over the impending battles. He hummed away as he rewired the controls and jotted down the changes he was making. While they had all made it out in one piece from that horrifying final onslaught on the Aparoid's home world, he had realized that he may be better in a ship more tailored to his personal strengths, now it was up to him to design one.
Falco wandered into the hanger. His gaze was distant, never looking at the busy frog as he climbed into his own Arwing.
"Hey, what's up?" Slippy asked him.
"I'll be back," Falco responded briskly as the cockpit's windshield snapped shut over him.
"What? Now? Where are you going?"
Massive clanking rang out as the ship's locks came loose, the protective plasma screening of the hanger thinned, and without any response, the bird's Arwing took off, sending Slippy's notebook and hat flying.
Slippy frowned and shouted, "That'd been bad if we were in space, you know!"
I walked along the tracks of the passenger trains, my feet crunching the gravel. A train swooped by, its wind current picking up the end of my scarf, fighting to whisk it away from me. The night sky was dark and cloudy with the tease of rain on this night.
Andrew wasn't here. It was all up to me to take care of this.
A voice leaped out from the darkness. I recognized it, and stopped. Another train rushed by, the light from the windows lighting the area for only a few seconds. He stood in front, one hand on his hip, the other holding the little knife up for me to see it.
"Are you the one who dropped this in my pocket?" he asked in a teasing manner.
I still couldn't tell why he was so gleeful over this, but that was nothing to think about now.
I responded, "I am."
He chuckled. Another train came by, and the hand that was on his hip now held up a blaster, pointing in my direction. "One more question. How much am I worth?"
I blinked. "No money is in this for me."
"Well, that's lame!" he scoffed. "What's the point then?"
I suddenly understood his manner. He was just an arrogant creature. I dropped a blade into my hand, and pointed it at him. "You said one question."
"Fine," he smirked. "Let's dance."