Chapter 8:  The Mastermind

 

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“If you threaten our nation, I will hunt you down.  You cannot hide.  There is nothing I cannot see or hear.  There is no place my bullet cannot go.  I will not stop until my job is done.  THIS I SWEAR.” –Tom Clancy

 

“Ah, sweet nectar,” Doom sighed as he opened up yet another Coke with a ksshhh! of released air pressure.  Just as he was about to chug it down, Dante snatched it away and swallowed it in one humongous gulp.  Without breaking the measured stride Doom had set for himself, he drew his shotgun and clubbed Dante in the head at the temple, where the human skull is relatively thinner than everywhere else.  Of course, that’s for human skulls.  Devil skulls are another matter entirely, and, if nothing else of worldly value, Dante had inherited Sparda’s notoriously dense pate.  So, instead of a nearly fatal skull-fracturing strike, all Doom achieved with that move was to give Dante a mild headache.

“OW!” Dante exclaimed, rubbing his left temple tenderly, “What did you do that for, man?  All I did was drink a coke!”

“You didn’t drink just any coke, though.  You drank my coke,” Doom replied stonily.

“Hey, it came from my trenchcoat, didn’t it?  That means it was mine to begin with.”

“You gave up all rights to that carbonated beverage the second it left your coat.”

“I never gave you that drink!”

“You don’t have to give someone something for it to leave your possession.”

“Why you…”

“What?  What am I?”

“Tch! Fine, go ahead and steal my drinks!  See if I care!  I have others.”

“Good.  I will be expecting a regular supply of these delicacies.”

Before Dante could lash out with an indignant reply, Squall asked, “So you plan on staying here, then?”

“I don’t see any reason not to.  There seems to be plenty of hell-spawn here to fight, certain members of present company included.”

Auron and Squall smirked and glanced at Dante, who seemed to have missed the gist of the conversation completely.  He was too busy glowering at Doom and locking his trenchcoat fridge to concentrate on much of anything else.

“Well, I’m sure we have an extra room for you.  Once you get settled in, we can introduce you to the rest of the gang,” Auron said.

Then Dante got it.  “Hey!  He’s not staying here, is he?  Please tell me he’s not.  Just look at him.  He looks like trouble with a capital T.”

For the sake of argument, Squall and Auron looked Doom over.  They saw a battered, violent looking space marine sporting dirty green combat fatigues, military boots, and a helmet that looked as if it had seen more than a few good knocks.  The green fatigues were no longer new, and had seen more combat and fighting than any other super hero costume can ever hope to witness.  Doom’s battle vest bore many scars of past battles, aberrations ranging from claw and teeth marks to scorched and semi-melted sections that screamed of fire.  And that was to say nothing of the bullet holes, which liberally peppered the front and back of his armor.  Almost every stitch of clothing on Doom was reddened somewhat by blood, both that of his enemies and his own.  His helmet was scratched and scuffed, and the mirror finish on the visor was no longer quite a mirror.  It was more like a cracked slate gray wall blocking anyone from seeing Doom’s face.  The only things that looked in remotely good condition on Doom were his weapons, but that was taken for granted.  No self-respecting battle hardened warrior ever lets his tools of the trade rust and deteriorate, lest Murphy’s Law of Chance kick in at a most inopportune moment.  Due to the fact that Doom had not given them any information regarding himself or his past, Squall and Auron could not determine his mental health, but it looked reasonably good, if you ignored the obvious lust for strife and bloodshed, that is.  But that was pretty normal, considering where they lived and the people that lived there.

“He seems about as troublesome as you, Dante.  No more, no less,” Auron said.

“Can we handle another Dante, Auron?” Squall asked.

“Hey, now!  What’s that supposed to mean?  I’m ten times more cultured and intelligent than that buffoon will ever be!” Both Doom and Dante cried out at the exact same time, right on down to the nanosecond.  The two antagonists glared at each other.  “What did you just say about me!?”  Again with the copycat syndrome.  “Why are you copying me?”  Squall and Auron glanced worriedly at each other. “Shut up!  Make me!  That’s it, I’m gonna kick your ass!  Oh yeah?  Yeah!” And so forth, Doom and Dante still talking at the same time.

Then, just as Auron was about to break up the argument with the flat of his blade, the four men heard an endless screaming that sounded suspiciously like Fox.  Less than three seconds after the sound first reached their ears, it was drowned out by a more insistent and sinister noise, one that Doom had hoped never to hear again. From this distance, it sounded something like this:

WWWWWAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHH!!!

As soon as the noise stopped, the yelling could be heard again.

“HALP! ANYONE! ANYONE AT ALL! HELP ME! FOR THE ALMIGHTY GOD’S SAKE HELP ME! AHHHH!” Now they (well, except for Doom) were sure. It was definitely Fox. Whether or not to go help him was not even considered. He needed help, and he was a Rainbow Soldier, and that was all that really mattered. But one thing nagged at the back of everyone’s mind (again, except Doom, who went along for other reasons of his own) as they rushed to his aid, ‘What the Hell could scare Fox like this?’

 

Fox was almost out of steam. He had run aimlessly for almost three miles, or that’s what his arm-mounted computer said. It felt more like ten. Fox quickly ducked into a side room before the biomechanical terror could round the corner and spot him, and cowered there, breathing hard and coughing up a lung. The stomping steps of the spider mech came around the corner, screeching against the walls, and that’s saying something because these halls were wide enough for Pigma Dengar to make his lardass way down them comfortably. As Fox sat there in a corner, a door on the far side of the room opened, and Ganondorf poked his head out, looked around, saw Fox, and broke into a grin of pure, simple happiness at the prospect of a friend to play with.

“Hi, Fox! What are you doing today?” Ganondorf said brightly, albeit with that idiotic accent, hoping against hope that Fox could spare some time to play a game with him.

“Oh, nothing much. Just trying to…” Fox replied.

“Great! Then you have time to play a game with me! Yay!”

“Well, actually…”

“Oh, come on! Please?”

Fox opened his mouth to dash Ganondorf’s hopes to miniscule pieces, and then thought better of it. “Okay, Ganondorf, I’ll play a game with you.” The simple-minded idiot beamed happily. “Tell you what we’re gonna play. We’re gonna play “Save Fox From The Nasty Spider Thing” game! Doesn’t that sound fun?”

Ganondorf nodded his head so hard you could hear his pea-sized brain rattling around inside it. “Duhuhhh, yup yup yup! That sounds mightily fun, Fox!”

“I’m glad you like it. Now, first thing you do is run straight outside and beat up on that weird machine out there. When it’s scrap, come back and see me.”

Without another word, Ganondorf hustled out of the room and found the spider mech. It sounded something like this:

“Ah-ha! There you are, you oversized tarantula! Prepare to meet your doom!” WHACK CRUNCH TONG!

‘Tong?’ Fox thought.

Questioning beeps and grunts emanated from what could only be the spider. Apparently it found this new, profoundly stupid entity interesting. It decided that a few tests were in order. The first was to see if the annoying pest was bulletproof. As its dual chainguns whirred up to optimal firing speed, Doom, Dante, Squall and Auron rounded the corner. All but Doom froze in their tracks at the sight of the overlarge Spider Mastermind that dominated the hall directly in front of them, its ugly-yet-effective chainguns spinning clockwise quickly enough to seem to turn counter clockwise.

“GET DOWN!” Doom yelled as he grabbed Squall and Dante and threw them to the ground. He tried to grab Auron, but the ectoplasmic swordsman had become transparent, a sign that he could not be damaged by mere bullets. Finally, Doom threw himself to the side and rolled away from the front of the Master.

Ganondorf, meanwhile, had been doing his level best (for what it’s worth) to destroy the gargantuan arachnid. By now, however, it was beginning to seem that he couldn’t do it. But that was to anyone watching, not for Ganon himself. You see, in Ganondorf’s eyes, he was being wildly successful in his fight against the Spider Mastermind, and that any minute it would collapse in humiliating defeat and leave him free to go collect his reward from Fox. Then the chainguns began firing.

WWWWWWWWAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHH!!!

The tremendous din of the miniguns was still ringing in Doom’s ears as he peeked anxiously around the corner to see what there was to see. Auron was unharmed, him being intangible and all, Dante was crouched behind a corner across the hall from Doom, and Fox was nowhere in sight. Also, the Mastermind had come to the rather obvious (and unnecessarily messy) conclusion that its former irritant, though appallingly moronic, was not bulletproof. Unfortunately for the Mastermind, there was not enough left of said test subject to run any more experiments on. They just didn’t make lab rats like they used to, it thought. Too bad. Then it noticed Dante coming around the corner.

Doom looked on in disbelieving silence as Dante marched purposefully up to the Mastermind’s “face” and began to chew it out for killing one of his main punching bags, invading the sanctity of his Castle, and being an all-around asshole in general. The Spider, equally surprised at the balls of this new target, did nothing for a moment. Then the various and colorful insults that were directed at its mother fought their way to its brain.

Seeing the ominous expression on the Spider’s “face”, Doom prudently pulled his head back around the corner. About ten seconds of unprintable dialogue later, there came the expected hiss of hydraulics as the M-Mind reared one of its legs back and smacked Dante a good one. Dante flew past Doom’s hiding spot and impacted against the far wall, leaving a devil hunter-shaped impression in the wall. Doom shook his head sadly, and then returned to the matter at hand. Running a quick inventory check on himself, Doom found that he had one single-barrel shotgun with twenty shells, one service pistol with fifty bullets, a key-started chainsaw, and a rocket launcher with three rockets. All in all, not nearly enough to firepower to put a biomechanical death machine down. Maybe to cut the legs out from under it, but not enough to kill it. But, as I’m sure you’re all well aware, beggars can’t be choosers.

“How thick do you think that dome over the brain is?” Auron asked out of nowhere.

Doom nearly blinked from surprise. “I’d say about three feet of bulletproof glass. Can you break that?”

“With help, probably. Alone… maybe, maybe not. Someone’s going to have to distract him.”

“I’ve got just the thing.” Doom said, turning to Dante, who was just picking himself up off the floor. “Hey, Dante, come here. I’ve got something to tell you.” Dante managed to shake the little pink bunnies from his head just as he reached Doom.

“What is it?” Dante asked.

“You know that Spider back there? Good. Do you know what he’s been saying about you and your family? Didn’t think so. He’s been spouting all kinds of lies, let me tell you just a few…”

And Doom launched into such a pack of slanderous lies about Dante and all his relatives that the Grinch would have been horrified to hear (much less repeat) them. What with Dante’s mother, Maria, having to go through special-ed classes when she was in school (she didn’t, in fact she graduated from college at the top of all her classes), and his father, Sparda, being nothing more than a parasitic drain on society (which is mostly true) who abused his wife and kids (which was most certainly NOT true). Dante, however, got the best, or worst, insult of all. According to the Spider Mastermind, Dante was an albino homo who buried his perverted views of life under a macho, womanizing façade.

Dante stood motionless for three seconds, then said, “Excuse me a moment.” And turned to duck into a conveniently placed soundproof room with padded walls.

Doom tapped him on the shoulder, and handed him a large glass bottle. “Here, use this and cork it when you’re through. You never can tell when a bottle of curses will be needed.”

“Thank you.” Dante said as he closed the door firmly behind him. Doom and Auron looked on as nothing whatsoever happened. Then a little smoke started to curl lazily out from under the door. Faint thuds and ripping sounds were heard from within. So much for flawless soundproofing. Then the knob turned, and Dante stepped back out, surrounded by billowing clouds of acrid smoke.

“There, I’m finished now. If you would be so kind as to direct me to the Mastermind, I will be on my way.” Auron and Doom pointed wordlessly around the corner. Dante nodded curtly and walked calmly off.

“There’s your distraction. Get moving.” Doom barked.

“Just one thing. Where’s Squall?” Auron asked.

Doom opened his mouth to reply, but then realized that he had completely forgotten about Squall. He came to a decision in a matter of two seconds. “New orders. Find Squall, then crack the dome.”

Auron nodded oh, say, an inch, and moved off on his mission. In the short space of time that it took for the two strategists to formulate a plan, many crashes and much gunfire was heard from around the corner.

Doom readied his launcher, drew a breath, and charged headlong into the fray. Just as he was about to loose off a rocket at the hideous monster, Auron flitted across his sights, forcing him to search out another vantage point from which to fire. Then Dante was in the way, hacking viciously at a mechanical leg. Doom swore not so quietly to himself, and moved yet again. As he was dashing to another spot, he tripped over Squall, who was belly down on the cold, hard ground, trying for all he was worth to get under the Spider.

“Ow, dammit! Watch it, you klutz!” Squall cried, doubling up in pain.

“Suck it up and drive on, wimp. Where have you been?” Doom replied.

“Right here, stupid! Where’d you think I was? On the shitter?”

“Ladies, ladies, no time for this.” Auron said. “We have a problem, remember?”

Doom’s face lit up, but of course no one could tell through his visor. “And I just solved it. Auron, here’s that help you were grousing about earlier. If you two can crack that dome, we might just have a chance. Now get cracking!”(No pun intended. Really.)

“And what will you be doing?” Squall asked.

“I’ll be darting about on the sidelines, waiting for an opportunity to shoot a rocket at Daddy Longlegs there.”

So it was ordained, and so it was done. During the previous conversation, Dante had been chopping merrily away at that leg I mentioned earlier. Now his efforts paid off, as the repeated collisions with an unearthly (and sharp) sword were just too much for the reinforced titanium alloy leg to bear. So it snapped like a twig, and the Arachnoid listed drunkenly to the side as it suddenly found that one-eighth of its much-needed support was abruptly and irreplaceably gone. Life sucks like that sometimes. However, seven-eighths of mobility were still operating, and the guns still worked, so it shrugged the matter off. The matter of that small, red-coated thing now warranted its full attention. For Dante, that meant more bullets to dodge. He learned that dancing to the tune of a thousand bullets per second is something that is much like running with scissors: It’s fun, naughty, and a hell of a rush, but eventually Murphy will decide that you’ve had more than enough fun and throw a steel pipe at your legs. Just remember, kiddies, that Murphy’s Law of Chance takes no prisoners.

The M-Mind roared and lunged at Dante, hoping to crush him against the wall. It succeeded in smashing a nice statue to bits, but only brushed Dante. That had more effect than you might think, as three tons of mechanical spider moving at roughly fifty miles per hour clipping your arm has the immediate effect of spinning you into the nearest wall, which is just what happened to Dante. The Spider, recovering quickly, hobbled around and lunged again. This time Dante was ready for it and leaped over its head, skimming the dome as it passed underneath. When he landed, he turned back to the frustrated mech.

“I have a saying you might be interested to hear. ‘Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Try to fool me thrice, and you’re screwed.’” Dante rebuked as he scraped his two index fingers together in the universally known “Shame, shame” gesture.

While the Spider was still attempting to gather its wits, Auron and Squall jumped onto its metal frame and scrabbled up the smooth dome, using their weapons as spelunking gear. When they reached the top they lost no time in aligning themselves perfectly, drawing wwwaaaaaayyyy back, and driving their swords deep into the glass dome.

Finally, Doom saw his chance. While the terror was occupied with Dante, Squall, and Auron, Doom knelt on one knee, drew a bead on his target, and let fly. The rocket impacted squarely on the face of the machine, but three-foot thick bulletproof glass domes are resilient. Resilient enough to stop a rocket. Yet in any situation where rockets of any kind are involved, damage is an unavoidable result. Cracks spider webbed outward from the impact site, totally blocking the Spider’s view. Still, there was no penetration. Dante fixed that problem in a hurry. He punched hard right in the middle of the cracked glass, shattering it and exposing the monster’s brain.

Now, some might expect me to say that due to some bizarre requirements, the Spider Mastermind was required to maintain a perfectly balanced vacuum (think airless) inside the dome. If that were so, then the only result would be that the all-too-sudden change of air pressure would cause the considerable brain of the creature to be sucked out of the small hole in the dome at high speeds, splattering it all over the floor, walls, ceiling, and everyone nearby with blood and cerebral tissue. Needless to say, that kind of regrettable occurrence would effectively end the Mastermind’s existence as a threat, or anything else for that matter.

But, for plot’s sake, this was not the case. Instead, all that happened was that the M-Mind got a face full of sharp glass, and Dante got a sore fist. He stepped back, rubbing it ruefully, but upon seeing the damage he had wrought on the glass he decided it was well worth it. The newly lacerated opponent kept trying to get back on its feet, but Dante, Auron and Squall were having some cruel fun with it. You know, the kind of stuff that mean boys do to little, helpless butterflies. They would gather at one leg and work industriously to pull it off. They were on the third leg by the time Doom decided that the M-Mind was no longer a threat. He cautiously approached the face of the Spider and peered into the hole Dante had made. Its face was cut and bleeding in several places, and it was coughing up blood. But like I said earlier, Doom was totally devoid of pity. Doom reached into the hole, thumbed open (not too gently, I might add) an eyelid, and thumped the eyeball. The monstrosity attempted to screech in pain, but only succeeded in coughing up more blood.

Doom sniffed disdainfully and turned to see the other guys starting on their fifth leg. When it came inevitably off, it fell on Dante’s foot, drawing a curse from him and snickers from the other two. That got Doom started on an idea. Just before he could finish the thought, however, the M-Mind began blaring warning klaxons and a female computer voice pleasantly said the following (in five different languages):

“Warning: Self-destruct sequence engaged. Self-destruct will initialize a thermo-nuclear blast, which will decimate anything within a twenty-mile radius. Countdown will begin at T-minus two minutes. Have a nice day.”

“Well, that sucks.” Dante said.

“Damn right it sucks! Quick, you three hold it up and I’ll start slashing the circuits and wires underneath the brain!” Squall yelled.

“Gotcha.” Auron said as he, Doom, and Dante strained to lift one side of the lifeless body high enough for Squall to get under and do his stuff. Meanwhile, the M-Mind was laughing the laugh that a dying man gives when he knows he’s taking his enemies down with him. In short, it was chortling like a friggin’ kamakazi.

“Come on, come on! Can’t you girls lift any faster? Move!” Squall yelled.

“I assure you, Squall, that we are lifting as fast as we possibly can.” Doom grunted.

Finally, the delicate underbelly of the Spider was revealed. Squall dashed in and proceeded to hack wildly at the exposed wiring, with no audible result from the speakers, which were steadily counting down the seconds (still in five languages). After twenty seconds of nonstop chopping, Doom pulled Squall back.

“It’s no use, man. We’ll have to think of another way.” Dante said.

“Well, we have one minute, fifteen seconds to do so. Wait, now fourteen, now thirteen, twelve, eleven, ten, nine, eight…” Auron stated (in five languages at once).

“Shut up, fools! I’m thinking!” Doom yelled. (Lots of yelling going on today.)

“I was wondering what that burning smell was.” Squall said.

“It’s gonna be the smell of your ass smokin’ if you… That’s it! All of you come with me.”

Once they were a reasonable distance away, Doom faced them all and asked, “What was I doing two seconds ago?”

“Um, threatening me?” Squall answered.

“Blathering pointlessly?” Dante said.

“Thinking?” Auron guessed.

“No, I was cursing. Now, all men know it for a proven fact that cursing is a good way to stop someone cold, if only for a moment. And that’s only when served in small proportions. When oh, say, a bottle of the stuff is released all at once, the effects are much greater.”

“Hey, wait a minute,” Dante said as if the meaning of life itself had just dawned on him. “You’re not talking about my bottle of curses, are you?”

“Yes, I am. Give it here.”

“No!”

“Without it, that thing will self-destruct, and everything on this island will be obliterated, including us.”

“I don’t care! It’s mine! You can’t have it!”

“Dante, we have thirty seconds to disable the bomb. If we don’t, we’re dead. How much clearer can I make that for you?”

Now that his options were laid out neatly in front of Dante, he began to have second thoughts. He started to argue with himself as to whether or not to give up his bottle of curses. His selfish, greedy side (read – 95% of his personality) told him to keep it, that Doom was lying just to get his bottle. His logical side (the other 5%) pleaded with him to give it up and save his own life. Little did he know that he was holding this argument audibly to the other men. They glanced worriedly at each other as Dante ranted to himself concerning the bottle. Finally the undeniable logic won out and he gave his bottle to Doom.

“It’s about damn time. Now watch, and learn.”

Doom whirled around and heaved the bottle of curses with impeccable accuracy, landing it right inside the hole in the glass dome. When the bottle broke on the Spider Mastermind’s face, the scene went white and the men’s ears were deafened by the voluminous flood of ghastly curses, profanity, and blue air dye.

When Doom could see again, he shook his head and thanked his helmet’s sound filters profoundly. He looked around, and saw Dante up against the wall. Way, way up against the wall. As Doom watched, Dante peeled off the wall and fell all of ten yards to the ground. Squall was crouched over, holding his hands to his bleeding ears. Auron was leaning heavily on his sword, looking surprised more than anything else. Then Doom noticed that the countdown had ceased. He turned to check on the Spider, and gave a low whistle at what he saw.

There was broken glass everywhere, but the brain of the M-Mind was nowhere to be found. There was no blood, brains, or any organic mess at all. The brain was simply and utterly gone. All that was left was the metal frame, and it was warped badly out of shape.

Dante stood up, grinned toothily, and provided his indispensable opinion on the issue. “Well, guys, that was fun. But you know, kicking ass makes me hungry. Let’s go get something to eat.”

“What about Fox?” Squall asked.

“What about him? Think a moment, if he still had him comm. unit, we would’ve found him by now. As it is, we’ll have to get a fully manned search party together to seek him out with any kind of efficiency at all. And besides, we can’t search on an empty stomach.”

“Fool boy here is right. First we must take care of ourselves, before we can tend to others. I vote we go eat and restock.” Doom said.

“They have a point, Squall, and a very good one at that. I recommend that we rest awhile.” Auron suggested.

“But he’s still out there somewhere! He could be dying as we speak! We can’t just abandon him!” Squall shouted.

“What good will we be to him if by the time we find him we don’t have enough stamina to help him at all?” Doom asked.

“…Fine. We rest, restock, and recruit more manpower, but we’ve got to get back out here as fast as we can.”

 

Now, the average reader would probably be wondering what Fox was up to right now. The average reader might also think that this chapter is over. Well, I’m here to tell you that this chapter is not over and that we will get back to Fox shortly. That means that you, as the reader, will have to stay in your seat and finish reading this chapter, or risk suffering chronic angst concerning the end of this chapter until the worry becomes to much for you to bear and you race back to the computer only to find that the site it is on is down for some reason. Then you will have to put up with the burning curiosity until the next day, when you will read it as soon as you can. So, if you have to pee, you should have gone before you started reading. And, by the way, if you can’t control your bladder, you should be wearing a diaper anyway.

 

From the abridged recount of the Spider Mastermind (I’d feel safe betting a glass marble that some of you out there are well and truly tired of that name) encounter, some might assume that it did not last terribly long. Well, it did. As soon as Ganondorf had hurried from the room to confront the cretin, no wait, creature, Fox had vacated the immediate area by the door Ganon had come in by. By the time the Mastermind was vaporized by the curses of an indignant half-demon devil hunter, Fox was well out of the considerable blast radius of the Curse Bomb. As Squall was debating with the other victors as to whether or not to go get help, Fox had gone even further. Now, as Dante was shoving a combination of Milk Duds and sausage down his all-consuming gullet, Fox had problems. These problems were caused not so much by a threatening entity in his immediate vicinity as by his emotional state of mind. The combined effects of 1) Break dancing whilst drunk on Vanilla Coke, 2) Getting trapped by Katt Monroe, 3) Wandering the Castle in a delirious stupor, 4) Being chased by a bloodthirsty machine, 5) Being shot three times by said bloodthirsty machine, 6) Seeing Ganondorf, and 7) Wandering the Castle in a delirious stupor while violently ill and bleeding profusely had taken their tool on poor Fox, and at this time he was rather, ah… hmmm… how to say this nicely… quite mad. Do you doubt me? Then get a look at his current behavior.

Fox was stumbling drunkenly from one side of the hall to the other, moving in a vaguely eastern direction. As he shambled about, he “sung” to himself.

“Ahhh… Chicken goes cluck cluck, cows go moo, piggy goes oink oink, how about you? Got to be an animal, just like you…” Fox slurred. Before he could begin the next verse, however, a scuffing noise sounded behind Fox. His head lolled around, the bloodshot (and slightly crossed) eyes rolling in their sockets as he looked about for the source of the noise. When nothing more was heard, he turned back around and continued with his “song.”

“Ahem, hem. Lemurs go sniff sniff, ostrich go bah, koalas go (squirrel noises)… eh?”

There went that noise again. Now, even though Fox was so drunk as to be considered clinically brain-dead by most doctors and brain surgeons, he still retained the basic instincts of life. These included: fear, happiness, idiocy, hunger, and the very least motor functions required to move about and keep his heart beating. At the moment, fear was beginning to take hold because of the unknown noise. He stood as still as a wounded drunkard can and attempted to determine the source of the noise. It sounded to him as if it were all around him, that infernal scuffing. Scuff, scuff, scuff… How the hell is a man supposed to “sing” with all that racket going on right around him? Fox began to suspect that whatever was making that noise might, just might, be after him. That was when the fear really set in and got to work on his nervous system. The very first thing it made Fox do was to compel him to whirl around (with the accompanying puke because of his sudden movement) and run away at top speed. “Top speed” for a hurt and addled Fox is not a great thing, however, and his pursuer easily caught up with his jerky stride.

As I’m sure you could all see coming from a mile away, Fox tripped and fell flat out on the cold, hard floor stones. When Fox tried to get up and carry on running, he discovered with no little surprise that he lacked the ability to do so. The most he could manage was to turn over on his back and stare at his pursuer.

 

“And just what in the Hell were you doing while I was locked in my own room, Fox?” Katt growled. “Why, I’ve half a mind to… Fox! Stop staring at me like that! You’d think I’d just grown a second head!”

Fox continued to gape at Katt as if she were a horrible demon from the very deepest recesses of Hell. After it became obvious that Fox did not recognize Katt, she became worried. “… Fox? What’s wrong with you? You’re scaring me, Fox. Stop it. Don’t you recognize me? It’s me, Katt. You know, the woman every man in the universe wants…? You don’t recognize me, do you? What happened? Can you talk?”

“No.” Fox croaked.

Katt sighed. “I’ve been looking all over for you, and this is what I find. You should really lay off the drinks, boy. It’s making you act stupid. Now get up.” No response, unless you count wildly rolling eyes as a response. “Don’t you make me bend down there and make you get up, Fox. I can guarantee that you won’t enjoy it. Now, for the last time, get the Hell up!” A passing observer would have thought that it was impossible that fox eyes could roll so much and not fall right out of the head they were nestled in. “Dammit all, Fox! GET UP!” Katt yelled as she reached down and firmly grabbed Fox’s right arm, which had a bullet hole in it that was not immediately obvious to Katt. The resulting cry of pain sounded something like this, though your experiences may vary:

“AAAAGGGHHH!!!” Fox yelled in a voice surprisingly lacking in drunken slurriness. Katt instantly dropped Fox’s arm back onto the hard floor, which was good for a pained whimper. On a sudden hunch, Katt pulled out a handy Breathalyzer and held Fox’s head up to it. It took him a minute to understand that Katt wanted him to breath into the machine, but eventually he got it. When the reading came up, Katt was greatly astonished to see that the caffeine levels in Fox’s blood were well below drunken levels. That meant, for all you thickheaded dummies out there, that Fox’s behavior was no longer influenced by the hyperactive substance.

It took Katt all of half a second to deduce that if he wasn’t drunk on caffeine, he was drunk on pain. A quick check confirmed this, and Katt decided with disappointment that there would be no pissing off of Fara and seducing of Fox today, as any such activity would most likely result in Fox’s untimely demise. Oh well. Some other time. For now, though, it was time to get Fox to a trained medic, and Yuna was just one such person. The trouble was, how was she to transport him? She realized with consternation that she would have to call for help, and that meant that she would have to explain exactly why she was stalking a hurt Fox through the unknown hall of Mallet Castle, and what she would want with him when she found him.

Katt sighed heavily as she unhooked her radio from her belt and dialed up Yuna’s number. After ten seconds Yuna found the time to hit the receive button on her unit. “Hello, this is Yuna speaking. How can I help you?”

“Yeah, hi Yuna. Listen, could you get Trish to home in on the co-ordinates that I am transmitting from? I’ve got Fox here, and he’s hurt pretty bad.”

“What did you do to him this time, Katt?”

“How did you know it was me?”

“Silly girl, you don’t just forget a trained trickster’s voice. It’s not good for your health.”

“Okay…” Katt had been unaware that her voice had become a valuable commodity to recognize. “So, how about that help we’re supposed to be discussing?”

“Oh right. Someone should be over there soon. Just sit tight and don’t draw any unwanted attention to yourself. Bye.” BEEP.

“Where does that addled woman think I’ll go?” Katt muttered as she clipped her radio back onto her belt. “Well, it looks like it’s just you and me, boy. How long do you think they’ll take to get here? Man, I hope it’s not too long. I have schemes to formulate and execute. What schemes, you ask? Sorry, if I told you I’d have to kill you. I can tell you the ones I’ve already finished, though. You know the time when Link’s cap went missing and mysteriously resurfaced on the black market a week afterwards? That was me. Just don’t tell Link, would you? Oh, and you know that…”

And so the rather one-sided conversation continued, and Fox had little choice but to listen and pray that help would arrive soon and he could go to sleep. With nightfall came relief, as the rescue team arrived and secured him on a stretcher bound for Yuna’s clinic. Luckily for Fox, Dante just happened to have some anesthetic on his person and administered it to Fox in a rare episode of pity for his fellow man/vulpine.

Little did any of them know, a much greater menace would soon befall the good (and I use that term lightly) people of Mallet Island…

 

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