It was March 31 in the year 64,128 A.D.
by the Calendar of Sarasaland, and the time was 1430 hours. However, in
the Thalidian city of Seaside, few people knew or cared. After all, who
needed to know how those bizarre
militants on the other side of the world kept track of time anyway? All that mattered was that they were finally joining Thalidia in the Great War. Such was the mind set of the sailors and townspeople in Seaside. However, while Sarasi timekeeping was a detail that received little attention except by clerics, the arrival of Sarasi naval and aerial forces in Seaside was on the forefront of the minds of the townspeople as well as all of Thalidia as the carrier vessels for Sarasaland’s Easton Air Force sailed into dry-docks at Seaside.
The people of Seaside watched in wonder as the grandiose fleet floated swiftly and gracefully into port. “Would ya look at that,” whispered one awestruck bystander. “Even the princess’ navy don’t have ships such ‘s that.”
“And get a load o’ them airships they’re carryin’,” added another. “Great bones o’ Johnny Jones, I’m glad they’re on our side.”
As the townspeople continued to marvel
at the vessels, debating amongst themselves whether they thought these
craft had strength to match their magnificence, the Flagship of the carrier
fleet docked at a debarking ramp near the shore. The people were so enthralled
with the vision of the ships that very few of them noticed. They didn’t
notice the gangplank extending from the Flagship. They didn’t even notice
as a uniformed Sarasi officer who dwarfed any man in the port stepped down
the gangplank and into Seaside,
carrying his Shako Cap under his arm. The man stopped and surveyed the town appraisingly as he entered its boundaries for a moment, and it was clear from his curling of his lips that the town was not to his liking. He popped his knuckles, dusted off his epaulets, shook the sand from his boots, and pulled his long white hair out of his face and over his shoulder as he stepped up to one of the dumbfounded townsfolk.
“You,” the officer greeted condescendingly, “my name is Lord Fortinbras, commodore of these ships. I’m looking for the master of this port.”
The Thalidian looked up at the Sarasi officer towering over him with a wonder that bordered on fear. “If you’d be meanin’ the mayor o’ Seaside, skipper, he won’t take a visit from just anyone who walks in. So unless yer some kind o’ nobility...”
Fortinbras rolled his eyes. “So titles
of nobility are the game, are they?” he thought aloud, interrupting the
Thalidian sailor’s speech. "Let me introduce myself again. I’m Lord Fortinbras,
Prime Minister and Lord
Chamberlain of the Four Princedoms of Sarasaland, Minister of their Defense, General of the 7th Army of Birubuto, Commodore of the Easton Regal Navy, and Martial of the Easton Air Force.” Once Fortinbras was certain the man standing before him was sufficiently awed he presented his query again. “Now where can I find this mayor?”
Mayor Martine of Seaside looked out his window at the Sarasi fleet sailing into his city with almost as much wonder as the people standing on the docks. “It isn’t everyday you get to see a sight like that,” he thought to himself. “But my question...” That thought was interrupted by a knock at his door. The mayor glanced at his butler, letting him know to answer the knock.
The butler strode toward the door, opened it, and formally inquired, “Please state your business with Mayor Martine.”
“My name is Lord Fortinbras, and-”
That was all the mayor needed to hear. “Let him in,” he quickly instructed the butler. He ran toward the door just in time to see the butler step out of the way for Lord Fortinbras, who had to lower his head to fit in the doorway. “Lord Fortinbras,” Mayor Martine greeted excitedly as he shook the Sarasi Defense Minister’s hand, “it’s an honor to meet you. I got a letter by carrier pigeon from Princess Peach just yesterday saying that I should expect your fleet to arrive, but I had no idea it would be so soon. I apologize for the...”
The mayor continued in such a fashion
for what felt to Fortinbras like hours, but Fortinbras managed to tune
him out. He hated when people reacted this way to him, all handshakes and
“it’s an honor to meet you”s and excited babble. Why, thought Fortinbras,
couldn’t the rest of the world be more like him: strictly business? “Mayor
Martine,” Fortinbras forced the mayor to take a breath in his speech before
he passed out, “I’m
sorry to interrupt, but I’m here for a reason.”
“Oh, of course,” the mayor subsided. “What can the people of Seaside do for you, Prime Minister?”
“It’s very simple, Mayor,” Fortinbras answered. “You can grant my troops three days of much-needed shore leave in your port before we set sail for Toadtown and Spore City.”
“Shore leave?” the mayor asked incredulously. “Here? For every sailor in your fleet?”
Fortinbras bit his lip. It was a difficult request, he had to admit. It seemed he had overstepped his bounds. “Perhaps you’re right, Mayor,” Fortinbras conceded after a few moments. “I apologize for the intrusion. My ships will be out of your harbor once we’ve purchased the necessary supplies.” And with that, Fortinbras started toward the door, but Martine grabbed him by the arm before he could leave.
“Milord,” the mayor said with a smile, “it would be my pleasure to grant your men shore leave.”
That same day at 1700 hours, on the main deck of the Sarasi carrier ship Hero’s Glory, two hundred Sarasi pilots waited eagerly for the gangplank to be extended so they could debark and enjoy their first steps on dry land in weeks. These were the pilots of the Red Angel Wing: Lord Fortinbras’ own air unit and the pride of the Easton Air Force.
“Why won’t they let us off?” asked one impatient pilot.
“I don’t know,” answered another, “but if they don’t let us off soon I’m going up to the bridge to have a little chat with our ‘beloved captain’.”
“Whose idea was it to give that lunkhead his own command anyway?” sneered a third. “He’s a Thalidian, and last I checked this was a Sarasi wing, carried by the Sarasi Navy.”
“Well, you know,” commented the first of the three, “Lord Fortinbras is a Thalidian.”
“Well, yeah, but...”
The three were interrupted by the sound of booted feet coming toward them. They all turned and found themselves staring at a fairly tall man with a black mustache, wearing the gray uniform of the Sarasi Military with the rank of Captain on his collar. Strangely enough for someone of his rank, the Captain sported no medals. On the right side of his uniform just below the seam he wore a black nameplate that read “L. Mario". “Gentlemen,” the captain greeted coolly, “am I interrupting anything?”
The three pilots exchanged nervous glances. “No,” answered one. “Nothing, sir.”
“Good,” replied the captain, Luigi L. Mario. “I just thought I’d let you know that the gangplank will be extended momentarily and you can debark. I just thought you’d want to see Archangel when she arrives.”
The three pilots gasped in unison. “Archangel?”
The Luigi nodded. “Lord Fortinbras’ own airship,” he agreed. “Her carrier’ll be sailing into the harbor in minutes. In fact,” he pointed over the shoulders of the three pilots, “there she is now.”
The three pilots spun around to see this. As they did they saw another ship sailing into Seaside’s port and their jaws dropped in awe. It was true. This was Archangel’s own carrier ship. Even from the deck of Hero’s Glory they could see the Prime Minister’s notorious warship tied down on the landing deck. “Wow,” whispered the second pilot, “she’s a beauty.”
She sure is, thought Luigi. Luigi took his time looking over every facet of the ship. It was a juggernaut-class ship, with twin elevation pontoons. It was somewhat triangular and flat in shape, with hyper-aerodynamic contours that traced from its nosecone down to its short, backward-curving wings. On the top of the ship were three rotors for maneuvering the ship, and at the back were three more for propulsion. But as amazing as the ship was to behold, Luigi knew that its most amazing feature was what he and the three pilots couldn’t see from where they were.
The ship was built for combat, and in combat she was a predator. This was the thought on the minds of Luigi and the three pilots as the first pilot began reciting her statistics. “You know,” the pilot marveled, “she’s armed to the teeth. Twin flame throwers (powered by Super Flowers of course) on the forward and aft arrays, sixteen P.O.P cannons on the gunwales on each side, and then,” the pilot grinned an almost sinister grin, “there’s her main gun.”
Luigi’s ears perked up. “I’ve heard about it,” he agreed, “and they say it’s some kind of prototype weapon, but I don’t know what it its exactly. What is it? A Koopa plasma cannon?”
The pilot shook his head. “Ooooh, no. It’s a lot meaner than that. The main gun is a pressurized liquid nitrogen cannon.”
That didn’t make any sense to the other two pilots. “A what?” they asked in unison.
“A pressurized liquid nitrogen cannon,” explained the first pilot. ”You see, nitrogen gas turns to liquid at a very low temperature. In fact, it’s such a low temperature that it can freeze almost anything on contact. And this cannon uses a high-pressure nozzle to spray the stuff.”
“It’s a freeze gun,” commented Luigi. Suddenly, a new thought entered his mind and he couldn’t help but snicker. “Heh, I’ll bet Mario wishes the Sky Pop had packed that kind of firepower.” The three pilots chuckled at that. “But that’s enough drooling over the Archangel,” Luigi declared. “She’ll still be there later, and right now I think you three, and the rest of the wing, would like to get off this boat.”
All three pilots grinned. “Sir,” answered the third pilot, “you have no idea.”
Luigi smiled. “Well, then I’ll give the order to extend the gangplank. But first, I need to tell you three one thing.” Luigi’s entire expression changed as he stepped right up into the face of the third pilot. “If I ever hear another word out of your mouth asking why a ‘lunkhead’ like me was put in command of this ship, all three of you will be on the next transport back to Birubuto to take the matter up personally with Princess Daisy. Got it?”
Three sets of feet shuffled uncomfortably.
“Understood, sir,” they sounded off in unison.
“Good,” Luigi nodded. “Now get off my ship.”
The three pilots didn’t need any further prompting. Before Luigi had even had time to tongue-lash them on their way down to the gangplank they were out of his sight.
“Why did I let Daisy talk me into this whole ‘Navy’ thing?” Luigi muttered to himself when they were out of earshot.
“Why did I let Lord Bowser talk me into this?” huffed Kamek, the Magikoopa Guildmaster, as he turned his eyes above him and saw ten more flights of stairs between him and his destination. “I’m far too old for this. How did I wind up as the Koopa ambassador to everyone in the world? How did I find myself in this miserable backwater corner of creation? And how...” The aged wizard stopped climbing to catch his breath before shouting for all the world to hear, “HOW IN THE ABYSS DOES BOOSTER GET AROUND THIS TOWER WITH NO ELEVATOR?!”
After letting his complaint echo through the stairwells for a few seconds, Kamek continued his climb to the top of the tower where Booster, CEO of Boostercorp, waited for him. “Even a lift-block would be an improvement,” he muttered, just to make sure he had the last word in his one-sided argument with the fates. “But that’s okay,” he added sarcastically, “nobody minds except Kamek, and who gives a hoot about Kamek anyway? Kamek’s just a tired old relic from an earlier age. Why should it matter if he’s running himself to death on Lord Bowser’s business?”
Lord Bowser’s business, Kamek thought. Now that was a laugh. Everyone knew Bowser had very little to do with Boostercorp. It was Baron Ludwig who dealt with them. Boostercorp was one of the leading manufacturers of Bullet Bills and Bill Blasters for Baron Von Koopa and his engineering corps, but Bowser rarely worried himself with such things. All he cared about was that the assembly lines of the Baron’s engineers met their daily quota of tanks and fighter airships. It didn’t matter where the parts came from or how the Baron got them.
At least, not until now. In recent months,
Baron Ludwig Von Koopa had come under suspicion of treasonous acts of rebellion.
Kamek had been one of the few people in the Koopa hierarchy not to take
these suspicions seriously until an inadvertent message from Thalidia,
the so-called “Mushroom Kingdom” and Lord Bowser’s most hated foe, cast
the Baron in an even more dubious light. So now, Kamek thought with distaste,
all the Baron’s associates, including Booster, were under close scrutiny
by Bowser, which meant sending an “ambassador” to spy on Boostercorp from
the inside. And somehow, the job had fallen to Kamek. Kamek had a great
many things he could have said about this. He had a great many things he
could have said about Baron Ludwig for his rebellious acts. He even had
a great many things he could have said about
Lord Bowser for sending him to this forsaken place. But Kamek said none of them. Instead, Kamek said the one thing that expressed his thoughts more profoundly than anything else.
“Nine more flights to go.”
“Now this, Ensign,” commented a Sarasi lieutenant commander as he and his young companion stepped into the Bandana Red, a crowded tavern in Seaside, “is what life in the Empress’ Navy is all about.”
The commander and his companion walked to the nearest unoccupied table and sat down. “I don’t know, sir,” answered the ensign, surveying the rowdy crowd of Thalidian sailors who haunted the tavern, “this looks like a good place to get into a fight.”
The commander grinned a rascal’s grin. “That’s half the beauty of it.”
The ensign’s response was cut short by a soft female voice asking “What’ll it be for you fellows?”
The commander glanced up and saw a tall, blue-eyed Thalidian woman wearing a white spore-cap with pink specks standing next to the table. “I’ll have a bottle of Nimbus ale,” he said with the same up-to-no-good grin.
“Mm-hm,” noted the tavern-maid, “Nimbus ale. Got it. And how ‘bout you?”
The ensign looked around the room nervously. “Better make mine a Red Essence.”
“Whoa,” whistled the tavern maid, “Red Essence? You know what that’ll do to you, don’t you? Aside from that, it’s a little on the expensive side.”
“I know it dulls the senses,” answered the ensign, “starting with perception of pain, and that’s what I’m counting on. As for the expense,” he indicated the rank on his collar, “I’m an officer. I can afford it.”
The tavern maid shrugged. “It’s your tab, not mine. Well, one Red Essence and a Nimbus ale, comin’ right up.”
The commander looked at his young companion in mock disappointment. “Red Essence? Tch tch,” he said, shaking his head. “Afraid are we, Raz?”
“Hinopio,” the ensign replied, “I was
born Thalidian. I grew up in Marrymore, not far from here, and I know crowds
like this. They’re rough in any situation, and most of them have had too
much ale. Aside from that,
Thalid-folk don’t care much for Sarasis. Especially not when we’re sitting in their tavern, drinking their ale, and in your case,” he glanced after the tavern maid, “flirting with the women of their town.”
Hinopio roared with laughter. “But of course, Raz. Of course it’s a rough crowd. After all, they’re sailors. But they’re no match in a scrap for trained Sarasi soldiers. And as for the last point in your argument...” Hinopio caught himself and lowered his voice slightly. “As for that, that’s the best part.”
Raz was about to reply when the tavern maid returned carrying two empty glasses and two bottles. “Red Essence,” she noted, placing one glass in front of Raz, followed by a bottle of a bubbling red liquid, “and Nimbus ale,” as she placed the other glass and bottle in front of Hinopio. “Now if you two are still standing after you finish that, just call me.” And with that she turned to a horde of other impatient customers.
“Oh, we will,” Hinopio said knowingly. “We will.”
Raz snorted in distaste as he poured himself a round from the red-filled bottle and almost immediately downed it. “Hinope, you need someone,” he pointed out. “You really need someone.”
“And you don’t?”
“I have someone.”
Hinopio lowered his second shot of Nimbus ale from his lips. “You do?”
“My wife, Raini,” Raz answered, “is still in Officer School in the Chai Air Force.”
Hinopio downed his second, third, and fourth rounds of ale before continuing. “So tell me. How exactly did a Thalidian hotshot like you wind up married to an Air Force Cadet from Chai?”
“She’s not from Chai,” Raz corrected. “She’s from Thalidia.” He took another shot of Red Essence before getting into what he knew would be a long, involved tale. “We got married about the same time that Thalidia was attacked by that Smithy creature. After a much-hastened return from our honeymoon, we decided that between Bowser, Smithy, the Cult of Belome, and all the other nutcases who had their eyes on Thalidia, the place just wasn’t safe anymore, not even with the Marios around. So, we packed up and left.”
Raz paused to gulp down yet another round of Red Essence before telling the next part of his story. “We hopped from place to place for about two years, looking for some place where we could live in relative peace and raise a family. Finally, we wound up settling in Chai. Mind you, that was before Fortinbras started applying the draft to foreigners. But, eventually he did just that. Left with a choice between the military or moving yet again, we opted for the military. So, we went through Basic, both went for a commission, and the rest is history.”
By the time Raz finished his story the bottle in front of Hinopio was completely empty. “And just look at you now,” he grinned as he said semi-coherently. “A maintenance officer on Archangel, the pride of the Red Angels.”
A Thalidian sailor at the table behind Hinopio decided he had heard enough Sarasi small-talk by this point. “Well, what’ve we here?” he asked as if he had only just noticed Raz and Hinopio. “A pair of Sarasi...” his face contorted itself into a false smile before adding in a voice dripping with contempt, “gentlemen.”
Hinopio turned around in his seat to face the sailor. “And what’s it to you?” he snapped.
“Hinope,” Raz warned, but it was too late. That was all the provocation the sailor needed.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” the sailor mocked. “I didn’t mean to interrupt you two oh-so-superior Sarasis. By the tradewinds, I don’t know where you lousy softies from Sarasaland come off thinkin’ yer gonna just walk in here into a town full o’ Thalid-folk and start actin’ like yer in charge o’ anythin’.”
That comment was followed by loud and raucous laughter from the Thalidian sailors who were paying enough attention to hear.
“Soft?” growled Hinopio, beginning to rise from his seat. “Did I just hear you say Sarasis are soft?”
“Easy, Hinope,” Raz cautioned the commander, “We can’t afford to get into a fight while we’re still in this uniform.”
As Hinopio grudgingly sat back down, the sailor continued his flood of insults. “You’re right,” he sighed in false shame. “Not all Sarasis are soft. Look at Fortinbras for example.”
“See,” Raz tried to ensure that Hinopio wasn’t about to take the bait again. “Even he’s afraid of Fortinbras. So we should be too if he hears about two of his officers getting into a tavern brawl.”
“He may be a pompous, stuffed-shirt, swaggering, overbearing dictator with delusions of Godhood,” the sailor added, his voice rising with every word, “but he’s definitely not soft.”
Hinopio bolted out of his chair and would have been at the sailor’s throat had Raz not held him down. “Hinope,” he muttered under his breath, “sit back down and ignore him. He’s not worth it: just some dumb sailor who’s had too much mushroom wine. Keep your wits.”
Hinopio clenched his fists until he drew blood from them, but finally sat down. “You’re right,” he sighed, “you’re right.”
“Which makes you wonder,” the sailor continued doggedly, “why he lets himself be seen a garbage scow like Archangel.”
This time it was Raz’s turn to take the bait. “Garbage scow?” he snarled as he slowly turned to meet the offending sailor’s eyes. “I think you oughtta rephrase that one, Mister.”
“Well, I guess you’re right,” conceded the sailor, pretending to back down. “I didn’t mean the Archangel should be hauling garbage.” But as soon as Raz turned away thinking he’d had the last word, the sailor loudly announced, “I meant it should be hauled away AS garbage!” Having spent his cache of insults for the day, the sailor simply laughed rowdily along with nearly every other sailor in the Bandana Red.
But Hinopio wasn’t paying attention to the sailors. He was more occupied with the reaction they were invoking in his companion. “Ensign,” he warned, “you just gave me a speech on keeping my wits. Don’t go losing yours. Stay calm.”
“Oh, I’m calm, sir,” Raz replied as he polished off his bottle of Red Essence in one mighty gulp. And he was. He kept his wits about him every step of the way as he calmly rose from his chair, calmly stepped toward the sailor when his back was turned, and calmly shattered the bottle upon the sailor’s head.
The sailor fell unconscious to the floor, leaving Raz feeling quite satisfied that their sailor-problems were over. Not so, he realized as his eyes rose from the knocked-out sailor to a crowd of his associates drawing knives from their belts and closing dangerously around Raz and Hinopio.
“Uh, Raz,” Hinopio whispered nervously as his eyes darted around for a way out that wouldn’t require going past an angry mob of Thalidian sailors, “I’m really beginning to wish you’d shared that bottle with me.”
“Seven... six,” Kamek panted as he climbed the last flight of steps in Booster’s Tower. The door to the one hundredth-floor-hall was just a few steps away from him. “Five... four... three...”
Kamek was just about to count off two when the door swung open and three black-coated creatures burst out and practically leapt upon him.
“Mr. Kamek,” squealed one of the creatures, “you made it!”
“We were starting to get worried,” added another.
“Uh, yeah,” the third creature added his intellect to the conversation. “It’s like they said.”
Kamek hadn’t even quite comprehended the presence of the three things before they had finished their greeting, nearly knocking him down the stairs in the process. When he finally regained his balance and the blur that was the three creatures finally stopped moving long enough for Kamek to focus his eyes on them, he recognized them. “You must be the Snifits,” Kamek surmised. “Snifit’s 1, 2, and 3.”
“That’s us,” replied one of the creatures, bouncing up and down in place. “I’m Snifit 1.”
“And I’m Snifit 2,” added another.
“I know,” Kamek interrupted, “you’re Snifit 3. That’s what I said.”
Kamek surveyed the blank expressions visible even through the masked faces of the three Snifits for a moment, and decided he had best take their brief conversation into his own hands. “Eh, where can I find Booster?”
“Mr. Booster?” Snifit 1 repeated for clarification.
“He’s in his office,” Snifit 2 answered Kamek’s question.
“Yeah,” Snifit 3 agreed.
Kamek waited for a moment for the three scholarly-looking creatures to realize they were supposed to escort him to the office. When Kamek counted off a minute and a half of silence without this epiphany striking any one of the trio, he decided to help them along again. “Well, where can I find this office?”
“Only in one place,” Snifit 1 replied as sagely as he was wont to reply.
“It’s down the hall through the secret entrance no one knows about,” noted Snifit 2.
“Yeah,” agreed Snifit 3. “The one that’s hidden behind the bookcase with the globe on top, and that only opens when you turn the painting of Booster VII to face the wall.”
“But we can’t tell you how to find this secret entrance,” Snifit 1 pointed out, “because it’s a secret, so we can’t tell you about it.”
“So we’ll take you there,” offered Snifit 2.
“Yeah,” nodded Snifit 3.
“Follow us, Mr. Kamek,” the Snifits beckoned.
Kamek hesitated for a moment, not sure
if he trusted the three mental giants who had just so vividly displayed
their brilliance. After all, couldn’t he find his own way to the office
after the third Snifit had
explained its location to him? And was it safe to travel with such... well, such Snifits?
However, in the end Kamek had little choice but to play along. This was Booster’s Tower after all, not his, and the Snifits were Booster’s aides. With an agonizing feeling that he had not seen the last of the Snifits’ intellect, he accompanied them to Booster’s secret office...
Once the Snifits remembered where it was.
“Lord Fortinbras,” panted Martine as he sprinted up to the Prime Minister, interrupting his conversation with the First Officer of Archangel, “you’d better come quickly. There’s a fight at the Bandana Red.”
“The tavern?” Fortinbras asked. “What does that have to do with me?”
“There were Sarasi troops involved,” Martine explained.
“What?!” exclaimed Fortinbras. “Sarasi soldiers? In a tavern brawl?”
“I’m afraid so.”
“Lead on,” Fortinbras replied. “Captain,” he said as he turned to his first officer, “you stay here.”
With that, Martine and Fortinbras bolted toward the Bandana Red to put a stop to the fighting.
“How did this happen?” Fortinbras demanded on the way.
“I don’t know,” replied Martine. “All I know is that a pair of Sarasi officers got into it with a mob of sailors from a Thalidian cargo ship.”
“Most likely they were all as drunk as Rat Funks,” Fortinbras growled.
“Yes,” agreed Martine, “including the Sarasis.”
Fortinbras couldn’t believe his ears. “What?”
“The tavern maid who ran screaming out of the place to tell me what was going on said something about one of the Sarasis ordering a... eh, something potent. I forget the name. Red Essence, I think it was called.”
Fortinbras slowed his running pace a bit. “Red Essence?” he blurted incredulously. “Do you mean to tell me that one of my officers-”
“Two of your officers, Prime Minister,” Martine interrupted. “Oh, here it is.” Martine pointed to a long, one-story building in the shopping district of the town. “The door on the far left is the Bandana Red.”
“Mayor Martine,” came a frightened shout from just outside the building as a young Thalid woman ran up to meet Martine and Fortinbras. “Mayor Martine, thank Heaven you’re here. They’re still fighting in there, and I think it’s getting worse.” And it was true. From where they stood, Martine and Fortinbras could hear screams of rage and pain even over the noise of glass breaking and wooden chairs being shattered.
Martine placed a hand on the woman’s shoulder to calm her. “Look, Ma’am, I need you to calm down. Now, can you tell me where the two men are who started this?”
At that moment there was an ear-shattering “Crash” as a wooden table flew through the window of the tavern, showering the three bystanders with glass. With it tumbled two Sarasi officers and two Thalidian sailors.
“That’s them,” the tavern-maid shrieked as she pointed at the two Sarasi officers.
Fortinbras lowered his head as a bull would before charging. “I’ll handle this one, Mayor,” he announced boldly as he stepped into the blur of fists and teeth and glass shards. He could barely tell which two were his officers through all the dust, but in the end he picked out a pair of uniformed soldiers wearing the ranks of ensign and lieutenant commander.
“Got you,” Fortinbras snarled as he lunged into the fray and, grabbing the two officers by their collars, dragged them away from their Thalid opponents. “Both of you, stand down. That’s an order!”
The officer wearing the rank of ensign took a brief look at Fortinbras and instantly stopped struggling as a look of horror and recognition spread over his face. The commander, however, was not so inclined to leave the fight until he had finished it. With a mighty lurch, he wrenched himself from Fortinbras’ grip and threw himself back at one of the Thalidian sailors. He didn’t get to continue his fight for long, though, because no sooner was he upon the sailor than he was on his back, reeling from a kick to his gut and an elbow to the bridge of his nose, and gasping to get back his wind. The sailors, looking on their downed opponent with relish, took the opportunity and leapt at him, biting and clawing. Their assault, however, was as short-lived as had been the commander’s.
Just when the sailors thought they were on their opponent, they found themselves being hoisted off their feet and launched through the air, crashing through one of the only unbroken windows of the Bandana Red, landing on the broken debris of a table, and rolling backward to land at the feet of a mob of sailors and soldiers, still engaged in their free-for-all. The fighters paused for only a moment at the interruption, but that moment was long enough for Fortinbras to make his presence known.
“I would suggest,” Fortinbras shouted
over the commotion, “that every man in this room stop what he’s doing and
stay where he is.” Once the room was completely silent and the last set
of fists had been lowered, he stepped into the tavern. “Now,” he addressed
the mob, “the next man to move, whether Sarasi or Thalidian, answers to
me.” Fortinbras surveyed the Sarasi personnel in the tavern with disgust
for a moment before a sickening realization came over him. “You’re all
from the crew of the Archangel, aren’t you? Well,
that’s excellent,” he raised his voice even higher to make sure his point was made, “because now you get to spend the next three days with me on training maneuvers while everyone else is enjoying their shore leave.”
Luigi walked into his cabin on the secondary deck of the Hero’s Glory, took off his uniform topcoat, and threw it carelessly on his bunk. “Three more days,” he muttered to himself. “Three more days and the Chai Air Force will be here with my replacement and I’ll be able to get rid of that blasted uniform.” He took a very brief look out at the main deck through his cabin’s only window before flinging himself down on the bunk. “This,” he decided, “was all a mistake. I shouldn’t be on this ship. I shouldn’t be commanding this crew. I shouldn’t even be wearing that uniform. ‘Captain Mario’ my mustache.”
Luigi sat back up in his bunk. He still remembered clearly the conversation that he had had with Daisy.
“I have a war to fight, Daisy,” he had told her. “I don’t have time to be in the military.”
“It’s only temporary,” Daisy had responded. “Just until we can find a permanent commander for the carrier fleet.”
“But they have Fortinbras, and he’s so much more experienced with organized military things like this. I’m not a soldier, Daisy. I do things my own way. I’m not the leader they need.”
“They don’t need a leader, Luigi. They need a hero, and you’re it. Most of them are fresh out of training. The last time they saw combat was when they helplessly watched Tatanga take over their homelands. They’re scared, Luigi, and the presence of one of the famous Mario Brothers would boost their spirits tremendously.”
“Boost their spirits indeed,” Luigi thought to himself now as he sat in his bunk. “The Sarasi pilots and crewmen all resented him. They thought he was naive, overconfident, and not at all fit for command. And on the last of those three complaints, Luigi knew they were right. He had no experience, no training, and in all honesty, no idea what he was doing. How did Daisy expect him to do this? Aside from all that, he was supposed to be in Thalidia right now. His brother and Princess Peach of Thalidia were going to be departing for Monstro City in less than a week, and Luigi was supposed to travel with them. “I really, really don’t have time for this,” he thought aloud again. “But I guess it’s only for three days...”
“And after all, what could go wrong in three days?”
“Ah, ambassador Kamek,” greeted a strangely tall human woman at Booster’s door, “We’ve been expecting you. Booster is waiting behind these doors for you. Follow me.” The woman looked at the Snifits and gave a quick nod, and the three of them waddled through a smaller door to the left of the main entrance to take up their posts at Booster’s side.
Kamek hesitated for a moment, eyeing
this strange woman suspiciously. Lord Bowser had told Kamek about the Snifits,
but other than that Kamek had expected to see no one but Booster. The tower’s
resident monsters usually kept out of sight, and the Spookum workers of
Boostercorp were on the assembly lines, not in the offices. So who, Kamek
wondered, was this? He surveyed the strange woman, trying to find something
about her he would recognize. She was, Kamek observed again, very tall:
almost freakishly so.
She wore a simple white gown, and her green hair was styled in a way that Kamek felt certain could house a bird’s nest.
Bird’s nest! Hair! Of course! This had to be Valentina, Booster’s wife and joint stockholder of Boostercorp.
“Ambassador,” Valentina interrupted Kamek’s thoughts impatiently, “I said this way. Get in here or leave!”
Kamek clutched his wand aggressively, but thought better of it. He was here for a reason, and that reason didn’t include killing anyone, at least not today. “Pardon me, madam,” he said with as much congeniality as he could muster, “I was distracted.”
Valentina let out a disinterested “Hmmph” before opening the double doors of Booster’s office. Kamek followed her inside to find a huge, ornate room with portraits lining the walls. Kamek recognized the people in the portraits as the same as the portraits in the hall. At the center of the office stood a wooden desk so big it obscured the tiny man sitting half-asleep behind it with his feet propped up on the desktop.
“That must be Booster,” Kamek thought as he looked more closely at the man behind the desk. “Great Astral Forces, I didn’t know he was that repulsive!"
Booster was incredibly small, especially when compared to Valentina, who stood right beside him. He wore a bright red and white suit that looked to Kamek like something that was thrown out by a circus, and his wild black beard had clearly not been trimmed for quite some time. Atop his head sat a fur-lined metal helmet with two horn-like projections on the sides. On his desk there was something moving.
Kamek strained his eyes to see the moving object on Booster’s desk. It was black, and it seemed to be alive. “It’s a rat,” Kamek observed. “No, not a rat. It’s...” Kamek recoiled slightly, “a beetle. What in the world is that for?”
As Kamek watched the beetle attentively, Valentina bent toward Booster and whispered something in his ear. Whatever it was that she said, it was enough to get Booster’s attention, for at that moment Booster’s eyes opened with a start. He swung his feet off his desk and leaned forward in his chair. “Kamek, I suppose,” he said in a gruff voice. “I’ve been expecting you.”
“Indeed,” Kamek nodded. “Mr. Booster, I...”
Booster held up a hand to silence Kamek. As Kamek pondered why, Booster reached across his desk, clenched the beetle in his fist and, as Kamek watched in revulsion, shoved the beetle into his mouth and began to crunch furiously.
“I’m sorry,” Booster said between chews. “What were you saying?”
"Eh, actually,” Kamek spoke slowly, still unnerved by what he was seeing, “Lord Bowser sent me here because you wanted to discuss some kind of quote-unquote business arrangement.”
Booster looked confused. “Heh?”
Valentina bent toward Booster’s ear once again and whispered.
“Oh, right. That,” Booster nodded, clasping his hands in front of him. “I wonder, Kamek. Would your boss be interested in a more advanced Bullet Bill?”
Finally, Kamek thought, the real reason I’m here. “What kind of Bullet Bill and what kind of ‘interest’ are we talking about, Booster?”
“My company has developed a prototype Bill, based on a design used by Smithy. You might remember that when Smithy took over this continent, he replaced most of the Bill Blasters in Bowser’s Keep with something similar, but different.”
“I remember,” Kamek agreed. “All the cannons fired what looked like Bullet Bills with gold casing instead of black. They were more powerful too. I think I heard some of Smithy’s troops call them ’Magnums’.”
“Yes,” Booster nodded. “They hit their target with...” He held up his hands and seemed to be counting on his fingers for a few seconds. Finally, he held up three fingers. “They hit with twice the explosive yield.”
Kamek slowly held up two fingers of his own. “Don’t you mean, twice the explosive yield?” he corrected.
“Eh, whatever,” Booster shrugged. “Anyway, we’ve figured out a way to mass-produce these ‘Magnums’, and we’re willing to sell them to the Koopa Troop... if the price is right. Eh, read this.” He held a packet of papers before him and snapped his fingers. In an instant one of the Snifits appeared at his side, took the packet, and handed it to Kamek.
Kamek read over the packet briefly and laughed. “Booster, Booster, Booster.” He threw the papers down on Booster’s desk. "This weapon of yours has twice the power of the one we’re using now, right? Then what makes you think Lord Bowser is going to agree to pay nearly five times the cost per unit?”
There was no reply from Booster.
“... Huh?” Booster stared Blankly at Kamek.
Valentina rolled her eyes. “Booster, you bafoon,” she snapped. "You couldn’t find water if you were a fish. Let me handle this.” She turned back toward Kamek and, forcing her best smile, replied with, “Ambassador, please be openminded about this. Just imagine the possibilities if every doomship, fighter-ship, and tank could strike with twice the firepower they have now. Why, surely that kind of power would be priceless. When you consider it, I really don’t think 500 per unit is that much to ask.”
“My dear lady,” Kamek contradicted, “the Koopa Troop doesn’t have access to large amounts of Thalid currency. 115 per unit is steep enough. However,” Kamek stepped away from Booster’s desk and began to pace around the office, stroking his chin. “The idea of a double-yield Bullet Bill is definitely noteworthy. But I can’t just agree to your terms without first consulting Bowser. Also,” he stopped pacing and looked directly at Booster and Valentina before continuing, “I’ll need a demonstration of the weapon first.”
Valentina stepped toward Kamek slowly. “Just what kind of demonstration did you have in mind, ambassador?”
Kamek clasped his hands behind his back and began pacing again. “Lord Bowser’s scout reports indicate that Sarasaland’s Easton Air Force and its carrier task force are docked at Seaside right now. It seems the Sarasi troops are taking three days of shore leave, starting today. The carriers are running on shift-rotation skeleton crews, and the pilots are all off duty. It’s the perfect time to attack and cripple or even destroy the Easton Air Force, but we’d have to strike quickly, stealthily, and ruthlessly. Now, what the Koopa Troop needs is a way to deliver a hard, fast blow to the Sarasis and crush them before they have time to counterattack. But with only one ship in the area, we’d need a much more powerful weapon than our standard Bill Blaster.”
Valentina nodded slowly, beginning to understand what it was that Kamek wanted. “We can refit a small airship with the new cannons in a day if you’d like to sample the merchandise. But if it’s a doomship...”
Kamek grinned wolfishly. “Walk out on your balcony, and look closely at the foot of Booster Hill.”
Booster and Valentina both suspiciously rose and walked toward the door leading out to the balcony. With a quizzical look back at Kamek, Booster turned the knob and they both slowly stepped out onto the balcony, looking out at the foot of Booster Hill as Kamek had instructed. There, as Kamek had indicated, was the last thing Booster and Valentina expected to see.
“That’s the Archangel!” Valentina gasped.
“The Sarasi ship?” Booster shouted in disbelief. “It’s an attack! Snifits, lock the-”
”Calm down, calm down,” chuckled Kamek. “It’s no attack.”
Booster eyed Kamek with distrust. “Are you sure?”
“Yes, Booster,” Kamek replied, “I’m sure. That’s the ship that brought me here.”
Booster’s jaw fell to the floor in disbelief. “Sarasaland brought you?”
Kamek rolled his eyes. “No, Booster. That’s a Koopa ship.”
“You mean the Koopa’s stole Archangel?”
Kamek clenched his hand around his wand, unsure how much more stupidity he could bear. “No, Booster,” he said through gritted teeth. “Take a closer look at the ship and tell me if anything seems strange.”
Booster did as he was told and examined the ship as closely as he could from his balcony, but he noticed nothing strange. Fortunately, Valentina noticed for him.
“The coloring’s different,” she noted. “Archangel’s hull is mostly painted white and streamlined in red. This ship’s streamlines are purple.”
Booster turned back toward Kamek with what appeared to be understanding in his eyes. “Ah, I see. The Koopas stole the Archangel and repainted it so Sarasaland wouldn’t recognize it,” he mused. “Great idea.”
“No, Booster,” Kamek said with a malicious grin. Even Booster’s idiocy wasn’t going to spoil Kamek’s mood. This was the grand unveiling of a plan he himself had hatched, and he was going to relish every moment of it. “Mr. and Mrs. Booster, it is with great pride that I present the Imperial Koopa Airship Fallen Angel.”