The following morning at 0630, Sarasi time, Lord Fortinbras stepped onto the bridge of the Aerial Warship Archangel with his usual flourish.
"Commander on deck!" shouted the ship's first officer.
"As you were," Fortinbras responded flatly. "Captain, what's our status?"
"Milord, skies are clear and we have clearance to commence launch."
"Excellent," Fortinbras responded. "Helmsman, prepare-"
"Uh, sir," interrupted the radar operator, "I don't know why, but we have fighters overhead."
"What?" came Fortinbras' reply. "I thought we had clear skies."
"I don't understand it, sir, but there are three fighters in Delta formation circling us in a standard guard pattern. They look like members of the Red Angels."
Fortinbras spat at his feet. "Get one of them on the radio."
There was a moment's pause as the communications
officer's hands flew over his control panel, followed
by, "The lead pilot is on now, sir."
"This is Lord Fortinbras," Fortinbras declared into the radio mouthpiece, "Pilots, what's the meaning of this?"
"Sorry about the shock, sir," came the
voice of the pilot flying overhead, "but we request permission to
Fortinbras crossed his arms. there was no time for this kind of game. "Pilot," he explained, "the Archangel is on a penalty exercise. We're going to be training hard for the next three days, not going on a scenic tour."
"We all three know that, sir, and that's why we want to join you."
"No, pilot," Fortinbras answered. "You
three should be enjoying your shore leave. This will be your last
chance for a while to spend time in the civilian world."
The pilot made a sickened noise. " Sir," he countered, "what's the point of getting pampered and softened by civilians right before our biggest mission in years? We three think the next three days would be better spent on training than on lounging around in Seaside."
Fortinbras said nothing for a while.
He had to admire that kind of devotion to duty. He had always wished his
soldiers possessed such an attitude. And now, here were three pilots who
actually held to Fortinbras' own
ideals of constant vigilance. "Very well," the Prime Minister replied at length, "you three will join us for the duration of our stay at Seaside. Comm, cut transmission." There was a beep as the radio signal between the fighter and the Archangel was cut. "Helmsman, start ignition sequence. Gunner, run final combat-readiness check. Maintainance, system report."
"Right away, sir," replied the helmsman.
"Aye sir," answered Hinopio from the gunner's post.
"Yes sir," was Raz's answer. Once Raz was certain Fortinbras was no longer listening he leaned toward the gunner's post and muttered, "Just like the Red Angels. They always have to show everyone else up with their commitment to go 'above and beyond' and all that. They're dumb as Reznor droppings."
"Oh, I don't know about that one now," Hinopio retorted. "While everyone else is spending money, we're making it, and now they are too, not a bad idea, really. After all, we'll probably be getting hazardous duty pay for this."
Before Raz could argue he was startled by muffled laughter from behind the pedastal where the two officers manned their posts. "Pay?" chuckled Fortinbras from directly behind them. "Commander Hinopio, what are you talking about? Yes, those pilots will be paid extra of course, but as for you and the crew, you're on shore leave."
"How soon can your laborers get started?"
Kamek inquired as he led Booster and Valentina out to the
"As soon as they remove the original cannons from your ship," Booster answered.
"The cannons aren't there," Kamek corrected.
"They were supposed to be installed when I got back to the
"Alright then," Booster agreed, "once I have a look at the weapon ports my Snifits will see to it."
Kamek stopped short. "Snifits?"
"I'll oversee it personally, ambassador," Valentina assured him. "Those Snifits couldn't find a cup of sand if they were turned loose in a desert."
Right," Kamek sighed as he resumed walking. "Thank you."
"I'm curious, ambassador, about one thing," Valentina remarked. "The Archangel is outfitted with some rather unique weaponry. Aside from the cannons I think I remember hearing something about flame throwers and some kind of prototype main gun."
"That's correct," Kamek nodded.
"How have you managed to duplicate those?"
Kamek slowed his pace to explain. "Well,
in point of fact we haven't. My spies managed to obtain the
schematics of the ship itself, and that told us what the Sarasi weapons were, but how to build them remains a mystery. So we replaced them with some of the more proven weapons of the Koopas. In place of the flame
throwers we installed breaker beams, and the main gun is-"
"Don't tell me," Valentina interrupted. "A plasma cannon?"
Kamek nodded. "What else, madam? And as for the ship's gunwales, I intended to have Bill Blasters in the cannon ports, but I think your Magnum Cannons will round out the weapons compliment quite nicely."
"Yes, well, about that," Valentina changed the subject, "how many cannon ports are there on this ship?"
"Thirty-two," Kamek answered, "sixteen port and sixteen starboard. They're arranged on each side in two rows of eight."
"Thirty-two," Valentina said, relieved. "I suppose parting with thirty-two cannons free of charge isn't such a loss. I was afraid we were looking at a weapons array fashioned after a doomship."
Kamek laughed. "Oh no, madam. She's
no doomship, not by any means. But all the same, I think she packs
enough of a punch for the task ahead. And speaking of tasks ahead," he slowed his pace again as they
approached the ship, "how long will it take your workers to install the cannons once they're underway?"
"My Snifits can tackle a job like this in-" Booster started to boast, but was interrupted by Valentina.
"Booster, you clod! I thought I said I would oversee the work, not your Snifits." As Booster crossed his arms and skulked, Valentina turned back toward Kamek. "I'll have a workforce of Spookums working on it within the hour. It will be done by the end of the day."
Kamek looked at her with apprehension.
"Are you sure?" he asked. Something about Valentina's boasting
didn't seem quite right to the aged wizard.
"It's just a matter of placing the cannons in the ports and fastening them down," Valentina explained.
"Wait," Booster stepped into the conversation. "I think there's a problem with that, dear."
Valentina rolled her eyes. "What is it this time?"
"Well, I'm not sure," Booster thought
out loud, "but I think I read somewhere that we have to build the
cannons first. We can't install cannons we don't have yet."
Valentina and Kamek blinked simultaneously, neither one quite sure how to respond to that.
"Er... yeah. Anyway," Valentina said, moving the onversation out of Booster's control, "that won't be a problem. I had a feeling we might need a stockpile of the things on hand, so I took the liberty of having fifty of them built."
"Fifty?" exclaimed a very excited Booster. "That's excellent! You've thought of everything as usual."
"Indeed," Valentina remarked conceitedly.
"And I have everything under control. So, Booster, you can leave
"I can? Oh. Okay."
"Oh, by the way," Valentina added as an afterthought, "take those with you." She indicated the three Snifits, who had been following closely behind the trio the entire way witht their blank expressions discernable even through their masks.
"Oh. Of course, dear," Booster agreed. "Alright, you lazy slobs, follow me!"
Once Booster returned to the tower,
Valentina turned her attention back to Kamek and found him eying her
more suspiciously than usual.
"So, madam," Kamek inquired, "you had
fifty units prepared in advance? It sounds to me like you were
"I was," Valentina answered bluntly.
"And you have no qualms about giving away thirty-two cannons free of charge?" Kamek continued. "You never even gave it a second thought. Just what is it that prompts you to be so accomodating?"
Valentina looked away. "Just trying to make a sale," she said quickly. "Nothing more."
Kamek stepped toward her, placed his wand under her chin and turned her head toward him. "You will tell me the truth, madam," he said forcefully.
"You will tell me the truth," Kamek repeated slowly.
"I will tell you the truth," Valentina echoed absent-mindedly, controlled by the enchantment Kamek had woven upon her.
Kamek removed his wand from her chin. "So tell me again, madam. What makes you so eager to please?"
"The truth is," Valentina began, "Boostercorp
is in trouble: deep trouble. In fact, within six months the
corporation will be bankrupt. Of course, Booster doesn't realize this, and neither do the Snifits, but I do."
"So you're on the verge of bankruptcy," Kamek mused. "How did the mighty Boostercorp come into such a desparate situation?"
"We're losing customers," Valentina
answered. "In fact, the Koopa Empire is the only major buyer we have
left. That's why we so desparately need to persuade you to buy these new cannons. That's also why we were forced to charge so much per unit for them. Nearly all of our recent shipments to our customers have fallen
prey to a group of pirates who prowl the shores of this side of the continent."
"Pirates?" Kamek's ears perked up. "What kind of pirates?"
"We don't know for sure," Valentina
answered. "They leave no survivors, and they sink the ships when
they're through. The few Spookum sailors who've managed to escape said the pirates claimed to be from
some kind of cult."
That set off alarms in Kamek's mind. "A cult?" he gasped. "What kind of cult?"
"They were called the Cult of... the Below, or something."
Kamek was confused. "Cult of the Below?"
"No, no," Valentina shook her head. "That isn't right. I think it was more like... like..."
"Like?" Kamek urged his puppet on.
"I think the sailors called it the Cult of Belome."
Kamek disenchanted his mind charm and began to think. "The Cult of Belome," he poured over the news in his mind. "So they're still around. And they've been stealing weapons from Boostercorp's shipments no less. But why?"
"Ambassador," Valentina said to Kamek went on in this manner, "are you alright?"
Kamek spun around toward Valentina.
"Nevermind," he waved her off as he quickly stalked toward the entry
ramp of Fallen Angel. "Just get your workers started on those cannons."
The Koopa fighter-airship appeared behind
Archangel from out of nowhere. The crew of Archangel scarcely
had time to react to the enemy vessel's presence before it had assailed the Sarasi warship with a full volley of weapons. The ship's attack was of little avail, however, and it exploded in a brilliant fireball as Hinopio acquired a lock and finally connected with both flame throwers. "Direct hit," he reported. "Target down."
"New target," Fortinbras instructed. "Hostile approaching from zero-nine-zero: Evasive maneuvers, pattern Charlie Echo. Order escorts to assume flanking positions."
"Targetting," complied Hinopio.
"Engaging evasive maneuvers," followed the helmsman. "Enemy evaded."
Hinopio instinctively saw his cue to act. "Targetting," he called out as he zeroed in on the Koopa fighter with both flame throwers and fired. "Target down."
"Incoming," warned the radar operator. "Enemy's at ten, twelve, two, and six."
"Helmsman," Fortinbras commanded quickly, "full dorsal thrusters."
The helmsman instantly complied, and
the weapons of the Koopa craft whizzed harmlessly through the space where
Archangel had been only a moment before. Immediately, the three Red Angel
Archangel opened fire without mercy upon their flagship's assailants, wiping out three of them within
moments. All seemed to be going well, but the Sarasi pilots and crew had a new problem.
"Sir," called the alarmed radar operator, "the viewer!"
Fortinbras' eyes moved quickly to the colossal viewscreen at the front of the bridge. There, the radar display appeared and revealed the source of the radar operator's dismay: more than fifty Koopa fighters forming an ever-shrinking ring around Archangel. However, Fortinbras surmised there was an even more deadly plan afoot. "Radar," he ordered, "three dimensional sweep."
The radar operator did as he was ordered, and transmitted his findings to the main viewer. In seconds the screen had spilt into three separate displays showing for-aft, dorsal-ventral, and port-starboard radar sweeps. As Fortinbras had feared, the readings showed that the Koopa fighters had not truly formed a ring around Archangel but a globe, and it was closing quickly.
"Gunner," Fortinbras shouted, but his command was unnecesary. Hinopio had already focussed the main gun and flame throwers on the nearest target in a desparate attempt to punch through the deadly enclosure.
"Target down," Hinopio reported, "but it's no good. They've closed around the opening."
"Fire again," Fortinbras insisted. "Wide volley. Order escorts to target the nearest ship. Helm, prepare for full forward thrusters."
Hinopio opened fire again in tandem with the three Red Angel pilots, but it was too late to see if their escape attempt was successful. No sooner had Hinopio let loose the Archangel's fury than the Koopas had unleashed theirs.
"Loss of weapons control," informed
the ship's status monitor apologetically. "Loss of engines. Loss of hull
"It's over," Fortinbras conceded, and
he was right. The Archangel had been bested. The Prime Minister
could only watch his status display helplessly as enemy weapons ripped his prized ship apart deck-by-deck. "Ensign," he sighed, "end simulation."
On command, Raz powered-down the combat simulation program he had been broadcasting to the Red Angel pilots and Archangel crewmen. The bridge was silent, apparently anticipating the lecture to come.
"Total targets destroyed," Fortinbras
read aloud off his status display, "seven. Targets damaged, two." His
jaw jutted out as he glared in disgust around the bridge. "This is unacceptable. No, 'unacceptable' isn't the word. This is pathetic! Were this an actual dogfight, not only would we be dead, but we wouldn't have even taken enough of them with us for our deaths to mean anything. You all have one hour to review your failures. Then, we will repeat this exercise." His hand flew to the internal PA system. "Cannoneer decks,
what happened? Did it occur to you to fire once in a while? The gunner up here on the bridge can't do
everything himself, and a little extra heat on the enemies at our flanks would have been nice during that englobement."
"Um, sir," interrupted Raz apologetically, "the simulation program only transmits to display stations."
"Yes," Fortinbras nodded. "And?"
"Well sir," Raz reminded Fortinbras,
"the cannoneers aqcuire their targets visually. They couldn't have
known what was going on in the simulation, not to mention, sir, they can't simulate firing."
"Very well," agreed Fortinbras. "Then we need targets that can be seen."
"Oops," thought Raz. "I shouldn't have given him any ideas."
"Helm," Fortinbras said in his robust voice, "set course for Land's End. I think there are enough Stingers and Fly Guys there to accomodate our needs. We will, of course, remain there for the duration of our three day exercise."
Raz avoided the eyes of the bridge crew as he slinked back to his station.
"The Cult of Belome?" asked a chilling
voice that seemed to come from all around Kamek's chamber aboard
the Fallen Angel. "Are you sure of that?"
"That's what Valentina told me, Lord
Bowser," Kamek replied. "I don't know whether she was right or not,
but she couldn't intentionally decieve me after that truth charm I cast on her."
"If that's true," the voice said darkly, "then we may have a problem. The only possible reason that cult would want Booster's weapons would be if they're planning something, and I'm sure it has something to do with resurrecting the Devourer."
"What shall I do?" Kamek asked.
"Just continue your mission," the voice instructed Kamek. "And remember, I want to know if Boostercorp has any ties to the rebels in Monstro. If they do, then so does my son."
"Understood, Milord," replied Kamek respectfully.
"Oh, and one more thing, Kamek," added the voice.
"As soon as you've finished cleaning
up that mess you started in Sarasaland, I want a full review of that
airborne monstrosity you took so much time building, centering on its effectiveness in combat." As the voice said this, it became faint and faded from Kamek's hearing.
"As you command, my king," Kamek agreed, though he knew his master could no longer hear him, "and mark my words, Fallen Angel will be victorious... She has to be, for my sake." Kamek shuddered as he recalled what Lord Bowser's reaction had been when he returned from his last mission.
Kamek had been sent to Lord Fortinbras
nearly a month previously to establish a treaty with Sarasaland. If
that failed, he was to assasinate Fortinbras and Daisy, Princess of Sarasaland, and thereby send Sarasaland into internal turmoil so they could not come to the aid of Thalidia in their war against Bowser. However, Kamek had failed both objectives thanks to one man: Luigi L. Mario. Fortinbras instead signed a treaty with Thalidia, and Luigi had foiled Kamek's attempt to assasinate Fortinbras, but not before Fortinbras heard from Kamek's own mouth what his intentions had been.
So now, here they were. Nearly a month
had passed, and Sarasaland had entered the war, but not the way
Bowser had hoped. Now, Kamek had one chance to redeem himself, and that was to destroy the Sarasi forces at Seaside. If he failed... he didn't want to think about the consequences. Fallen Angel was the guildmaster's last hope of regaining favor in the eyes of his king.
"Excuse me, Guildmaster," came a voice from the door of Kamek's chamber, interrupting his thoughts.
Kamek turned toward the door to find a tall, burly, stoic-faced Koopa standing at attention with a sledgehammer in his right hand. It was a Sledge Brother from the guildmaster's guard. In fact, it was the captain of the guard if Kamek was not mistaken. "What is it?" Kamek inquired of the soldier.
"Pardon the interruption, Guildmaster,"
the Sledge Brother replied with a bow, "but Lady Valentina sends
word that the new weapons are in place."
"Excellent," Kamek commented. "And the ship?"
"All sections ready, Guildmaster."
Kamek clenched his hand around the wand
in his hand with anticipation. "I want this ship airborne within
the hour. We strike tonight at dusk."
“Captain on the bridge,” called the first officer of the Hero’s Glory as Luigi practically bolted through the doors and onto the bridge at 0750 the same day.
“Flight control,” Luigi demanded of a junior grade lieutenant standing at a station at the back of the bridge, “I thought I ordered all launches to be cleared through me.”
“Well, yes sir,” answered the lieutenant, “you did.”
“Then why, Lieutenant, are there three fighters missing from the flight deck?”
“The lieutenant looked dumbfounded. “There are?”
“Check for yourself,” Luigi ordered.
The lieutenant glanced at his display screen for a moment and then looked sheepishly back at Luigi. “You’re right sir,” he replied meekly, “there are.”
“When did they leave?”
“I can answer that, sir,” interceded the first officer. “The three fighters launched at 0615 this morning to escort Archangel. They said they were under orders from Fortinbras.”
Luigi shook his head. “Fortinbras would have told me about it.”
There was silence on the bridge as the two officers stared at the ground in embarrassment.
“Never mind,” Luigi sighed in complete exasperation, “never mind, forget it. No one on this ship ever follows my orders anyway. Just tell me who the pilots were.”
“I don’t know the names,” the first officer answered, “but their call-signs were Red Angels 1, 2, and 3”
Luigi slowly closed his eyes and counted silently to ten to cool off. “Of course,” he muttered, “of course. The three who decided to hold a little Thalid-bashing-convention yesterday on the gangplank.”
Once again, there was silence, broken finally by the flight control officer. “Why would three Red Angel pilots lie about their orders so they could waste their shore leave on training maneuvers?”
“Probably because they knew what I was going to waste their shore leave if I caught them making wise-cracks about me behind my back again,” Luigi answered. “It’s a shame too, because the main deck could use some waxing... with a toothbrush, three toothbrushes, to be exact.”
As Luigi expected, the response was total silence.
“Well, anyway,” Luigi instructed, “let me know when they’re back so I can have a long talk with them about the meaning of the word ‘insubordination’. And Flight Control, how about doing some flight controlling?” With that, Luigi stalked off the bridge thinking to himself, “I just had to ask what could go wrong in three days, didn’t I?”
“Prelaunch checks complete, Guildmaster,” reported the captain of Kamek’s guard. “The Fallen Angel is prepped for departure.
“Intelligence officer,” Kamek inquired of a Sledge Brother across the bridge from him, “what do you have for me?”
“Reports indicate, Guildmaster,” the Sledge Brother replied, “that the Easton Air Force is still docked at Seaside, as expected, but Archangel isn’t with them.”
“According to radar logs, the Archangel and three escorts launched this morning at dawn. Destination, unknown. Also, another Sarasi fleet is en route to Seaside now.”
Kamek repeated his previous question with more disgust. “What?”
“It appears to be the Chai Air Force, Guildmaster,” the Sledge Brother reported almost apologetically. “I estimate they’ll arrive at Seaside tomorrow at dusk.”
“Well,” Kamek muttered, “I’d so much
rather wait until Archangel can be destroyed with the rest, but I won’t
get another opportunity like this. Besides, maybe it’s better to have the
assurance that Archangel can’t
interfere.“ He swiveled his command seat around toward the front of the bridge. “The Easton Wing won’t be there when they arrive,” he declared insistently. “Helmsman, engage engines.” He clenched his fists around the arms of his chair and growled, “We’re not waiting for nightfall.”
“Yes, Guildmaster,” complied the helmsman, another Sledge Brother. Within seconds the deck beneath the bridge crew began to rumble as propellers and turbines began to whine, quietly at first, but soon the noise became almost deafening. And to Kamek, there could be no more satisfying sound but one, and that was the sound with which Kamek would soon sooth his ears: the sound of Sarasi screams and exploding Sarasi warships.
“We are airborne, Guildmaster,” declared the Captain of the Guard.
“Set course,” Kamek commanded gleefully, “for Seaside Port. All decks, prepare for combat.”
At 0915, Sarasi time, the long-distance-radar operator of the Hero’s Glory sat back in his chair, quite bored. “How did I get stuck with this shift?” he wondered aloud. “Fortinbras announces three days shore leave for the entire wing, with only skeleton crews working shifts, and I get stuck on one of the skeleton crews. Instead of three days, I’m getting two.”
“Radar,” came a staticy voice from the intercom system, “this is the bridge. What’s your report?”
“The same as it was last time you asked, bridge,” answered the lazy chief petty officer. “And just like the time before that, and the time-”
“You could at least look at your screen to check, you bum,” interrupted the bridge.
“Why?” insisted the radar chief. “We already know what I’m gonna see: nothing. There’s not a Koopa around for miles. I mean, what would they be interested in here?”
“Just check, before I bring you up on vagrancy charges.”
“Fine,” whined the chief. “Fine, I’ll
check.” He lazily leaned over toward his myriad of radar screens and briefly
scanned over them with his eyes. There was nothing, just as he had... “Wait
a minute. Bridge, you’re
right, we do have incoming.”
“Identify,” replied a suspicious bridge officer.
“Uh... one ship, en route from Booster Hill.” The chief took a moment to more closely examine his screens before settling back into his chair with a half-relieved, half-disappointed sigh. “It’s Archangel.”
There was a moment of confused silence before the bridge replied with, “How’s that possible? Archangel left just this morning for Land’s End. And what about her three escorts? If there’s only one ship, where are they?”
“Well, I’ll send you the readings,” barked the chief. “You can see for yourself if you don’t believe me.”
“Watch your attitude, chief, or I’ll have you busted back to Crewman Third Class before you can say court-martial.”
The chief bit his tongue to keep from responding. “Transmitting data now... sir,” he added deliberately.
There was a moment more silence before the officer on the bridge replied with, “Well, this reading doesn’t make any sense.”
“We’re approaching Seaside, Guildmaster,” reported the Fallen Angel’s helmsman eagerly.
“Incoming transmission,” added the radio operator. “It’s from the flagship. They’re requesting we slow to docking speed.”
“Docking speed,” laughed Kamek. “Then they don’t suspect us so far. Well, helmsman, slow to subsonic.”
“Slowing to subsonic velocity,” complied the helmsman. “Our speed is now at 300 kph.”
“Gunner,” ordered Kamek calmly, “extend the main gun. Begin charging breaker beams.”
“Breakers charged,” answered the Gunner.
Kamek watched his forward window closely, scarcely able to remain in his seat as the steam funnels of the Sarasi fleet became visible.
“Entering firing range now, Guildmaster,” reported the gunner.
“Acquire all targets of opportunity,” Kamek ordered. “Fire at will.”
Luigi awoke to the sound of explosions all around him. “Mamamia,” he shouted as he tumbled out of his bunk and onto the floor. As quickly as he could he grabbed his signature green workcap and stumbled across the shaking deck to his door, and up to the bridge. “What’s going on here?” he shouted over all the noise. “Who’s shooting at us?”
“You won’t believe this, Captain,” shouted the radar operator, “but it looks like Archangel!”
Luigi shook the sleep from his head as he absorbed what he had just heard before replying with a very groggy, “What?”
“We’re being fired on by Archangel,” reported the radar operator with a note of disbelief in his voice. “Orders, sir?”
“Open comm frequencies,” Luigi ordered.
“Comm frequencies open,” the radar operator called through the noise around him as the enemy ship sent another series of explosions rippling across the flight deck.
“Archangel, this is Hero’s Glory. What d’you think you’re doing exactly? Stand down. I say again, stand down from your attack.”
The reply came in the form of another round of explosions from the flight deck.
“I think that’s the universal signal for ‘not no, but’...”
“Sir,” interrupted the First Officer, “take a look at this.”
“What is it?”
“Captain, those are Koopa weapons they’re using.”
“Come again, Commander?” questioned Luigi.
“Sir,” reiterated the First Officer, “that’s not Archangel. It’s not even a Sarasi ship. I don’t know how, but that’s a Koopa Imperial vessel.”
Luigi spun around toward the forward window in time to see the Archangel look-alike ship sink the neighboring carrier vessel. “Comm,” he commanded, “call our pilots back. Order all carriers to open fire, and deploy all aircraft.”