The mission briefing lasted almost an hour. Samus was incredibly perspicacious, interjecting with insights and tactics as easily as most people breathe. Fox could relate. He approached even the most mundane of jobs with caution, wanting every single detail he could muster, planning for every possible eventuality. Fox had never met Samus before, but he’d heard more than his fair share of stories about the woman the Space Pirates called “The Hunter.” Samus’s name floated around military installations with a sort of admiration usually reserved for professional athletes, which was odd considering the general facelessness of most independent contractors. Sitting there with her in the saloon, though, was illuminating. Her focus was almost palpable, her demeanor one that commanded respect effortlessly. It was clear, though, that she wasn’t used to playing with others.
“Unacceptable. I will complete the mission alone,” Samus said coolly to Peppy.
“Be reasonable, Samus! It’s taken the five of us to bring down Andross all by himself! How’re you gonna deal with him and Ridley at once?!” Peppy said, his voice rising.
“Compose yourself, Hare. We’ve drawn too much attention already,” Samus warned, her tone remaining level as she waved her hand vaguely toward the rest of the tavern. The few patrons who hadn’t fled in terror were mostly dregs who would be too hungover the next day to remember anything, but the less their group was noticed, the better. “In any event, I will concede your point is valid. However, I still believe a solo infiltration of their facility is the best course of action. Andross knows your tactics and will prepare accordingly. Despite his partnership with Ridley, it is unlikely that he will have anticipated you approaching me; outside of the six of us, the true nature of Andross’ machinations are unknown, correct?”
“Right,” responded Peppy.
“Wrong,” countered Falco, leaning against a pillar near their booth. “Andross isn’t stupid. General Pepper shined on to what he’s up to and told Samus’s friend General Dane– and we haven’t heard from him since. There’s no way that’s a coincidence, all military communications are being monitored by Andross’ people constantly. I think we need to assume Andross knows that Samus is going to be involved.”
“I agree,” Fox chimed in. “Let’s face it, guys, Andross has ears everywhere. We have to figure he knows that we’re going to turn to Samus for help, but I think we do have one advantage here that we’re overlooking: time. Andross has control of the military’s leadership, but less than half of the rank and file are under his direct control. As of right now, Andross just doesn’t have the manpower to make a large-scale strike or completely overthrow the government. He’s been systematically inserting his people for months, but he’s still a good three to four weeks away from getting his numbers high enough to take over with minimal resistance. That gives us time to get our ships out of impound and take the fight to his home base before he can send out a full-scale assault.”
The group nodded in agreement, but Samus remained still.
“Again, valid points, but smaller operations would be very easy to carry out with the personnel Andross currently has at his disposal. Indeed,” Samus tilted her head, looking almost like a cat catching a scent in the air, “my motion tracker is picking up multiple marks moving towards our position right now. Are you expecting more companions tonight?”
“No, we’re it,” Fox said, also noting the incoming targets on the headset lens that hovered over his right eye at all times. His heads-up display blipped at least two dozen scans, all giving off massive heat signatures-weapons systems. “People, get ready to–”
At that moment, several metal canisters shot through the front entrance of the bar, spewing noxious plumes of gray smoke into the air. Some of the patrons still lucid enough to notice the commotion stumbled out of chairs and off of stools for the exit, only to be cut down by arcs of energy beams. Andross’ people were right outside the doors.
“Fox, Fox, I don’t like this!” screamed Slippy, the front of his jumpsuit wet with the ale that flew from his stein as he threw himself under the table when the shooting started. “What do we do?!”
“We move! Weapons up, fall back to the kitchen!” ordered Fox, his voice firm as he drew his own energy pistol from its holster. Fox hated land engagements. He was nimble, and deadly with a laser, but despite his speed on foot and deadly accuracy, nothing made him feel safer than being in the cockpit of his Arwing. Land meant less maneuverability, more chances to get killed.
Fox’s team responded instantly to his commands, drawing their weapons and immediately springing towards the back of the bar where the entrance to the kitchen was. Samus, however, seemed to have disappeared, until Fox scanned the ground and saw a large metal sphere, which was rolling toward the front of the bar where Andross’ troops were already starting to poke in. The ball, illuminated by tracks of green light running across its surface, began radiating waves of bluish energy as it sped forward. Suddenly, a crackle of static burst into Fox’s comm system followed by a familiar voice:
“I will buy your team some time to regroup, McCloud. Expect me momentarily.”
“OK, but make it quick, we’re bolting in thirty seconds,” Fox said into his mic. Fox wondered how the heck she’d gotten his comm signal, but he quickly reminded himself that Samus’s armor was rumored to be Chozo, at least in part, and the Chozo were still miles ahead of the tech most planets used. What was more concerning was that Samus had gone off on her own. Fox appreciated her intentions, but he was going to have to either find a way to wrangle her in or learn to deal with her flying solo. Team Star Fox was a well-oiled machine, and Fox was used to giving orders and moving as one with his comrades. Samus was used to working alone, obviously, but a wild card like her could get them all killed. He made a mental note to talk to Samus– if they lived that long.
The small unit of troops that Andross sent in appeared to be Cornerian ground infantry. Heavily armored and armed, the troops typically were at the front line of military engagements, and were famous for being tough as bedrock. Making matters worse, there was no way of knowing if they were regular grunts just following orders or Andross loyalists. Fox didn’t feel easy using lethal force on them if the crew were simply innocents. As Fox covered his teammates storming towards the kitchen’s swinging double doors, he noticed the dregs that had fallen like sacks of dirt under the Cornerian trooper’s maelstrom of laser fire weren’t dead. They were using non-lethal rounds themselves, which meant the troops wanted Fox and his team alive. It made his decision that much easier.
“Team! Stun charges only! We don’t know who we’re shooting, and they’re not trying to kill us!” Fox ordered.
“Gee, really? Like we didn’t notice the drunks on the ground weren’t bleeding out?” retorted Falco.
“Well, they wouldn’t be bleeding out anyway, Falco, grade five energy rifles generally cauterize after puncturing–” Slippy began, but was cut off.
“Yeah, yeah, yeah, Science Frog, I know, I know, I’m just saying the guys weren’t full of holes, you get me now?!” Falco shouted, as laser fire crackled overhead. Falco engaged his energy shield blindly behind himself, catching a couple of beams in its field and dissipating them into so many sparks. “Fox’s always gotta point out the obvious, like we just started running jobs yesterday!”
Fox couldn’t help but grin. Even in the middle of a firefight, Falco finds a way to complain about him.
“Well, you don’t have to be rude about it!” Slippy shot back, figuratively and literally: the frog sent a beam shooting backwards into the mass of smoke and armor snapping closer at their heels. One of the troops let out a great groan of pain and skidded into the edge of a table after taking the blast in his knee. “Hey, I got one!”
“That’s wonderful, Slippy. Now duck,” Krystal coolly said, pushing him to the floor and firing several bursts of energy at a glowing net that was headed right for the little engineer. It burst into flames and smoldered quickly into ashes that washed over their position.
Slippy looked up with awe in his big eyes.
“That was awesome, Krystal! Thanks!”
She smiled and lifted him back to his feet as they all finally reached the kitchen. The group scurried behind the doors, taking refuge behind cooktops and cabinets. Poor cover, but they’d have to make do.
“Fox, help me push these boxes in front of the doors!” roared Peppy, motioning Fox over to the stacks of supply boxes in the corner beside the entrance.
“Right, good idea!” Fox replied.
“I’ll help, but where’s Samus, Fox?” asked Falco, also moving toward the boxes.
That was a good question. Fox swiveled his head to peak through one of the small windows set in the kitchen doors, and was surprised at what he saw. Samus, still rolled into a ball, had positioned herself right in the middle of the pack of troops. In the midst of all the chaos and smoke, she’d managed to encroach on them without being noticed. Samus continued to emit the strange aura of blue energy that he’d noticed earlier, when suddenly it seemed to spring off of the ball’s surface, forming into its own independent glowing, electrical sphere. Three more such orbs settled amongst the soldiers, and Samus quickly zoomed away from them as the balls of light went off in small successive explosions. The troops flew in all directions, slamming into walls and tables, all knocked unconscious from the force of the blasts and cold, hard impact. With a small flash of light, Samus emerged from her ball form back to her normal self, striding through the lingering smoke in the air and into the kitchen.
Fox blinked. “The Hunter,” indeed.
“We need to leave. There will be more of them,” Samus announced to the stunned group.
Peppy let out a long, low whistle, while the rest of the team stared at Samus’s back as she walked towards the rear exit of the bar. “OK“, Fox thought to himself, “maybe she won’t get us killed, after all.”
“Jealous?” whispered Falco into Fox’s ear. Fox’s friend winked at him and slugged him in the shoulder, running ahead to keep pace with Samus. Fox smiled and trotted after them.