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Conspiracy

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Console lights blinked on and off through the smoke. His vision blurred in and out. Where was he? What happened? He closed his eyes and tried to remember. The Bridge, he was on the Bridge! But what happened? They must have hit something. A meteorite? A satellite? A mine. . .? In space? Things were slowly starting to fall into place. He was on the Bridge of his Space Station . . . in orbit around Earth? No, that wasn't right. They had moved away to investigate something - yes that was it. What was it again? He couldn't remember. The sickening dizziness of a concussion was beginning to take hold, hopefully one that wasn’t too severe. But other than that he was fine. Was everybody else all right? He climbed slowly to his feet. The collision had thrown him clear of his chair. He was standing at one of the navigational consoles at the front of the Bridge. He frowned in confusion over the garbled language it was presenting but if he was interpreting correctly, the console was informing him that they had come to a complete halt. That was something at least. He walked back to his chair, massaging his forehead with one hand. Bits of ceiling rubble lay strewn here and there and the chair itself lay beneath a pile of it. He shoved it off, collapsed into the chair and flipped open a compartment in the right arm.

"This is Dr. Cortex to anyone who can respond,” he said wearily. “Status report."

No response. He tried again. Dead air. Which meant that either the comm was down or everyone else was unconscious. Or worse.

A pile of rubble by the door groaned. Cortex looked round in surprise. He did not remember there being anyone else on the Bridge with him. The pile of rubble shifted. He got up and went over to investigate.

"N. Brio?"

“Cortex? W-w-w-what happened?” he asked, his stutter re-emerging under duress.

“You’re guess is as good as mine.”

He made an attempt to stand only to realise he was pinned down by a heavy-looking piece of metal. "G-g-get this off me."

Cortex shifted the lighter stuff and examined the piece of metal. "I don't think I can lift that without help I’m afraid." He folded his arms across his chest. "Is anything broken?"

"I-I don't think so," he replied.

“Try moving your arms and legs.” N. Brio did as instructed. “Good. Any pain anywhere?”

“My side.”

Cortex frowned, noticing a darkish puddle was forming by the other doctor's right side. He stooped and touched it. "You're bleeding. We need to get this off you."

"That would be ap-p-p-p-preciated."

He looked at the piece of metal and made a decision. "All right. I'm going to attempt to lift this." It was a futile endeavour. The piece of metal didn’t even raise an inch. “No good. I need to try something else.” He cast around the room for anything that might help. It was littered with rubble fallen from the ceiling. "Wait. I've got an idea." The doctor began grabbing bits of metal and wedging them under one end of the metal object, propping it up until N. Brio was able to scramble out.

They both stared at the nasty gash on Brio's side visible through the tear in his clothes.

"That's going to need a bandage," Cortex stated unnecessarily. "There should be a medkit here somewhere." He began searching around the bridge, leaving Brio to further examine the wound.


He blearily opened his eyes and squinted through the darkness. The room was dimly lit, dark enough that he couldn’t see clearly at first until his eyes adjusted. He was sprawled awkwardly on the floor in an ungainly heap. How had he got there? The vague recollection of a loud explosion and of being hurled across the room surfaced, as if in answer to his unspoken question. He disentangled himself, the movement causing an explosion of pain to erupt in his right leg. He clapped a hand to his mouth, stifling a scream and turned his head to investigate. It was trapped under a large, heavy object which would have been difficult to shift even if his leg hadn’t been broken. It was then that he became aware that he wasn’t alone in the room.

Weak starlight illuminated the deep green scales of one unconscious figure by the window. Another was slumped, upside down against the wall. The third was trapped beneath the table by a heavy metal beam.

He took a moment to recall their names and what he was even doing here in the first place. Socialising with the minions? Over a game of poker? Yes, that sounded right. "Joe," he called to the figure by the window. "Joe! Wake up." No response. “Moe? Dingodile?”


His chest hurt. Stabbing pain everytime he inhaled. It was like breathing fire.

What looked like a weirdly coloured tree at first glance was sprawled across a work bench on its back. He climbed slowly and painfully to his feet and looked around. His lab was a mess. Bits of rubble from the ceiling had fallen destroying some of the equipment here and there. The lights were dim but they were enough. His gaze was drawn to the tree-lizard thing, its body coloured brown but limbs and tail, a green with blue stripes running down its back, as it stirred and opened its yellow, reptilian eyes. It cursed in a child-like voice. "What the heck happened?"

"Apparently. . . we hit something," he wheezed, his speech pattern broken by the pain of what he assumed must be fractured ribs of unknown severity.

The creature, stared at him. "Really, N. Gin? What in space gave you that idea?" she replied sarcastically.

He ignored this. "Perhaps we should. . . contact Dr. Cortex."

She blinked, relinquishing her shock-induced sarcasm and nodded. "Yes. Good idea." So saying that, the tree creature got up and sat down to inspect herself.

He pressed the comm button on the wall by the door. "N. Gin to. . . Dr. Cortex. . . Please respond."


Cortex scrambled to the chair. "Norman, what's happened? Who's with you? Where are you? Are you hurt?"

"We must've hit something." Came the reply. "I'm with Treezan-."

Here another voice interrupted. "Ah man, a bit of my antler's snapped off - it'll take ages to regrow.” A pause. “Oh, uh but otherwise I'm fine."

N. Gin continued. "We're in my lab and. . . I'm quite certain that I have. . . a rib injury."

"Can you get to the Bridge?"

"Uh. . . Yes. In theory."

"Good. Report to the Bridge."

"On our way."


"Here, wait, take this." Treezan had found a complete test tube. She drooled into it. "For the pain." Then handed it to him.

He looked like he'd been ordered to drink poison but forced it down none the less.

“We can wait a few minutes until-.”

“No. . . We're needed on the Bridge. . . now.”

Treezan sighed. "Let's go, then." She jumped off the table, landed rather awkwardly and strolled casually out of the door.


Dr. Cortex looked over at N. Brio. "How's it going?"

He was punching buttons and scowling at the console. "I can't get a full damage report because the scanners are down and I don't know how to get them back online because I can't figure out this keyboard! The impact seems to have scrambled most of the computer's language." He took a deep breath. "I can tell you that Docking Bay Four is still online, or at least I think that’s what it’s saying. Not that that helps but it's the only information I've got."


Komodo Joe groaned as he came to. He tried to speak, to ask the question “What happened?” but he couldn't remember how. The room was dark.

"Joe?" That wasn't his brother.

He groaned. ". . . Nnn. . . N. Tropy?"

The voice sounded relieved. "Oh good, you're awake. How bad are you hurt?"

He raised a scaly hand to his forehead. "Uhhhhh. . . . mmm." His left wrist ached. He tried to move his fingers but a sudden intense pain prevented him from doing so. "My wrissst. I think. . . it’sss broken."

"All right, anything else?"

He moved his feet and tail. ". . . No."

"Good, listen. My leg is trapped beneath some rubble. It’s too heavy for me lift myself. Can you remove it for me?”

Joe nodded and got up. The room tipped slightly and his vision blurred a little. He was extremely grateful that his accelerated healing had kicked in otherwise he'd be feeling a lot worse. He wobbled across the room holding his broken wrist against him, to the shadowy figure from which N. Tropy's voice had come from. He threw away some stray rubble and attempted to shift the beam pinning down the doctor's leg with one hand.

“Thisss iss too heavy for me to lift with one hand. I need both.”

The figure under the table groaned. "Ahh-ow. What the- Huh?" He shifted the table and heavy beam and stood up, staggering a little to the right. "Ooooh me tail."

"Dingodile?"

"Joe? What happened? Where's everyone else?"

"I'm down here," said N. Tropy.

A fourth voice joined the conversation with a groan. "And I'm over here. . . . Whoa, everything'ss upsside down. Oh no! I'm in a parallel universse!" Moe cried.

"Moe, you're upsside down, here let me help you." Joe helped his brother to his feet. "Are you hurt?"

He paused to assess himself. ". . . No. I’m fine."

"We need some light. Where's the light switch?" Dingodile squinted round the dark room looking for a light switch.

"Computer, lights," N. Tropy commanded.

Dim lights sputtered to life, illuminating the room.

"Ah, that's better." Dingodile stared down at the doctor. "Oh, let me get that for you.” He easily hefted the metal beam and threw it aside.

Tropy cringed as sensation came flooding back into his leg along with a throbbing pain.

"Iss there a medkit in here?" Asked Joe.

Dingodile scratched his chin. “I think there’s one outside.”

"Hey wait. Do you hear ssomething?" Moe was staring at the door.

Everyone strained to listen. They could hear voices drifting down the corridor.

"Treezzan!" Moe grinned and shot out the door. Strangled screaming informed everyone Treezan was being crushed in a bear-hug. The komodo dragon returned still hugging the poor tree creature, N. Gin following behind them.

"Put. . . me. . . down!" She gasped. He obeyed. Treezan haughtily inspected herself. "Well. It doesn't look like my bark's been ruined." She glared at Moe. "Don’t do that again." She sniffed and folded her arms across chest. "So. How is everyone?"

"Broken; my wrisst, hiss leg, hiss tail."

She nodded. "I'll get to work. Where's the medkit?"


"Unngh." His right hand twitched as he slowly hauled his eyes open. He was upside down, slammed against the view screen. Red lights flashed on and off. His eyes widened. The proximity alert sirens. He was about to collide with something! With difficulty he righted himself and crawled back into the cockpit chair. He peered through his lurching vision at the console. Apparently, he wasn't moving but sensors were picking up a very large ship close by. Very large. More like a space station. Unfortunately sensors had taken damage and couldn't reveal anything else about the Space Station other than the fact that it was there. Well it was either that, or the Space Station was composed of an alloy that was interfering with his scanners. He activated the comm.

"This is Nitros Oxide to Space Station, please respond. Requesting permission to dock."

The voice that answered was about the last voice he expected.

". . . Nitros Oxide?!"

". . . You?! . . . Whatever your name is."

"It’s Dr Neo Cortex. What in blazes are you doing here?"

"I ask you the same question."

"We're investigating something. I think. Now what do you want?"

"Why don’t you check your scanners?!" Oxide snapped back. “See for yourself!”

A different voice answered. "THE SCANNERS ARE OFFLINE!! STOP RUBBING IT IN MY FACE!!"

"Nitrus!” For a split second, Oxide thought Cortex was talking to him and he frowned in confusion. “No one's rubbing it in your face, just calm down all right? Sorry about that. What do you want?"

"Permission to dock,” he replied. “My ship has taken damage and,” he grudgingly added, “I'm injured."

There was a lengthy pause before Cortex reluctantly replied. "Permission granted."

"Thank you."

"We have also sustained damage but I believe that Docking Bay Four is still operational.”


“Should we send someone to greet him?” Brio ventured.

Cortex frowned. He hadn’t thought about that. “I’ll send Treezan when she gets here.”

“Shouldn’t Treezan and N. Gin have already got here by now?”

That was a good point too. What was taking them so long? He sighed and commed Oxide’s ship. “Oxide, take the lift directly to Level One. We’ll be waiting.”

I was hoping to see your medic first. I assume you have one.”

“Our medic will be waiting for you when you arrive. Hopefully.”

“That sounds promising,” he remarked sarcastically.

“My apologies for being in such disarray,” was Cortex’s scathing response. “I can’t imagine why.” Silence was the reply. “I’ll be waiting for you on the Bridge.”

 


“Perhaps I should go on ahead,” N. Gin commented.

Treezan looked up from fixing a make shift splint to Komodo Joe's wrist. “Probably a good idea. Take Moe with you, he may able to help.”

He nodded, “Let's go,” and the two headed off.

She finished bandaging Joe's wrist and fixed up a sling for him. "There you go. All done."

Dingodile looked out the window as the tree creature started to inspect N. Tropy's leg. His jaw dropped. "Guys, you're not gonna believe this."

All looked up.

Joe's mouth hung open. "That'ss that alien Oxxide'ss ship, if I recall correctly."

Treezan, who had not been around then, looked blank. "Who?"

"Nitros Oxide," N. Tropy explained, wincing everytime one of her claws prodded his leg. "An alien who threatened to turn our entire planet into a concrete parking lot and enslave us all if we lost to him in a race. Crash Bandicoot was the one who saved us of course."

She frowned. "Turn it into a concrete parking lot? I don't see how he could've done that. It sounds ludicrously impossible."

He gave her a weak smile which swiftly turned into a grimace as she began to tie a splint to his leg. She paused in her bandaging to drool into a test tube that she had on hand. "Take this, it should ease the pain in about fifteen minutes."

He pulled a face and stared at it for a full minute before mustering the courage to swallow it down.

"How about you, Joe?"

The komodo dragon was staring at the ship trying to figure out what Oxide was doing. "I think he'ss trying to dock with our Sspace Sstation."

Dingodile looked round at him. "He's having a fine time trying to do that. One of his engines is busted."

"He musst've been in contact with Dr. Cortexx," Joe concluded.

"Is he heading for Docking Bay Four? That's right near us."

Oxide finally managed to get the offending engine working a little and was slowly approaching said docking bay.

Dingodile grinned. "Let's go and meet him."

"After I fix your tail," Treezan replied standing to help N. Tropy up, Komodo Joe quickly moving to assist.

Dingodile sat down to be tended to. "Why don't you two go on ahead and greet him. We'll follow you in a bit."

"All right." Joe had to help N. Tropy hobble out of the door.


Oxide frowned around at the interior of his cockpit. Where the heck was his datapad? As he travelled a lot, he kept a datapad of his medical notes which also contained important information on Gasmoxian physiology. It wasn’t in its usual place and must have been dislodged by the impact. Fortunately he didn’t have to search far as it was conveniently located next to the airlock. He picked it and initiated a translation into English as he leant against the door waiting for the docking clamps to attach to his ship. A loud clunk informed him of the successful docking and he pressed the button beside him to open the hatch. [I hope Cortex’s medic is a good one.] He stumbled through the first hatch and waited for the second to open.

"Well well well, look what the cat dragged in." Komodo Joe sneered down at him, taking full advantage of their few inches of height difference, while N. Tropy held a superior look on his face despite the obvious pain he was in.

Oxide squinted at them through his tipping vision. They appeared to be wobbling left and right and he was coming over all light-headed.

"Er, are you all right?" Joe asked, exchanging a frown with Tropy.

"Why can't you just stand still?" Oxide snapped irritably. He felt like he was falling. Perhaps he shouldn't have got up so fast.

"You don't look all right." N. Tropy's voice was so far away.

Now everything was going black. Was he going blind? [Great, this is all I need.]

"Whoa!" Joe exclaimed as the alien collapsed to the deck. He grabbed Oxide's shoulder and shook him. "Wake up. I don't think you should go to ssleep."

Oxide mumbled something in a strange language - possibly his native tongue. The lizard looked up at N. Tropy. "I'm going to get Treezzan."

“Yes, good idea.”

Joe promptly shot off.

Oxide's eyes slid closed. The doctor prodded him with the foot of his injured leg and his eyes opened. The alien seemed to have forgotten English entirely and kept talking to Tropy in his native tongue.

"I don't understand a word you’re saying."

"Go. . . away. Tired . . . sleep . . . "

"I won’t allow it." He poked Oxide again.

"I'll take over." Treezan kneeled beside the half-conscious alien while the other three looked on. She spotted the datapad and picked it up, skimming through it to the section on substances and chemicals and their listed effects on Gasmoxians. "Here smell this." She wafted a test tube containing some foul smelling liquid in front of what the datapad informed her was the alien's nose. He began to cough and splutter in disgust and his eyes began to water.

"Feeling more awake now?" He nodded. “Did you hit your head?”

“I’m not sure. I was upside down when I came to.”

“I see. It sounds a simple episode of orthostatic hypotension, or a headrush in laymen’s terms but I can give you a proper examination when things are more in order and this tonic in the meantime.” The tree creature withdrew a cup and drooled into it.

He looked repulsed. "I'm not drinking your spit!"

She laughed. "Dude, relax. It’s not spit, it's a tonic like I said and it will help you get over any lingering weakness and nausea. So drink it voluntarily or I’ll make you drink it. Got it?"

He scowled but nodded, took the cup and looking as if he was about to gag forced it down. "That tasted suspiciously nice. Are you sure it will work?”

“I'm sure Dr Tropy can attest to that.”

“I do indeed.”

"Just lie still for a little while longer before you try getting up again."

Oxide looked at her. "What's your name?"

"Treezan," she replied.

"If you don't mind my asking, what are you? You’re not like any medic I’ve ever seen."

“I’m a combination of a tree, a lizard and some type of insect. Even I'm not sure on that one.”

“I didn't see you during the big race to save your planet.”

“Well you wouldn’t have, I wasn't created until afterwards.”

"And why are your eyes turning red?”

“Oh dear, they are?”

Dingodile stared at her. "Are you getting hungry?"

"Yes, now that you mention it."

“Not a promising development,” Tropy remarked.

"How far away are we from the Canteen?" Joe asked looking worried.

“Am I missing something?” Oxide asked looking mildly peeved. “What's the big deal?”

"Er, well, you see, my metabolism burns iron faster than it should, so I have to eat daily amounts of raw meat as well as doses of iron supplement to stop me slipping into a coma."

“And?”

“Well let's just say a hungry Treezan is not a nice Treezan,” Tropy explained.


His first thought when he regained consciousness was [What the hell happened to my sandwich?] His vision phased in and out. He could hear movement in the room. "Hey, is everyone all right?" He called out. There was a sharp stinging pain in his right shoulder which he did not like the feel of.

A few muffled groans answered his question.

"Tiny not okay," Tiny growled. " Who speaking?"

"Pinstripe. Who else is here?"

"Papu Papu," said one voice in the far corner.

"Koala Kong," said a voice by the door.

“[I’m here, too.]” sounded right by his ear and he turned to look, sitting up as he did so. It was as if someone had poured acid on his shoulder. The whole right side of his chest exploded with pain. "Aaargh." He collapsed back to the floor. “Rip is that you?”

The blue kangaroo moved into his field of vision. “[Hello yes. It is me.]” Ripper Roo’s normally cackling laughter-speak was now more of a subdued chuckle and Pinstripe was suddenly struck by the seriousness of the situation. “[There’s some metal in your shoulder.]” he continued.

So that's what was causing the pain. Pinstripe became aware that his hands were trapped. One was uncomfortably pinned beneath his back, the other was held down by a heap of metal. "Rip, youse gonna have to pull it out for me." The kangaroo clamped his teeth onto the bit of metal and gently pulled it out. Pinstripe winced. "Thanks buddy. Now go check on everyone else." Ripper Roo obediently complied.

He raised his head and looked around. His right leg was buried beneath a pile of metal. It was heavy but wasn't completely cutting off the circulation. Of all his limbs, only his left leg was free. He arched his back and slowly and carefully brought his left arm out from beneath him. It screamed protest for having been trapped in that unnatural position for so long. Ripper Roo reappeared. He tilted his head and watched Pinstripe.

"Oh hey. How are the others?"

The blue kangaroo glanced back at the others as he spoke, “[They’re. . . Not dead.]”

"Always good news." He raised his voice so he could be heard. "Hey, can any of youse help me? My right arm and leg are trapped."

Tiny's head appeared. "I help." He lifted the metal easily and threw it aside.

Pinstripe's right hand began to ache as the blood flowed back into it. He carefully sat up. He was remarkably unscathed despite the obvious destruction and excluding his right shoulder which stung everytime he moved his arm. He looked up at Tiny who hadn't moved. "Thanks. Go find out if the others need help, I'm all right."

Tiny nodded and moved away.

He climbed slowly to his feet. Ripper Roo whined and moved closer. "I'm all right."

“[Your shoulder.]”

Pinstripe cursed when he noticed the dark patch forming on his suit where the piece of metal had been imbedded. Now that he was sitting up, the blood was flowing freely. He got up carefully and looked around the dark room. "Computer lights." Nothing happened. He sighed, “Oh brother.” The lights were down.

Suddenly, he was alert. A noise was drifting down the corridor. The others stopped grumbling and moaning to listen. As the noise came closer, it started to sound more and more like some wild animal snarling. He braced himself for some kind of fight. Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed the others tensing and getting ready to spring into action.

A soft growling issued from Ripper Roo's throat. Suddenly he stopped and tilted his head. He smiled. “[It’s Treezan!]”

"Yeah youse right, that’s definitely Treezan. I’d recognise that snarling anywhere.”

The others visibly relaxed and began tending to their wounds.

The door opened and Dingodile, Treezan, Tropy, Komodo Joe and Oxide entered the room. Pinstripe frowned in surprise upon seeing the Gasmoxian in their company but decided to hold onto his questions for now.

Dingodile had Treezan's arms pinned down by her side with one arm and was restraining her head with the other. She was alternating between animalistic snarls and pleas for food.

"Come on Double D, you don't need both ears, let me have one. . ." She broke off into snarling. "How about you KJ, just a bit of your tail. . . ?" Again into snarling. "Doctor T, your leg's pretty much busted, let me have it. . ." More snarling. "Hey Oxide, what about one of your feet, you've got four you can spare one?"

They all tried to ignore her pleas but couldn't help looking perturbed by her requests.

Pinstripe raised his eyebrows at the group. "Treezan hungry then?"

"No of course not," Tropy responded sarcastically. He limped over to what was left of the kitchen area, Dingodile following, and pulled open the fridge, accidentally pulling the damaged door off. Throwing it aside, he selected some raw meat. Treezan struggled violently in his arms when she locked eyes on the piece of meat in the doctor's hand.

"Give her the meat quick, I dunno how much longer I can hold her."

Gingerly, Tropy held it out. Treezan practically inhaled it. He pulled out another and another until Treezan had stopped thrashing and her eyes were her normal yellow. Komodo Joe had already located her iron tablets and popping off the lid with his thumb, he poured five down her throat. Only once she had swallowed them did Dingodile let her go.

The tree creature beamed sheepishly around at the group. "I'm sorry for what I said, guys."

Tropy smiled and patted her on the head between her antlers. "You're forgiven, child, you were just hungry."

Joe looked around at the others. "You guyss all right?"

"Yeah," they droned.

The lizard grimaced in sympathy.

Ripper Roo whined, “[Your shoulder is still bleeding.]”

“Oh shoot.” Pinstripe looked down at the blood stain which was considerably larger than it had been a few minutes ago. “Oh boy. That’s not a good sign.”

Treezan immediately went to his assistance. "Ouch. Do we still have the medkit?"

"Here." Joe pulled it out from where he had tucked it away in his sling and handed it to her. She pulled out a bandage and began tending to the potoroo's wound.

Koala Kong, who had observed Tropy limping past him and across the room with some concern had examined the wreckage looking for a bench left intact. Locating one, he excavated it and carried it over. “Doctor, have a seat,” he said as he placed it down.

“Thank you, Kong.”

Pinstripe nodded towards Oxide. “So what's he doing here?”

The Gasmoxian glared at him. “ I was in the vicinity. My ship was damaged by whatever happened to you .”

Dingodile scratched his chin. "Speaking of, what do you think happened?"

"To quote N. Gin, 'Apparently we hit something.'" Treezan replied as she finished bandaging Pinstripe's shoulder.

He rolled his eyes. "Really now? Gee, I couldn't have guessed that."

Pinstripe attempted a smile and a light chuckle but it faltered and came out as a wince.

"Is there any way to contact Cortex?" N. Tropy wondered aloud.

Kong looked around. "There's a comm unit over there." So saying that, he crossed over to it and pressed the comm button. "Koala Kong to Dr. Cortex."

"Yes?"

"Dr. N. Tropy for you, sir."

"Go ahead, Tropy."

"Dr. Cortex, do you require my assistance on the Bridge?"

"Are you hurt?"

"My leg is broken."


Cortex looked round at N. Gin who was working on the scanners. "N. Gin, do we need any more help?"

"Of course. All the help we can get," he replied without looking away from his work.

Cortex then looked at N. Brio. The scientist was leaning back against the main console, trying to banish a headache by massaging his forehead with one hand, the other crossed carefully across his chest. He had given up trying to decipher the garbled language and turned instead to simply observing the current occupants of the room. He returned Cortex's stare.

"Having difficulty over there?"

"Unfortunately," he sighed. “I might have a better job at it with a clearer head.”

He nodded. “Leave it for now, then. There is other work to do on the Bridge.”

“I don’t think I could help there, either. Unless I had some schematics to work from that is. I didn’t build the Space Station and I wouldn’t know what I was doing.”

"Do you at least know which tools are what?" N. Gin cut in before Cortex could comment.

"I do, yes."

"Good, then come over here and assist me. And N. Tropy as well when he gets up here."

Cortex turned back to the comm as Brio went to assist N. Gin. "I trust you heard that N. Tropy?"

"I did and I'm on my way."

"Take your time. . . Speaking of which, do you think your Time Twister survived?"

"I sincerely doubt it."

"You’re probably right. Report here to aid with repairing the Bridge first, then you can get to work fixing your Time Twister. I have a feeling we may need it later on."

"Acknowledged."


Treezan sighed. "I would object to you going, Tropy but you probably wouldn't listen."

"You are but a minion, Treezan."

She frowned. "I'm also the Chief Medic on this station and in that respect I have a higher authority." She sighed again. "But the Space Station does need fixing. Very well, I shall come too and assist in anyway I can."

"What should we do?" asked Dingodile.

Kong pressed the com button again. "Dr. Cortex, are the scanners online?"

"N. Gin is still working on it."

"Then may I suggest that all who are well enough tour the Space Station to evaluate the damage?"

"Excellent idea, Kong," Cortex replied. "Report back as soon as you’re done."

"What about Oxide?"

He’s there with you?”

“He fainted,” said Treezan. “But I think he’s all right now. Are you?”

“I’d feel better after a proper consultation,” he replied.

“I’ll take that as a yes.”

Let me remind you, Oxide that our scanners are still offline. With the Space Station being as large as it is, this means that detecting critical damage requiring immediate attention will have to be done manually.”

Oxide narrowed his eyes. “I think I see where you’re going with this.”

Are you up to and would you be agreeable to assisting my minions with their damage report?”

“I would be agreeable to fixing my ship,” he retorted.

If you assist us we will assist you in return.”

“Strictly speaking, I believe we already have,” Tropy remarked.

“I gave him a tonic for his ails,” Treezan added. “And a consultation when things are more settled.”

Oxide sulked but conceded the point. “Fine. I don’t have the energy to argue at any rate.”

Good to hear. I will be waiting for your report then.”

Pinstripe addressed the others. "All right guys, youse all heard what Kong said. Are you up for it?"

There were a few confidant "Yeah's".

"Good. I recommend we go around in pairs." He glanced at Kong who nodded in agreement.

N. Tropy stood up. "Come Treezan, we shall leave them to it. Our presence is required on the Bridge." The two left.

"Pinstripe mate, I'll go with you," Dingodile offered.

Kong moved aside to allow Joe to comm Cortex. “Dr Cortexx, iss my brother there?”

No, I sent him away. He’ll have probably returned to where ever you were previously.”

"Undersstood.” He turned back to the group. “I’ll comm down to the Gamess Room and wait here for my brother.”

"Right, youse can take Level Five when he shows up.”

“Will do.”

“Koala Kong, you go with Oxide-”

“Don’t order me around, Earthling. I’ll go with who I choose.”

Pinstripe bristled. “And who do you chose then?”

A pause. “Koala Kong will be acceptable.”

He glowered at Oxide in annoyance. “As I was saying. Kong, you go with Oxide to Level Four-”

“What did I just say about ordering me around?”

Pinstripe spoke through his teeth. “Then where would you prefer to go?”

“How many levels are there?”

“Five,” was the curt reply.

“Then I will take Level Four.”

Had the potoroo possessed the ability to kill with a look, he would’ve dropped Oxide right then and there. Instead he had to make do with deathglaring the alien until his surge of irritation had passed. “Papu Papu,” he nearly spat out the name, “you go with Tiny to Level Three, and me, Roo and Dingodile will take this one.” He quickly commed the Bridge. “Cortex, we got every level covered except yours.”

Understood. I will do the damage report for Level One myself then.”

“You got it, boss. All right people, let's move out."

 

Chapter Text

Pinstripe and Dingodile glanced around the Canteen after everyone besides Komodo Joe had shuffled out.

“Well I think we already know what the state of the Canteen is,” Dingodile remarked.

“Yeah. Trashed is the word I’d use.”

“[If we had a datapad we could note this down.]”

“There should be ssome sspare datapadss in Ssickbay,” Joe reminded them.

“We’re headed there next, so let’s go,” said Pinstripe. “Later, Joe.”

“See ya, Joe.”

“[Bye bye.]”

“Bye guyss.”

They approached Sickbay and peered inside with trepidation.

“Oh boy, Sickbay is a mess,” said Pinstripe.

“That’s putting it lightly, mate.”

“[There is a hole in it!]”

“Treezan’s not gonna be happy.”

The three ventured in for a better look.

“[Here.]” Ripper Roo had found a half working datapad.

“I’ve got it,” the potoroo picked it up then paused and glanced around. “Oh boy, where do I start?”

“[The Canteen. Trashed.]” Roo offered.

“Big hole in Sickbay,” Dingodile added. “Medical supplies missing. One bioregenerator left?”

“Yeah, that oughta do it.” The datapad beeped as he typed and occasionally kept dropping his input leaving a report that read something like this; ‘Te Cantn: Trshd. Bg hole n Sicby. Medcl suppls missig. One biorgenratr lft.’ He grimaced. “I guess that’ll have to do. Let’s move on.”


Cortex clicked off the comm and turned to the other occupants of the Bridge. “Carry on. I will return, shortly.” He stepped out of the Bridge and walked quickly through the rest of Level One.

The most obvious damage he discovered was the massive rupture in the Space Station’s left side. The top of its jagged edge was visible in both Astrometrics and his personal lab and as such much of the interior of both rooms, anything that hadn’t been bolted down, was now outside the Space Station, floating amongst the stars. The Ready Room and his private quarters had been spared, as they were located on the opposite side and the rupture had just narrowly missed the Bridge.

“Wow you guys were lucky,” Treezan commented after Cortex had relayed his findings. “A little further to the left and you and N. Brio would’ve both been gone.”

Thank you, Treezan,” they replied in unison. Cortex then turned his attention to one of the forward consoles. “N. Brio, how much of this did you manage to translate?”

“Very little, I’m afraid. It was. . . difficult.”

“I’ll see what I can make of it.”

 


Joe looked up from examining the splint around his arm when he heard a noise outside. Was that Pinstripe and company back so soon? Or one of the other groups? Whoever was outside cursed as they trod on something sharp. "Moe!"

"Joe?" The Canteen doors slid open and in stepped Moe. "There you are. What happened?"

"Treezzan required feeding."

"Ah. Where iss she now?"

"Hersself and Dr Tropy headed off to the Bridge. Their assssisssstance wass required."

"Sso what do we do now? Where are the otherss?"

"Sscouting the ship to assssessss the damage."

"For a damage report?"

"Indeed. Did you hurt your foot?"

Moe was a little taken aback by the sudden change of topic. "Uh. . . Yeah. I trod on ssome metal."

"Come here. Let me have a look."

Moe limped over and sat down on the bench Tropy had been sitting on previously. He held up his foot for his brother to inspect. Joe grasped his ankle with his free hand and peered closely at the wound. "There'ss sstill ssome ssplinterss left. I'll pick them out for you."

Moe winced as Joe's claws nicked his wound drawing fresh blood.

"There," he said wiping his claws against his robe. "Wait here and I'll get a medkit."


Dingodile heaved the debris out of the way, depositing it on one side of the corridor and turned to Pinstripe as he dusted off his hands. Ripper Roo bounded ahead with a yelp of glee.

"Hey, Rip! Watch it!” Pinstripe warned. “The ceiling could cave in on you."

“[I’m indestructible~]” he called back.

The pair flinched as sparks burst out of a ruptured cable. Dingodile looked ahead and shrugged. "Looks safe."

"That's not the point," he sighed and shook his head as he resumed typing in the damage observed into the datapad. "Let's keep going."

"So what’re all these different levels all about?" Dingodile asked as they moved on.

The potoroo shot him a look. "What, you’ve worked here for how long and you don't know the layout of Cortex's Space Station?"

He scratched the top of his head. "Everything's still really fuzzy, just give me a refresher."

"All right. Listen up then. The Space Station has five levels, okay?”

“Okay.”

“Level One has the Bridge, the Ready or Meeting Room, Astrometrics and Cortex's lab and quarters. Level Two has the Canteen, Sickbay and all of our rooms. Level Three has the four Docking Bays and the Break Room and the Games Room. Level Four is Engineering and Doc N. Gin's, N. Brio's and N. Tropy's Labs and finally Level Five is the Cargo Hold."

"Ah. I think I remember. Me, Moe, Joe and N. Tropy were in the Games Room playing Poker when. . . it, happened."

"Yeah and we were in the Canteen. . . I never got to finish my sandwich."

"Oh woe is you," Dingodile remarked with a smile while Ripper Roo snickered.


"Papu Papu hungry," he said aloud.

"Papu Papu always hungry," Tiny remarked.

He grunted in response to the remark as he entered the unlocking sequence for Docking Bay Two. They stepped inside and without being ordered to, Tiny shifted a heavy ceiling strut with ease. Papu Papu noted the damage and looked around the rest of the huge room, pausing to peer over the ramp railings to the floor of the Docking Bay below.

The small, red droids created by N. Gin and Tropy to maintain and repair the Space Station were already clustered around and repairing part of the massive hole in the Space Station's left side, the side in which Docking Bay One and Two were in. They were officially called M.A.R.U.s which stood for Maintenance And Repair Units. Everyone took to calling them Marus instead. The first job for the Marus was to secure the damage site, if it was a gaping hole in the Space Station's side or a hull breach in proper terms, this was to establish a force field, thus preventing poor hapless victims from being blown out into space along with the Space Station's oxygen levels. This also prevented Docking Bay 2's current organic residents, Papu Papu and Tiny Tiger from disappearing the moment the hatches opened.

Papu Papu entered the obvious damage before nodding to Tiny. He nodded back and the two left the Docking Bay to assess the condition of the next.


Nitros Oxide stepped out of the lift with Koala Kong right behind him and did a double take. “There is a HOLE in Engineering!”

“Yes, so it would seem,” Kong replied absently as he spotted a trapped Maru and immediately went to rescue it.

“What? How are you not concerned by this?”

“Well, yes, a hole in the side of the Space Station-”

“A giant hole!”

“-Is concerning. However the force field that has been erected has removed the immediate danger. Therefore I see no reason to become unnecessarily alarmed by it.”

“In my experience holes in the hull of your ship tend to compromise its integrity. You won’t be able to move until it’s fixed.”

Kong frowned lightly. “You do have a point there.”

"And shouldn't Engineering having priority over the Bridge anyway?"

"Yes of course, but we need the scanners online first before we can determine the true severity of the damage. Once they have been repaired, I would imagine that Engineering will be next on the list.”

Oxide grumbled something to himself as he typed into the datapad he had picked up from Sickbay.

Kong glanced around Engineering in the silence that followed. The giant rupture in the Space Station’s hull had blown out any fallen rubble into space leaving it mostly free from debris. Besides that, the only other obvious damage were the sputtering and sparking monitoring stations that had overloaded and exploded. The Marus had already got to work and he spied them dotted around on the walls, floor and ceiling, sparks emitting from their miniature cutters and welders. One of them zoomed between Oxide’s ankles, heading for the Maru Kong had freed and he recoiled a foot in surprise. “What the heck was that?!”

“That was a Maru.”

“A what now?”

“A Maintenance and Repair Unit or M.A.R.U. They were built to assist with maintenance and repair of the Space Station. Their priority is the site of damage above everything else. Then while three quarters of the Marus commit themselves to the damage site, the rest get to work on other damaged areas. We call them Marus for short."

Oxide sighed. "I wish I had some of these. It's not easy fixing a ship by myself."

"After this has finished, perhaps we can negotiate?" Kong looked back at the Marus just as the second had finished repairing the first and the two zoomed off. “By the way what were you doing out here?”

He gazed absently at the datapad in his hand. “I’ve been wondering that myself.”

“You mentioned that your ship was caught in the same blast that hit us. Perhaps whatever was responsible for that was also what drew you here?”

“Probably.” He frowned. “Although. . . I think I was passing by anyway. But I’m not sure why. . .”

“Considering your preferred activities, I would imagine that you were probably journeying to another race.”

Oxide looked as if a lightbulb had gone off above his head. “Of course! How could I have forgotten?” Then his expression soured. “Not that it matters since there’s no way I’ll be able to make it in time.”

“You were only unconscious for a matter of hours weren’t you?”

“I still have a ship to repair. And that’s assuming my hovercraft is unscathed. If it isn’t I’ll have to fix that too. And there’s only one of me.”

“For the Marus, ‘other damaged areas’ also includes any damaged ship currently docked with us. I believe a small handful will be repairing your ship as we speak."

“Is that so?”

“It is indeed.”

Well now. Perhaps I’ll be able to attend the race after all.”


Cortex sighed and shook his head, placing his hands on his hips.

N. Brio cast a glance in his direction. "No luck?"

"I’m afraid not."

"I told you it was difficult."

He folded his arms and glared at the console accusingly. "How are the scanners coming?"

"Almost finished," N. Gin replied. "Some pliers if you don't mind."

N. Brio quickly fished a pair out from the tool box, the handle of which was clasped in Treezan's claws. The two were acting as tool suppliers for the two physicists; Treezan as Tropy's supplier.

Cortex moved away from the console and stood behind Brio and Treezan, staring over their shoulders at N. Gin and Tropy's progress.


Moe limped along behind Joe as the pair headed for the lift. Joe stopped and turned to his brother. “Are you sure you don’t want to sstay behind? It’ss no trouble.”

He nodded. “I’m sure. My foot iss not badly hurt, it only sstings. And you can’t type with one hand.”

Joe glanced at the data pad clutched in his good hand and then at his injured arm which was still in a sling. “I ssupposse you’re right.” He handed the data pad over and followed after his brother.


Pinstripe pointed to a door. "There, that's Kong's room and the last one we have to check before we can go back."

Ripper Roo bounded over to the door and pressed the button to open the door. The button beeped in response to being pressed but nothing else happened.

“[It’s stuck!]”

"I'll get it open." Dingodile stepped forward, wedged his claws into the gap between the door and the wall and with great effort hauled the door open. He fell back gasping. "Phew."

The potoroo poked his head in and looked around. "Kong's lucky his room's on the other side of the Space Station otherwise his room would look a lot messier than this.”

“By ‘messier’ you mean non existent?”

“Yeeeah,” he replied with a grimace. “Not sure how that’s gonna work out.”

“[Clear out the Canteen.]” Roo suggested. “[Sleep there instead.]”

“Good plan. Hopefully there’s still some spare bedding in the Cargo Hold.” He finished typed the damage assessment into the data pad. "All right, we’re done, now we head back."


Papu Papu looked Oxide's ship over. The ramp they were standing on led right up to the door in the side of the cockpit. The large green spaceship just about fit into the Docking Bay. The docking clamps latched firmly onto the wings, securing it in place. A few Marus were clustered around damaged spots in the hull and on the faulty engine. The main damage was on the ship's left side, the side facing away from Papu Papu and Tiny.

He looked around the Docking Bay at the damage that was in view but most of it was blocked by Oxide's ship, though as it was located on the opposite side to the impact, there was little damage anyway. He noted this down and turned to Tiny. "Last left to check is Break Room and Games Room."

"Is much point?"

"We do quick check. Then head back and tell others."


"Are we done?" Oxide asked.

"No, we still have to check the Laboratories. I'm certain Doc Tropy would particularly like to know the condition of his Time Twister."

“What’s a Time Twister?”

“A machine that creates passageways across time and space. The first version was built for the intention of allowing us to gather power crystals for Uka Uka in their original locations in times gone past, as they have already been procured by our enemy Crash Bandicoot in the present.”

Oxide gave him a blank look. “I just asked what it did not why it was built.”

“Ah. I apologise. I had assumed you would also desire to know the context in which the Time Twister was created.”

“Well you assumed wrong. I’m not really interested in whatever’s going on with your backwater planet.”

“Let us not forget that this backwater planet as you say is where you met your first defeat,” Kong shot back. Oxide glared daggers at him but said nothing. He gestured forth. “Shall we?”

“Let’s just get this over with,” he grumbled as he walked ahead. “The sooner I get off this miserable Space Station the better.”


The lift doors slid open and the two komodo brothers cautiously peeked out. "Iss it ssafe?” Moe asked.

“I think sso.” Joe stepped out and glanced around. The lift shaft came down right in the middle of the Cargo Hold. Since food and water was handled by the replicators, there hadn't been much cargo in it. Mainly spare parts for the ship and other mechanical devices, and bed clothes and blankets and the like.

Visible in one side of the Hold was the bottom edge of a large hole that had been blasted into the Space Station’s left side. Scorch marks ringed the area and crates of cargo nearest to the impact site had been blackened or incinerated by the explosion. Before the Marus could create the force field, a substantial amount of the surviving cargo had also migrated into space. A few crates could even be seen floating amongst the stars.

“Lookss like the only damage here iss the impact ssite and the missssing cargo,” Joe observed as Moe typed that into the datapad.

“Should we do a sstock check?”

“Hmm. I’m not sure. Perhapss we should report back to Cortexx firsst.”

Moe nodded in agreement and headed back into the lift, Joe right behind him. He waited for the doors to close. "Level Two." And the lift ascended.


"There, I believe that should have the scanners up and running again," N. Gin informed the Bridge.

Brio immediately left his post and went over to one of the forward consoles, beating Cortex to it. He stopped. "Wait a minute."

"What?" asked Cortex.

"We still don't understand the computer language."

He groaned. "N. Gin, see what you can make of it."

N. Gin stood up and joined Brio at the console. "Interesting," he said staring at it.

N. Tropy gestured for Treezan to aide him in standing and together, they crossed over to the console. "Allow me to assist you."

"Certainly."

The two scientists got to work, Treezan, Brio and Cortex watching them intently.

"Pinstripe to Dr. Cortex."

Cortex spun around. "Ahah! The preliminary damage report. Excellent." He pressed the comm button on his chair arm. "Go ahead, Pinstripe."

The potoroo obediently obliged Cortex the information his team had acquired, prefacing it with an apology to Treezan.

“Nooo my Sickbay,” she lamented. “And my rooom.”

"Good work, Pinstripe. Inform the others to report their findings to me the moment they return.”

"You got it."

The comm clicked off and Cortex rejoined the group clustered around the console. "What do you make of it so far?"

"It looks difficult as Brio has said. It may take some time," Tropy informed him.

"It appears for the moment that time is a luxury we can afford."


Pinstripe, Dingodile and Ripper Roo turned to investigate as the Canteen door slid open. "Moe, Joe," greeted Pinstripe as Dingodile said, “Hey guys.”

"Ah, greetingss, you're back," said Joe.

"Only just," Pinstripe replied. "What's your report?"

"The only major damage in the Cargo Hold iss the impact ssite and damage to the cargo. Ssome of it iss in sspace and can be retrieved later."

"Good.” He gestured over his shoulder to the comm unit. “Now tell that to Dr. Cortex."

Joe repeated his report to Cortex and added. “But we didn’t do a check of the cargo sso we don’t know what’ss missssing.”

There’s not much that can be done about missing cargo right now. We’ll do a full inventory after the Space Station is up and running again. In the meantime I want you all to stay where you are and await further instructions.

“Undersstood.”


Oxide glanced towards a large hub-like machine that was in one side of N. Tropy’s onboard laboratory. "I’m guessing this is the Time Twister you were talking about?"

"Indeed. Technically it's the Time Twister v2. A greatly condensed and compact version of it’s predecessor.”

“Really? How big was the first one?”

“Big enough that it would be difficult to fit onto the Space Station. And all built by one man.”

“Huh. Impressive. I guess.” There was a long awkward pause as they both glanced around the lab, assessing the damages before Oxide decided to ask, conversationally. “So. . . uh. Who built it?”

“Are you really interested?” he replied dubiously.

“Just answer the question.”

“Doctor Nefarious Tropy.”

The Gasmoxian squinted at him. “You’ll have to describe him as I never considered learning your names all that important.”

Kong sighed. “Tall fellow with blue skin.”

“Ah. Yes. Him. He ‘greeted’ me at the Docking Bay. I may have also seen him during the race. Wasn’t very memorable as I recall.”

The koala’s eyebrows nearly shot clean off his head in surprise. “. . . I imagine you hold that opinion on all of us, correct?”

“I certainly don’t remember you.”

“You wouldn’t because I was not in the race.”

“Why not?”

“Because I-. . . because. . . I wasn’t interested.”

“You weren’t interested in saving your planet?”

“That’s not what I meant. There were enough racers participating and in the end it was Crash Bandicoot who saved the day as I knew he would. Some of the others, my colleagues, were in it for personal glory and gain and I had no interest in competing with that. If it had just been about saving the planet, then yes, perhaps I may have joined.”

“So what? You didn’t want to race because their intentions weren’t noble enough?” he scoffed.

Kong inhaled through his nose in irritation. “You’re not listening to what I’m saying.”

“Because it sounds ridiculous.”

“Then allow me to simplify this for you. Crash Bandicoot saved the day as he always does. There were more than enough participants. And those who were not aligned with Crash Bandicoot were competing for personal gain. Therefore I considered participating as pointless and tedious.”

“Well why didn’t you just say so?”

Kong nearly throttled the alien in frustration.

Oblivious, he continued. “Shall we move on? These labs aren’t going to inspect themselves.”

The koala shook his head but followed him into N. Gin’s lab nonetheless. And another awkward silence descended until Kong spoke again. “I must ask, Oxide.”

“What?”

“There’s no delicate way to word this. Do you perchance have any friends?”

What?! What kind of question is that?!”

“You possess the unparalleled ability to irritate absolutely anyone you come into contact with. It truly is remarkable.”

Oxide stiffened. “Is. . . is that so?”

“You haven’t noticed?”

There was a long pause before he answered in a small voice. “. . . I don’t mean to be. Not all the time.”

“Why then?” he asked gently, seeing an opportunity to learn more.

For a moment he seemed vulnerable. “It’s. . .” and then the moment was gone. “None of your business.”

Kong sighed. “I suppose I should’ve suspected as much.”

“Is this everything?”

“No, we still have N. Brio’s labs to examine. Considering it’s on the same side as the impact site, I imagine we’ll find it in a similar state.

“Let’s go then, I have things to do.”


"Hey, Papu Papu. Tiny Tiger,” Pinstripe greeted them cheerfully. “Welcome back.”

"That just leaves Kong and Oxide," Dingodile noted.

"They're analyssing Engineering right?" asked Moe.

"Yeah, that's right," Pinstripe replied.

Joe nodded. "Ass well as N. Gin, Tropy and Brio'ss Labss. Sso they'll have the longesst job."

"Why you send Kong with Oxide?" Papu Papu asked out of curioisity.

“Kong’s pretty chill so I figured out of all of us, he could stand to be in the obnoxious little alien’s company the longest. Anyways. Youse should report to Cortex. We can listen in on the damage report then we'll tell youse what we’ve found."


This is Koala Kong to Dr Cortex.”

“Finally! Go ahead, Kong.”

I regret to inform Dr N. Brio that his laboratory has suffered extensive damage-”

You mean there’s a giant hole in it?” Oxide cut in.

Yes, thank you, Oxide. And many of his potions and experiments are . . . absent.”

Brio simply sighed in dismay.

“Fortunately you weren’t in there at the time,” Cortex remarked.

“Yes, I suppose.”

Dr N. Tropy, your Time Twister is damaged but otherwise still intact. Which can also be said for both yours and Dr N. Gin’s laboratories.”

“I was expecting as much,” Tropy replied.

“And Engineering?” asked Cortex.

There is a giant hole in it! You have a giant hole in the side of your Space Station!”

“Yes. Thank you, Oxide. We have noticed.”

Beyond that, it is hard to determine the exact severity of the damage that Engineering has sustained but I would wager that it is significant.”

“Thank you, Kong-.”

And me!”

“Yes, you as well, Oxide. I will confer with my colleagues before deciding on a course of action.”

Understood, Dr Cortex.”

The comm clicked off and Cortex turned his attention back to the other occupants of the Bridge. “Considering everything we’ve heard, there doesn’t seem to be any critical damage requiring immediate attention. We are very fortunate in that regard.” Everyone nodded in agreement with that. “It is also clear that we have sustained a direct hit to the centre of our left side.”

“A direct hit from what, though?” N. Brio asked.

“Something explosive,” N. Gin commented.

“Does this mean we were attacked?”

“It’s possible,” Tropy replied. “But I don’t recall being under attack before this happened.”

“And nothing has happened since,” Treezan observed. “We’ve been sitting around long enough, you think someone would’ve shown up to finish us off by now.”

“I’m inclined to agree with Treezan,” said Cortex. “Although I’m reluctant to dismiss the possibility altogether. Whatever the case, this still leaves us with the matter of deciding what we should do next.”

“If we were attacked, I would suggest focusing on the bringing the shields back online,” Brio suggested.

“But with our structural integrity compromised we cannot move the Space Station. We are figuratively dead in the water until the hull breach is rectified,” N. Gin observed.

“And the impact has rearranged the computer’s language so that it will be difficult to operate the Space Station until it has been properly corrected,” Tropy added.

“We also don’t know why we came out here in the first place,” said Treezan. “Perhaps if we pooled our brain power we could try to remember?”

“Those are all very good points,” Cortex sighed.

“As far as I’m concerned, however,” said N. Tropy. “I will begin repairing my Time Twister and if necessary, my portable time machine. As you have said, Dr Cortex, I also have a feeling we may have need of them in the near future.”

“We will comm you if needed then.”

He nodded and left the bridge.

Cortex commed down to the Canteen. “Assemble in the Ready Room immediately,” adding almost as an afterthought “And Oxide, would you please join us there as well?” To N. Gin. “Stay here and work on the deciphering the computer language.”

“Yes, Dr Cortex.”

“N. Brio. Treezan. With me.”

 

Chapter Text

Dingodile furrowed his brow as he tried desperately to remember the events that occurred before he lost consciousness. "Come on, come on, give me something."

The entire complement and Oxide were now gathered in Cortex's Ready Room, racking their brains in a vain attempt to recall everything that had transpired before and leading up to the impact. The exceptions were N. Gin, who was still on the Bridge working on deciphering the new language and Tropy, who was in his lab repairing his Time Twister and portable time machine. They had both agreed to leave a comm open so they could listen in to what was being said and add their thoughts.

Food had been rescued from the Canteen, mainly chocolate bars, biscuits, fruit and crisps and were being distributed around.

Dingodile gave a defeated sigh. "Nope, nothing. All I can remember is a loud explosion and then being thrown across the room."

Cortex also sighed. "It seems that's the only thing anyone can remember.”

Tropy's voice came over the comm. "We can examine the Space Station's records when we have deciphered the language. . . If they're still intact. Perhaps they will tell us what we ourselves cannot recall."

“That seems to be our best course of action. Unless. . .” He trailed off and looked to Nitros Oxide. “What were you doing out here?”

“I was on my way to compete in another race, of course.”

“Of course,” he echoed. “But more specifically why were you here? We’re not too far away from Earth, a planet I can’t imagine you wanting to revisit.”

“Something I’d like to know as well. Unfortunately I can’t remember anything beyond the reason I was passing by.”

"Is it possible that you were investigating the same thing we were?" Koala Kong suggested.

“I guess.”

“Then perhaps your records could aid us in solving that mystery?”

“They might.”

“Well what’re we waiting for?” Pinstripe asked as he got to his feet. “Let’s go check it out.”

“You’re not all coming? My ship isn’t spacious enough for that.”

“Then myself and N. Brio will accompany you,” said Cortex.

The potoroo sighed in disappointment and retook his seat.

“Wait here. We will return momentarily.”

A murmur of “Yes, sir”s and “Yes Dr Cortex,”s was the response to this command as the three exited the room, bound for Docking Bay Four.

 


Cortex and Brio followed Oxide onto his ship. There was just about enough room in the cockpit to fit all three of them.

“So, uh, this is the first time you’ve been on my ship isn’t it?” Oxide remarked. “Welcome aboard I guess?”

“It’s. . . interesting,” N. Brio ventured as he gazed around at the interior.

“I see you have a predisposition for smooth, round architecture, and vivid green lighting,” Cortex added.

He shrugged. “It’s pretty standard fare for Gasmoxian spacecraft.”

“Did you build this yourself? Or buy it?”

“I built it.”

“All of it?” Cortex asked as Brio asked, “By yourself?”

“Yes and yes. It started out life as a small prototype not much bigger than this,” he gestured to indicate the cockpit in which they were currently standing. “I added onto it over time until it became what you see now.”

“Impressive.”

“But we didn’t come here to talk about my ship now did we?” With that, he took a seat before the main console and called up a series of records from within the past few days. He frowned at the large monitor that also served as the viewscreen and began scrolling. “Ah, well here’s the race I was due to attend.” More scrolling revealed that the most recent records had been damaged and were illegible. Oxide bashed his fist against the main console in frustration and uttered a curse.

Cortex sighed "Ah well. Back to square one."

"What’s that?" asked Brio pointing at the screen. “There’s something at the end there.” There was a symbol beside it which Brio was assuming meant new or unread.

“It’s a transmission I received before the explosion.” Oxide explained and then frowned. “I thought I watched this already. Or did I?” He selected it and played it back. A tall Gasmoxian dressed regally in long, red robes appeared on the screen. Oxide’s frown deepened and he muttered “What does he want?”

But the message blipped and blurred and fuzzed and fizzed. And then it cut out.

“Seems the blast damaged that, too,” Brio observed. “Did you get any of it?”

“I have a fair idea what it was about.”

“Who was that?” Cortex asked. “He seemed important. Your. . . ruler?”

“Our Emperor. It was probably a summons of some kind.”

Brio and Cortex exchanged curious looks. They sensed the alien wasn’t telling them everything but what it was that he was concealing they could only guess at.

“It doesn’t look like there is anything more to be gained from your ship, Oxide,” said Cortex. “We should return.”

 


“From the looks on your faces, I’m guessing that was a bust.”

“You guess right, Pinstripe,” Cortex replied.

"So now what do we do?"

Treezan stood up. "Get some rest," she said. "I'm going back to Sickbay to get the bioregenerator, hopefully it’s still working. Then I'll come round to each of your rooms. If you can't get to sleep, I'll give you a sedative."

“Excellent idea, Treezan,” Cortex replied and got to his feet. “You know where to find me then.” He left the room, and his minions to their own devices.

“Some of us don’t have rooms to return to,” said Dingodile.

There was a collective groan from everyone who had had a room on the side of the impact site. At this N. Brio got up. “I’ll leave you all to sort that out.” To Treezan, “I’ll be on the Bridge.”

“And I’ll be on my ship,” said Oxide. The two left.

Tropy’s voice came over the comm. “I’ll be in my lab.” The comm clicked off indicating that he had terminated the connection.

Treezan sighed.

“All right,” said Pinstripe, taking charge. “Roo suggested we clear out the Canteen and organise a sleeping area there.”

“[Yeah! I have good plan.]”

Moe turned to his brother. “Take my room. I will ssleep in the Canteen.”

“But-”

“I inssisst. You are injured. I am not. You need the room more than I do.” And then he nodded, considering the matter settled.

Joe blinked but did not argue further. “Then. I will turn in. Goodnight everyone.”

A chorus of “Goodnight, Joe.”s followed him out of the room.

“Tiny’s room good. But Tiny will help.”

“Thanks, Tiny,” Pinstripe replied.

“I will also assist,” Kong offered.

“Good, the more help, the faster we can get things cleared and get some sleep.”

“Okay, you guys do that,” said Treezan. “I’ve got things to take care of on my end.”

“Wait, what do you want done for your new bed?”

“Just put some bedding down where ever and I’ll sleep there. I’m not fussed.”

“Got it.”

“Later guys.”

They responded in turn.

“All righty mates,” Dingodile began after Treezan had left. “Let’s get to work.”

“[Wait, wait, wait. N. Gin?]”

“Oh, good point.”

Kong, who was closest, comm’d the Bridge. “Dr N. Gin. Where would you prefer to be established in lieu of your quarters?”

Take bedding to my lab. I will sleep there.”

“Understood.”

“[Okay, now we go.]”

 


Treezan left the Ready Room and dithered for a moment in the connecting corridor. She wanted to get back to Sickbay to see the state of the room for herself, and the one bioregenerator that she knew she had left. But she also had three people left to persuade to stop working and go to sleep. N. Brio, her creator would be the most reasonable of the three and she didn’t anticipate meeting with much resistance. N. Gin and N. Tropy on the other hand. She sighed. N. Gin didn’t yet have anywhere to sleep anyway, so she made a decision and headed to Sickbay.

“Oh maaaaan,” was her immediate response to the mess it was in. Besides the obvious hole that had been ripped into the outer wall, cabinet doors had been roughly hauled open and some were askew or hanging on their hinges and the contents were absent. They at least would have to be restocked, that much she could tell at a glance.

Treezan spotted the bioregenerator amidst the wreckage. They were large ungainly things and bore a passing resemblance to a hoover; a wand like object connected to a long tube connected to a box. The box contained the battery that powered the bioregenerator itself, which was the wand like object. The main body appeared to have taken damage and the battery level indicator was blinking, signalling that it had lost all its power. She sighed. The first person she had intended to check was either Cortex or N. Gin, followed by the next serious injury and so on down the list. But with the bioregenerator being in the state it was in, that meant that she would have to lug the thing down to Engineering to get N. Tropy to fix it for her. There was nothing for it, it seemed. She grabbed the handle that unfolded from the top of the box and hauled it down to the turbo lift.

 


Dr Neo Cortex switched off the vidcam and massaged his forehead. He'd just finished speaking with Nina, informing her of their current situation and reassuring her that he was fine and not to worry about him. She had been understandably upset and he felt almost guilty for telling her but should the worst come to the worst, at least those occupying Cortex Castle would know what had happened. He would’ve liked to have conversed more but the monitor had aggravated his headache forcing him to conclude the conversation early.

If Treezan had to get the bioregenerator repaired before she could start making her rounds, then she would not be appearing in the immediate future. So he would probably have time for a short nap.

Cortex heaved himself out of his chair, approached his bed, carefully laid down on it and closed his eyes. He was asleep within minutes.

 


Treezan returned from Engineering with a replacement battery for the bioregenerator just as Dr N. Tropy completed repairs. He removed the damaged battery and gestured for Treezan to hand him the replacement. He slotted it in, closed the compartment and pressed the power button. The bioregenerator started up with a high pitched whine. “And there we are. Good as new.”

“Yaay, thank you. Now I can get to work.”

“You’re welcome, child.”

She twisted the wand in her hand and made setting adjustments. “I’ll start with you, since I’m here. Just hold still.”

Treezan began first with a once over, from head to toe. As she had anticipated, the light turned red, detecting an injury, when she moved it over his broken leg. She waved the wand up and down until the light returned to green. “There we go, that seems to be everything. Now you’re good as new.”

“Excellent. Now I can return to my work.”

“Now hold on. You should get some rest first.”

“You have my assurances, Treezan, that I will recuperate when the work is finished.”

Treezan pulled a face at that. “You do realise that as Chief Medical Officer, my authority overrides yours and. . . I could. . . uh. . .”

Tropy had given her a look that made the words die on her tongue. “I do not recommend that course of action.”

She would’ve broken out into a sweat if she had been capable. “N-never mind.” Evidently that was as good as she was going to get. “I. . . suppose. . . having a functioning time machine should the worst come to the worst is definitely for the best and I should just let you get on with that.”

He gave her a smile that wasn’t entirely pleasant. “I am glad we both agree.”

“Right. . . Sure. . . I’ll leave you the sedative should you need it, then.” She put the cup down where he wouldn’t knock it over on accident. “And I’ll leave you to it.”

 


Nitros Oxide was sitting on the damaged wing of his spacecraft, working on repairing the faulty engine. He had shooed away the Marus and they had zoomed off to find something else to fix. He was trying not to admit it, but the message he had received had been bothering him since he had seen it. Oxide blinked, suddenly realising that he had been simply sitting there frowning hard at the hull of his ship for the past minute.

“Hey,” said a voice behind him. He jumped and whipped around to snap at the intruder “What do you-?” It was Treezan. “Oh. It’s you.”

“Sorry, I didn’t mean mean to startle you.”

“It’s fine. I was. . . distracted.”

“Yeah. You were miles away.”

He frowned in confusion. “Nonsense. I was right here.”

“No, that’s not-. It was a figure of speech.”

Oh. You’ll have to forgive me. I’m not terribly familiar with all of your Terran phrases. You have quite a lot of them.”

She shrugged. “Well that’s understandable. Anyway I was on my way up from Engineering. I figured I’d see you next to save me the trouble of coming back down here.” She gestured over her shoulder to where she had left the bioregenerator. “Shall we?”

“Yes.” Oxide stood up and followed her off the ship.

“This will be really quick.” She twisted the wand in her hand to make the necessary setting adjustments, then waved the wand up and down, from head to toe and back and it briefly blipped red in places but this was banished quickly in the next sweep. “Done.”

“Wait that was it?”

“Yep.”

“Wow you weren’t kidding.”

“Nope. You’re all good now. Job done. You can carry on with what you were doing. Or, you know, get some rest.”

“That won’t be necessary. Last I remember it should be more or less midmorning in my day-night cycle. I won’t need rest for hours yet.”

“I see. I can leave you a sedative for when you need it if you want. If you need it.”

“I suppose it won’t hurt. You do know what a sedative for Gasmoxians is right?”

“Relax. I have it all memorised.” She gave him the sedative and he received it with a look of mild revulsion.

“Of course I forgot you drool your medicine.”

“Dude, I told you. It’s not drool. It’s-”

“A sedative. I know, I know. I suppose I should thank you.”

“You’re welcome.” An awkward pause. “Okay. Well. I’ll let you get on. I’ve got things to do. And so do you.” She grinned at the rhyme but it was a lost on Oxide and he simply stared back. “Okay I’m going now. See ya!”

“Right. See you. I guess.”

She left the Docking Bay thinking [What a strange guy.] as Oxide returned to his repair job thinking [What a strange creature.]

 


Pinstripe stopped what he was doing to glance around at the Canteen. With seven of them working together, stacking benches and moving tables, they had rapidly cleared it out.

“What should we do with all this rubble?” asked Dingodile.

“Just throw it to one side,” Pinstripe replied. “It’ll have to be dealt with eventually but right now, we just need enough space to sleep five.”

“Gotcha.” He began sweeping the smaller stuff to one side with his tail, Moe quickly following his example.

“[Sweep, sweep, sweep.]” Ripper Roo also joined in the clearing effort, leaving the heavy lifting to Tiny, Papu Papu and Koala Kong.

Once that was done to Pinstripe’s satisfaction, he called them all to the centre of the room. “All right guys, listen up. There’s enough of us here to take care of everyone’s sleeping arrangements. Me, Moe and Papu Papu can grab our own. Dingodile, since Roo can’t carry his, I want you to handle that.”

“Got it.”

“Tiny, take care of Treezan’s since she’s not here and she has other things to worry about.”

“Tiny will do that.”

“And Kong, that leaves you sort out N.Gin. And then we’re all done here, so you can go straight to bed.”

“I understand.”

“Let’s roll people.”

 


N. Gin and Brio were huddled over one of the forward consoles, absorbed by the challenge of translating the new computer language. They were so intent on their work that they both failed to notice Treezan entering the Bridge. Nor did they look up when she dragged the bioregenerator over to them and clear her throat to draw attention to herself. It was grasping their shoulders that had the desired effect.

“Oh, Treezan,” said N. Brio, surprised. “When did you get here?”

“Just now, sir. I’m ready to commence treatment if you two are?”

They exchanged looks and nodded. “Yes. Please,” said Brio.

Treezan quickly made the necessary setting adjustments and levelled the bioregenerator first at N. Gin, who had the more serious injury before turning it on Brio. “All right there we go. That should do it.”

“Thank you, Treezan. We should be able to focus on our translation efforts unimpeded now.”

“I would advise resting first. The bioregenerator only heals physical injuries, it won’t make you feel less tired or anything. And you did say it would be easier with a clearer head.”

Brio sighed. “I suppose you’re right.”

“If you wish to retire, go ahead. I will keep working,” said N. Gin.

Treezan pulled a face. “Ugh, I knew you were going to say that. You and Dr N. Tropy are both so stubborn.”

“If that’s what you want to call it. I have more important matters to attend to than resting.”

“I could order you. I don't like to to pull my weight as Chief Medical Officer but my authority does override yours.”

“You’re welcome to try.”

Treezan bristled until Brio placed a calming hand on her shoulder. “Now, Treezan. Perhaps our friend here would be more agreeable to a compromise?”

“What sort of compromise?” he asked dubiously.

“Let N. Tropy work on this while you rest. And then vice versa when you awake.”

N. Gin frowned. “I don’t imagine N. Tropy will have completed repairing his Time Twister so quickly.”

“Exactly. So you can carry on working until he’s finished. This way, everyone’s happy.”

Treezan nodded. “I can work with that. What about you?”

“I am also agreeable to this.”

“Good. I guess we should ask N. Tropy next.”

N. Gin pressed the comm button on the arm of Cortex’s chair. “N. Tropy. This is N. Gin.”

“And Treezan!”

“And. . . me as well I guess,” Brio added.

There was a slight pause before N. Tropy responded. “Yes?”

“We have a proposition for you,” said N. Gin.

Oh?”

“Will you take over for N. Gin while he rests? And then swap over when he wakes up?” asked Treezan.

Hmm. I have work to finish here first. But yes. I am agreeable to this arrangement.”

“We anticipated this,” said N. Gin. “So I will continue translating until you arrive.”

Understood.”

The comm clicked off and Treezan turned to N. Brio. “Thanks.”

“You’re welcome.”

“Seems like I still gotta work on my diplomacy.”

He smiled. “You’ll learn.”

“Let’s hope so. Anyway, I’m going to check on Dr Cortex next. Do either of you need the sedative before I go?”

“I’m not sure I’ll need it but you can give it to me anyway.”

She pulled out a cup, drooled into it and handed it to him. “There you go. N. Gin?”

“The sedative will not be necessary,” he replied.

“You sure?”

“Positive.”

“All right then.” She picked up the bioregenerator. “Better leave you to it.”

“And I should head off myself,” said N. Brio.

They both exited the Bridge, leaving N. Gin to continue working in peace.

 


Dingodile deposited the massive cushion that was to serve as Ripper Roo’s new bed near one wall of the Canteen.

“[Thank you!]” said Ripper Roo before immediately pouncing on it.

Dingodile patted him fondly on the head. “You’re welcome, mate.”

Roo’s tongue lolled out and he wagged his tail.

“You should turn in. Get some sleep if you can. We can manage the rest,” said Pinstripe.

“You sure?”

“Yeah, I’m sure.”

“Tiny sleep now, too?”

“Yeah, Tiny. You can sleep now, too.”

“Okay. Tiny go sleep. Good night.” He left the Canteen as the others responded in turn.

“Guess I should head off too. Good night, mates.” Dingodile too exited the room to a chorus of good nights.

The four remaining occupants, Ripper Roo, Pinstripe, Komodo Moe and Papu Papu made themselves comfortable. They bid each other good night. And then all was silent.

 


Dingodile stopped outside Moe’s room, currently occupied by his brother, Joe and pressed the call button. Seconds later the door whooshed open to reveal Joe rubbing an eye with his free hand.

Dingodile winced. “Sorry, Joe. Did I wake you?”

“No, I couldn’t ssleep. Did you want ssomething?”

“I just wanted to check up on you.”

Joe glanced at his left arm, still wrapped up and resting in a sling. “Treezzan hassn’t come round, yet. But she should be here ssoon. You should resst. We all should.”

“Yeah, I was just about to head off meself.”

“Then I’ll let you go. Good night, Dingodile.”

“Good night, Joe.” Dingodile entered his room and immediately flopped down on his bed. He tossed and turned trying to get comfortable before rolling onto his back, arms folded behind his head. He stared resolutely up at the ceiling, trying to find peace of mind in the blank, steel grey colour but he was too wound up after the day’s events. He passed the next minute using the "Counting Sheep" method but to no avail. Dingodile sighed and turned over again, wishing Treezan was here with the sedative.

 


Koala Kong stopped reading the book, The Leonardo Codex briefly to thumb through the rest of the pages to find where the chapter ended. It was a quite a long chapter it turned out, but he was a fast reader. He paused to assess himself. He wasn't feeling all that tired and deduced that he would be finished with the chapter, and would probably require the sedative when Treezan checked up on him. He carried on reading.

 


Tiny Tiger snored away, loudly, sound asleep.

 


Pinstripe rolled over onto his injured shoulder and it exploded with pain. He shot upright with a yelp. The others stirred and raised their heads and Ripper Roo, who was next to him, spoke “[Are you all right?]”

“Ow yeah. I’m okay. Sorry, did I wake youse all?”

“Papu Papu couldn’t sleep.”

“Ssame here.”

Pinstripe sighed. “Yeah, me too.”

“[Treezan should be here soon,]” said Ripper Roo. “[Then we can all sleep.]”

“Is anyone hungry?” Papu Papu asked.

Pinstripe scratched his chin. “I could go for a sandwich.”

“A ssandwich ssoundss good.”

“[Yay sandwich!]”

“Okay. I will make sandwiches.”

“Thanks Papu Papu.” Pinstripe lent back and listened to the opening and closing of cupboards, the clattering of plates, Papu Papu ordering a list of ingredients in his native tongue and the whine of the replicator as it responded.

The doors to the Canteen whooshed open and Treezan stepped in dragging the bioregenerator behind her. “Hey guys.”

“[Treezan!]”

“Hey, Treezan.”

“Sorry to keep you all waiting so long.”

“Hey don’t sweat it. How is everyone else doing?”

“Everyone’s fine.” To Moe. “I fixed up Joe’s arm and he should be sound asleep by now.”

Moe nodded. “Good.”

“Treezan want anything?” Papu Papu asked.

“Oh I’m good, thanks. I already ate.” She glanced around the room. “All right, if everyone would like form a line, I can get everyone healed up.”

They all lined up, except Papu Papu who was still preparing the sandwiches. He finished just as Treezan had concluded tending to Moe. “Sandwiches are ready,” he said as he joined the line and Treezan turned the bioregenerator on him.

“All right,” Pinstripe replied. “Let’s eat.” He, Ripper Roo and Moe approached the counter and began eagerly tucking into their sandwiches.

“I’ll give you all the sedative too,” said Treezan once she was done with Papu Papu. She pulled out four cups and drooled it into them. “This kicks in quickly, so eat first before you go drinking this.”

“Got it. I’d like to finish my sandwich this time.”

“[It is a good sandwich.]”

“Sure is, buddy.”

“[Tasty sandwich is tasty.]

“Yess,” Moe agreed. “Thank you for the ssandwichess, Papu Papu.”

“[Yes! Thank you!]”

“You are welcome, friends,” Papu Papu, usually solemn faced, replied with a smile.

“Okay guys,” said Treezan. “I’m just going to go drag this thing back to Sickbay since we don’t need it anymore.”

They grunted or nodded affirmation and Pinstripe added, indicating with a thumb. “We put your bed over there by the corner.”

“Thanks. I’ll be right back.” She disappeared out of the doors to the Canteen.

They continued munching their sandwiches in silence.

Ripper Roo picked up his cup with his foot and raised it a loft. “[A toast!]” he declared.

Pinstripe blinked and exchanged slightly confused looks with Moe and Papu Papu. “. . . To what?”

Roo’s tongue lolled out. “[To sleep!]”

“Well I’ll drink to that.”

“Ssleep is good,” Moe added.

“[Sleep is good!]” Ripper Roo replied eagerly.

“To sleep then,” said Papu Papu.

They picked up their cups, clinked them together and then downed the contents in one go.

Treezan returned to find them all asleep where they sat. “Guys! I said it would kick in quickly!” They of course were dead to the world and didn’t hear of a word that. She let out an exasperated sigh. “For goodness sake.” And then began dragging each of them to their beds. “You guys are lucky I’m really strong or this would be really difficult.” But for all her complaining, she made sure they were comfortable before tucking them into bed and bidding each of them goodnight. Then she made adjustments to and rearranged her bedding and finally, she settled down and closed her eyes.

Silence descended upon the Canteen once more.

 


The Space Station had been quiet for hours. The only occupant currently awake was Dr. Nefarious Tropy. He stopped scowling over the new language that was proving more challenging than he had given it credit for and paused to massage his temples. A headache was beginning to rear its ugly head. He was also getting hungry and realised that he hadn't eaten anything since regaining consciousness. Perhaps now was the time to stop for a break.

The comm bleeped making him jump to his feet in surprise. “Tropy, this is N. Gin.”

N. Tropy crossed over to Cortex's chair and activated the comm. "Tropy here. Am I to assume that you are ready to take over?”

"I am."

"Perfect timing. The Bridge is all yours."

"On my way."

The comm clicked off and Tropy strolled out of the Bridge and down to the Canteen. He was about to just walk right in but froze in the doorway when he was greeted by the unexpected sound of snoring. Of course, he realised belatedly, that half of their sleeping quarters was on the side of the impact site and would’ve been demolished. And that the Canteen would’ve been the logical choice for a temporary sleeping area with the Break Room being in a similar condition and not being enough space in the Games Room. He winced and tiptoed into the room. Treezan raised her head and stared at him blearily.

“Go back to sleep, child.”

She gave him an asymmetrical blink before her head flopped back onto her pillow. He waited until she resumed snoring lightly before ordering himself some food and leaving the Canteen as quietly as he could.

 


N. Gin entered shortly after N. Tropy had left and he glanced around the Bridge to assess the situation. The aforementioned scientist had busied himself with general tidying up, and repairing some of the monitoring stations in between tackling the translation. And the Bridge was already looking a lot less worse for wear because of it.

There was still more to be done but for now that could wait. The new computer language held the priority as it would first have to be completely translated before the real repair work on the rest of the Space Station could begin. Without wasting anymore time, N. Gin got to work.

 


Dr. Neo Cortex strolled onto the Bridge. Rest and the application of the bioregenerator had banished his splitting headache and dizziness, brightening his mood. "N. Gin, N. Brio, status report."

"Most of the Bridge has been repaired,” N. Gin replied. “Progress on deciphering the new language is slow. N. Tropy has interpreted some of it, N. Brio and I have interpreted more, but I approximate that our combined efforts have only deciphered twenty percent."

"That's almost a quarter. Good work both of you."

They nodded and N. Gin immediately resumed his efforts.

“Have either of you taken the time to inform your families of what’s going on?”

Brio dropped his gaze as N. Gin froze.

“You don’t want to worry them, am I correct?”

“I. . .” Brio faltered. “I don’t know what to say.”

“I’ve already informed Nina and I’ve asked her not to pass on the information. But you should tell them before she decides she can’t wait any longer. It would be better for them hearing it from you.”

“. . . I know.”

All three occupants turned their heads when the door to the Bridge opened to admit a newcomer. Nitros Oxide joined them, meeting their guarded stares with a challenging look.

"And what brings you to the Bridge?" Cortex asked politely.

“I was. . .” Oxide hesitated.

Lonely?”

Bored,” he countered. “I needed a break from fixing my ship.”

“Treezan would probably suggest taking a nap were she here,” said Brio.

“And I’ve already told her that I won’t be needing one. Yet.”

“And so it appears that we are the lucky few to be graced by your presence,” Cortex remarked with a touch of sarcasm.

Oxide’s expression immediately soured. “Don’t do that.”

He frowned in confusion. “Do what?”

A shake of his head. “Nevermind.”

The console beside N. Brio beeped. He frowned at it. "We're being approached by. . . three ships maybe?"

"What sort of ships?" asked Cortex.

“Uhh. I think. . . it seems to be suggesting they share a commonality with Oxide’s ship.”

“What?” three voices asked in unison.

"And we're being hailed by the lead ship, audio and visual. Should I respond?"

Cortex nodded.

A tall Gasmoxian dressed regally in long, red robes appeared on the screen.

Brio frowned. “Wait, isn’t that. . . ?”

It was the same Gasmoxian from the message. A brief expression of surprise flickered across his face as he locked eyes with Oxide and he uttered a quiet, nearly inaudible, “Nitros. . .”

"You!" The Gasmoxian in question was wearing an expression of genuine shock. And then he sneered. “What are you doing all the way out here, so far from home?”

“Do not talk to me in that tone of voice, child. You know very well why.”

“No, actually, I’m quite puzzled. How could you possibly have anticipated that I would be found here out of all places in the entire galaxy? Quite a feat, even for you, old man.”

“My sources discovered the time and place of the next race you were to attend and I was on my way there to intercept you. It is pure happenstance that I find you here.”

“I’m surprised it took you so long to catch up to me. Did I really make it that hard?”

“Do not mock me, Nitros. You are fully aware of the precautions you took to ensure that I would indeed find that difficult. Such as entering your name for more than one race at a time and in different parts of the galaxy. Tracking you down has proven quite tiresome, and I have had quite enough of your childish games.”

Oxide bristled in indignation and his voice shot up into a falsetto. “Childish!? Games??

Cortex, Brio and N. Gin were following the conversation in much the same manner one would follow a tennis match being played at light speed. That is to say they were utterly lost. They exchanged baffled looks. “What’s going on here?” Brio asked. N. Gin shrugged.

Cortex cleared his throat, interrupting Oxide before he could continue and drawing their attention to him. “Er, if I may intrude on this conversation?”

"Ah yes. Do forgive my manners. I saw your Space Station was damaged and I thought you might need some assistance."

Oxide scoffed. “Assistance? Don’t be ridiculous. You’ve never assisted anyone unless you’ve had something to gain from it.”

“Shut up, Nitros!” The Gasmoxian snapped in a tone that made Oxide wince and obey. Then to Cortex. “I have the finest engineers and medics that Gasmoxia has to offer on board my ship.”

“Your offer is most, er, generous. But I don’t suppose your engineers would be at all familiar with Earth technology and we have onboard some very capable engineers and a medic of our own.”

“I suppose you’re right. Is there another way we could assist you then?”

“Well. We do have a large hull breach in need of repairing.”

“Easily done. I will order one of my ships to begin post-haste.”

Oh. Well. Thank you. Is there, er, anything we can do for you in return?”

“As a matter of fact, there is. But first, I should introduce myself. I am the Emperor of Gasmoxia, Sulphurous Oxide."

"Oxide?" all three scientists echoed in unison.

“Then you two must be. . . related. Yes?” Cortex asked cautiously.

I suppose I could make a comment on the subject of sharing a surname with another without being directly related. But that would be disingenuous. Nitros Oxide is my son and Crown Prince of Gasmoxia.”

They all gaped and turned to stare at him.

He rolled his eyes. “Here we go.”

“You’re. . . you’re really a prince?” asked Brio, disbelieving.

“And now you know the truth,” he intoned. “Surprise.”

“It’s so hard to believe,” said Cortex.

“That is understandable. Outside Gasmoxia, those who are aware of my son’s true heritage are only those he has chosen to inform. If any.”

“But you could disclose the information yourself?”

“My rule has not been without opposition and I have gained many enemies. There are those who would wish harm upon him, or worse, should he fall into their hands. For that reason and until he is returned to Gasmoxia safely, I have too have chosen to keep our relationship secret.”

“Returned to Gasmoxia you say? I’m afraid that’s not going to happen. Not until you recognise the monarchy for what it is; history. And allow us all to move on with our lives.”

History, Nitros? The monarchy is our royal bloodline. So long as we are both still alive, it lives on.”

Wrong. It lives on through your obsession. And I will have no part in it.”

"The throne of Gasmoxia is your birthright, Nitros. You cannot refuse it."

“Yes I can. I’m refusing it right now.”

“If I may interrupt. Again,” Cortex quickly cut in. “Perhaps you would prefer to continue this discussion onboard my Space Station, uh. . . Your Emperorship.”

“You may address me as Emperor Oxide, or as Your Imperial Majesty. And yes, I would prefer that.”

“I believe Docking Bay Three is operational now. I will meet you there myself to personally escort you to my Meeting Room where you can resume the conversation in private.” He could practically feel Nitros Oxide glaring daggers into his back.

“Your offer is most generous, although I reluctantly concede that I may require your services as a mediator. And you are invited to bring along as many, or as few of your servants for this task as you deem necessary.”

“I see. I will limit this invitation to my colleagues for the sake of simplicity.”

“As you will,” Emperor Oxide replied before terminating the connection.

“This is probably not a good idea,” said Nitros.

“Oh please,” Cortex replied irritably. “We all know you’re adverse to meeting with your father, it’s hardly a secret.”

“That’s not what I meant,” he snapped.

“Then what?”

“As I’ve already said, he’s not a naturally helpful or generous person unless you’re useful to him in some way. And what could you possibly offer him?”

“What about you?” N. Gin asked.

Oxide squinted at him. “What do you mean?”

“I think N. Gin is right,” said Cortex. “It’s you.”

“He wouldn’t need to bargain for that, you don’t have any weapons or shields, he could just march in and capture me.”

“Except he didn’t.”

“No, he didn’t. And I can’t work out why.”

“Perhaps he feared that if he boarded the Space Station by force we would oppose him and you would flee,” Brio suggested.

Where?! My ship is damaged.”

“Then we should consider the possibility that he is unaware of that,” Cortex replied. “After all the Space Station is composed of an alloy that should interfere with scanners.”

Oxide frowned recalling that he himself had had difficulty scanning the Space Station after he had regained consciousness.

And that he has no knowledge of the fact that we aren’t strictly allies,” N. Brio added.

“There is also taking into consideration what he said, which was, and I quote “As a matter of fact, there is. But first, I should introduce myself.” That suggests that he wanted to come aboard to talk to you and would’ve asked to do so after he had introduced himself. Only Dr Cortex asked first,” said N. Gin.

“. . . I . . . guess?”

“Is there anything else?” asked Cortex.

“. . . No. . . Well? . . . No.”

“Very well. It appears that we will be receiving a new guest. Perhaps you would like to accompany us in greeting him?”

“I wouldn’t, no. But I’ll be waiting here so. . . come get me when you’re ready.”

“Suit yourself. N. Gin. N. Brio. With me.” The two exchanged looks and followed Cortex out of the room. “N. Brio, I want you to rouse the minions and inform them of the situation. N. Gin, I want you to do the same for N. Tropy. I will escort Emperor Oxide to the Ready Room so return there.”

“Yes, Dr Cortex,” they chorused.

Cortex headed into one lift while N. Gin and Brio took the other. Emperor Oxide’s ship was already docked and the Gasmoxian was waiting for him, flanked by his two bodyguards, when he stepped into Docking Bay Three. Cortex had not given consideration to the Emperor’s height and was therefore momentarily taken aback by how tall he was. He easily dwarfed Cortex, Nitros if he had been present and even his bodyguards. “Your Imperial Majesty,” he said. And then remembered to bow. “I am Dr Neo Cortex. Allow me to welcome you aboard my Space Station.”

“Where is my son?”

“He is uh, he is waiting on the Bridge and will join us in the Meeting Room.”

“I see.” He turned to his bodyguards. “Await my return aboard the ship. I do not require your assistance for this.” They bowed and left. “You may lead on.”

“This way, your imperial majesty.” Cortex lead the Emperor into the lift and they ascended to Level One. He gestured for the Gasmoxian to take a seat once they had entered the Meeting Room. “Please wait here, Emperor Oxide. I will return with your son shortly.”

He simply nodded at this and then took a seat as Cortex exited the room.

Nitros Oxide jumped when the Bridge doors whooshed open. “You’re back. Did. . . did he say anything?”

“Only to ask where you were.”

He nodded slowly. “I see.” There was a long pause during which Oxide made no move to stand.

Well, Oxide? Shall we?”

“Yes, yes, all right,” he sighed and stood. But he dithered and dragged his feet.

“Oxide, please,” said Cortex, his irritation growing. “Prolonging this isn’t going to help matters.”

I know. It’s just. . . The last time we spoke directly was a long time ago.”

“So I gathered,” he replied flatly. “But he isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, so why not get this over with?”

“Easy for you to say.”

“If you would prefer, I can bring the Emperor to you.”

“All right, all right, I’m coming,” he grouched. “Sheesh, no- how does it go? Pity for the terrible is it?”

“What? Pity for the terrible?” Cortex repeated with a confused frown. “You mean sympathy for the devil?”

“Sure. Whatever.”

“Oh don’t misunderstand. I simply want the hull breach repaired so we can all go home, and you off my Space Station.”

Oxide gave him a sour look. “I see. And since such an opportunity has presented itself to you?”

“I will take full advantage of that. Precisely.”

N. Gin, Tropy and Brio and the minions were already gathered outside the Meeting Room by the time they arrived.

Tropy stepped forward. “Cortex, I trust N. Gin was speaking the truth but still I must ask. Is Nitros Oxide truly the Crown Prince of all Gasmoxia?”

“Nitros Oxide is standing right here,” Oxide replied irritably. “So perhaps you’d like to ask him instead?”

“Then I repeat my question, Oxide. Is it true?”

“No. And yes. No, I have renounced that claim but that will have to be officiated at some point in the future so until then, technically, yes.”

The minions exchanged mutters of disbelief and Tropy blinked. “I see.”

And we can continue to discuss this later,” said Cortex. “For now, Emperor Oxide is waiting. Tropy, Brio, N. Gin, I want you all to join us. The rest of you will wait outside.”

There was a murmur of discontent from the minions but they otherwise complied.

The four scientists and Oxide entered the Ready Room. He braced himself.

There you are, Nitros,” said Emperor Oxide conversationally. He had relaxed into the chair, one pair of legs thrown over the other, his fingers steepled. “What took you so long?” Oxide was speechless. “Is that all you have to say for yourself?” Again he said nothing. The Emperor shook his head and sighed. “Dr Cortex, perhaps you would care to introduce me to your colleagues?”

“Uh. Of course. Emperor Sulphurous Oxide, this is Dr Nitrus Brio, Dr Norman Gin and Dr Nefarious Tropy.”

He inclined his head and they bowed stiffly and awkwardly, much in the way one would if not accustomed to bowing to royalty. “Sit, all of you,” he instructed. There was a pause and an exchange of looks. A light frown. “Do not make me repeat myself.” They sat. “Now then. Nitros. My son. Let’s talk.”

 

Chapter Text

Cortex’s minions were clustered together outside the Meeting Room, ears pressed to the door and walls. Treezan tugged on Pinstripe’s sleeve to get his attention. “What are they saying?” Due to her mixed biology affecting the way she processed sound, she was unable to hear through the walls for herself.

“I can’t make out what they’re saying clearly, but by the sound of things, it’s not going well.”

“Oh dear.”

"Hard to believe that obnoxiouss little alien iss the heir to an entire planet," Komodo Joe remarked.

“You can say that again,” said Dingodile.

“I must concur,” Kong agreed. “I cannot begin to speculate how one would go from royalty to racing. More specifically racing a planet’s champion in order to determine said planet’s fate, that being destroying it and enslaving the population.”

“Yeah,” Pinstripe replied with a frown. “But there’s probably a story behind it. Whatever that is.”

“Oxide would never tell us,” said Papu Papu.

“Alas,” Kong replied.

“[Maybe if we asked really, really nicely?]” Ripper Roo suggested.

Pinstripe shook his head. “I don’t think that would work.”

“[What if we asked really, really un-nicely?]”

“That probably wouldn’t work either, buddy.”

Roo blew a raspberry in disappointment.

“They’ve sstopped talking,” said Moe, his ear still pressed to the wall. A second later the door whooshed open to reveal Nitros Oxide. Startled, the minions as one shot back and stood to attention. A brief look of surprise flashed across Oxide’s face before returning to a scowl. “Move!” he barked. Pinstripe, Dingodile and Treezan barely had time to shift aside before he barged past them, storming off in the direction of the turbo lift.

“Since I’m up, I will return to the Bridge to resume translating,” said N. Tropy as he stepped through the door. He was followed by N. Gin, “And I’ll be in Engineering working on. . . something.”

“What happened?” Treezan ventured before either could disappear.

“We’re taking a break,” N. Gin replied curtly. “It’s not proceeding smoothly.”

“It’s a hopeless case if you ask me,” Tropy muttered.

The minions exchanged looks as the two left, and peered into the room.

Cortex placed his hands on his hips and shook his head, as N. Brio facepalmed and commented, “That went well.”

“With respect, your Imperial Majesty, it seems quite clear that your son is a lost cause.” Emperor Oxide said nothing but his frown deepened. “Do you not have other children?”

“I do not. Nitros is my only child.”

“I see. Then I don’t know what else to suggest.”

The Emperor exhaled a long suffering sigh and shook his head. Cortex glanced at Brio who shrugged helplessly; he too had nothing.

“I am of course aware that my. . . predicament is no fault of yours. I will continue to assist you in any way that I am able to.”

“You have our gratitude.”

“Have you determined the cause of your current situation?”

“Unfortunately no. All we can say for certain at the moment is that something hit us.”

“Were you perhaps attacked by something? Or someone?”

“We haven’t seen any further activity which suggests we were not. But I think it’s still too early to completely rule out that possibility.”

“I see. We can remain in nearby proximity should that be the case.”

“Oh. Not that I am unappreciative but, as Emperor, surely you must have more pressing matters to attend to?”

“I will not leave without my son. His place is on Gasmoxia, whether he sees that or not.”

“. . . Of course. . .” He exchanged a look with Brio again.

“Perhaps you would care to give me a tour of this Space Station? It is not everyday that I receive the opportunity to examine Earth technology.”

“Certainly. N. Brio here can be your guide.”

“What?” Brio replied.

“Excellent.” The Emperor got to his feet. “Lead on, N. Brio.”

Brio shot a withering look at Cortex over his shoulder as they left.

“Emperor Oxide’s not gonna to let that go, is he?” Dingodile commented after the Emperor was out of earshot.

“I’m afraid not,” Cortex agreed as he joined them.

“Geez,” Pinstripe muttered shaking his head. “I can’t believe I’m beginning to feel sorry for Oxide. Even if it is just a little.”

“[Emperor Oxide is. . . not nice,]” said Ripper Roo disapprovingly.

“You said it, buddy.”

“Doctor Cortex,” said Koala Kong. “It is quite apparent that neither Emperor Oxide nor his son see eye to eye on the matter of Oxide’s future, nor are they willing to acquiesce or otherwise make compromises. How do you plan to resolve this?”

Cortex grimaced, “Unfortunately the only way I can see that happening is if Emperor Oxide returns Oxide to Gasmoxia by force. And I know how well that’s going to go down. Otherwise we either somehow convince Oxide to leave, or Emperor Oxide to leave without him. If anyone has any other suggestions, I am all ears.”

“If Oxide wants to keep racing, couldn’t he do that and still be Emperor?” Treezan asked.

“From what he said on the Bridge, it’s not as simple as that. He seems to be opposed to the very idea of it. What was it he said again? ‘Recognise the monarchy for what it is; history. And allow us all to move on with our lives’. He also called it Emperor Oxide’s obsession and refused to have any part of it.”

Treezan blinked. “Well then. That certainly puts things into perspective doesn’t it?”

Kong frowned. “I’m afraid so. This would indicate that any attempts to persuade Oxide to return home will be about as effective as any attempt to persuade the Emperor to return without him. In which case, we have very little options open to us.”

Cortex exhaled through his nose, folded his arms and said, “I’m afraid you’re right.”

“So are we being effectively held hostage?” Pinstripe asked. “Until this is all worked out?”

“I don’t know, Pinstripe. But as I said earlier, it seems the only way out is through force. I’ll mention this to the Emperor in private and we’ll see what happens. Personally I do not care what befalls Nitros Oxide, I am only concerned about how this will affect us. At the moment Oxide appears to be content with leaving us well enough alone despite his humiliating defeat. But if we don’t handle this carefully, we risk making an enemy of one who may become Emperor. I wish to avoid this if at all possible.”

They all nodded in agreement.

“I will inform you of any forward progress. In the meantime, you may return to whatever it was you were doing,” he said and then left to join Tropy on the Bridge.

The minions blinked and exchanged looks. They had been eavesdropping on a conversation that was now no longer happening.

“So, uh. . . What do we do now?” asked Dingodile.

“Go back to sleep?” Pinstripe replied. “Treezan?”

“If you’re asking me for my professional opinion,” Treezan responded. “Then my reply is that this is now a matter of personal choice.”

“We supposed to clean now?” Tiny wondered. “Space Station is mess.”

“We have been given permission to do as we will,” Kong replied. “So in regards to myself, I will return to my room and continue reading my book.”

“All right,” said Pinstripe. “I guess the rest of us should find something to entertain ourselves with as well.”

“What should we do?” Moe asked after Kong had left. “The Gamess Room iss sstill a messs. And Tropy iss sstill working on the transslation. Sso we can’t ressume our game.”

Joe scratched his chin. “I don’t remember my hand sso we’d have to sstart over anyway.”

“You guys talking about poker by any chance?” Pinstripe asked.

“Yess, mysself, Moe, Dingodile and Tropy were all playing before we were hit.”

“I’m in.”

“Great!” Moe replied. “Are you sstill game, Dingodile?”

“Don’t you worry mate, I’m still game.”

“That’s four,” said Pinstripe. “Anyone else want in?”

“[Mee!]”

“Papu Papu?”

Papu Papu nodded confirmation in reply.

“. . . Tiny?”

Tiny scratched his head. “Tiny not understand poker. Tiny watch instead.”

“Um, I don’t know how to play either,” said Treezan. “Can I watch too?”

“You can play with me kiddo, I’ll show you what to do.”

“Yaay!”

“Games Room need clear out,” said Papu Papu. “Table was still good. Think chairs were too.”

“That shouldn’t be a problem, we just need enough space to play,” Pinstripe responded.

They followed him down to Games Room and then got to work.

 


“This is the Bridge,” said N Brio as they stepped into the room.

N. Tropy was so thoroughly absorbed in his translation efforts that he was oblivious to their arrival.

“It’s seen better days,” Emperor Oxide remarked.

Brio restrained himself from retorting with an “Obviously.” “Yes,” he replied neutrally. “N. Tropy here has done some repairs, as has N. Gin, so it’s currently in a much better state than it was in the immediate aftermath.”

“I see. That is. . . impressive.” He turned to N. Tropy who had finally noticed their presence and had got hastily to his feet. “Your efforts are to be commended, Dr Tropy.”

He bowed. “Thank you, Emperor Oxide.”

Oxide nodded and turned back to Brio. “Lead on.”

“Of course. This way please.” He shot a look over his shoulder at N. Tropy as he left.

 


The two entered the Games Room to find a round of poker in full swing. Pinstripe was in the middle of explaining bluffing to Treezan. He trailed off when Brio and Oxide stepped through the door. The others followed his gaze and conversation died away. They got to their feet and exchanged awkward looks.

“Emperor, these are our. . . underlings,” Brio said carefully.

“An interesting assortment of servants you have. Pray introduce me.”

“. . . As you wish. This is Pinstripe, their leader, Dingodile, Moe and Joe, Tiny, Ripper Roo and Treezan, our medic.” They all bowed and mumbled, “Your majesty,” or “Emperor,” as they were introduced. “Koala Kong appears to be absent and Papu Papu here to cut a long story short, we have an arrangement with.”

Papu Papu simply gave Oxide a curt nod, from one leader to another.

“Please, do not let my presence disturb you further. You may continue with whatever it was you were doing.” He turned to Brio. “Proceed.” And the two left.

“Well that wasn’t at all awkward,” Pinstripe commented. “Where were we?”

 


N. Brio and Emperor Oxide stepped into Engineering. “And this is Engineering.”

N. Gin gave the pair a cursory glance over his shoulder before turning back to his work.

“Fascinating,” said Emperor Oxide. “The architecture is different to our own, but the similarities are there.”

Brio simply nodded in reply. “Since N. Gin is here, I will leave you in my colleague’s capable hands.”

N. Gin gave him a sour look as Oxide replied, “Thank you, Dr Brio. You have been most informative.”

N. Brio bowed and left.

The Gasmoxian turned to his new guide. “How fares your repair effort, Dr N. Gin?”

“Slowly,” he admitted. “We have been focusing our attention on translating the computer in order to understand the results of an internal scan.”

“What have you repaired so far?”

“Nothing yet.”

“So you have no shields? No weapons?”

“Unfortunately not. We will be counting upon your protection should it come to that.”

Oxide nodded. “Of course. I have one final question before I take my leave. You are of course aware that your Space Station is composed of an alloy that interferes with a ship’s scanners. As such I have been unable to determine whether or not you are currently in possession of some items that are of interest to me.” N. Gin said nothing but he was frowning hard. “So my question is simply this; where are the power crystals?”

A deafening silence fell on the room. N. Gin turned around slowly to face the Emperor. “So. That is why you are really here.”

The Gasmoxian folded his arms. “Answer me, Earthling.”

“They’re not here,” he replied simply. “They are back on Earth.”

“Unfortunate. But I suspected as much. I don’t suppose you’ll save me the hassle of searching for them and tell me exactly where they can be found?”

“We don’t have them,” he replied. “I don’t know where they are.”

“I see.” Emperor Oxide narrowed his eyes as he tried to infer if N.Gin was deceiving him. Then he shook his head. “I suppose it doesn’t matter if you are telling the truth or not. Because either way, I will find them.”

N. Gin’s gaze flicked behind Emperor Oxide. The Gasmoxian was standing between him and the door to Engineering, blocking the only exit from the room. Neither of them were armed, unless the Emperor was some kind of hand-to-hand combatant. He had to think of something and fast, but until then, perhaps he could stall for time. “Considering you have the superior technology, I find your interest in our crystals puzzling.”

A raised eyebrow. “Is that so? The power crystals present a power source that can be used indefinitely, something that we do not have. Surely you would understand my interest in that?”

N. Gin frowned again. The pieces were falling into place. “It was no coincidence that you found us here, was it? This whole situation was a set up. You’re the one who attacked us.”

With his left hand, the Gasmoxian wordlessly pulled out a small, folding blaster pistol that he had concealed behind his back, under his robe and fired it at N. Gin. The blaster bolt hit him square in the chest and he fell out of his chair with a yelp. He blinked blearily up at the alien in alarm, his limbs had gone limp; it had only been a stunbolt.

“You are very perceptive. And you know too much.”

N. Gin felt cold dread settle over him but despite that, he fixed the Emperor with a glare. “You won’t. . . get away with this.”

With his other hand, Emperor Oxide reached behind him again and pulled out another folding weapon; a short sword with a laser edge. “Ah yes, the old cliché. I have heard that many times. But I’m afraid you are incorrect, as they were.”

N. Gin gave the weapon his best unfazed expression. “A sword? How medieval.”

He glanced at the sword before responding. “Oh don’t worry, I’m not going to kill you. You see, you’re already dead.” He held the tip inches away from N. Gin’s chest. “You died the moment that missile buried itself into you skull. And you have been dead this whole time.” N. Gin was scowling at him. “You have been denying the reality of your situation and I am here to bring that delusion to an end.” A pause. “Do you have any last words?”

N. Gin said nothing, returning the Emperor’s look of disdain with a glower of his own.

“So be it.” Emperor Oxide raised the sword above his head in preparation to strike and N. Gin couldn’t help but shut his eyes and ready himself for the blow. His eyes shot open in surprise when something thunked to the floor and he felt a sudden loss of weight on one side of his head. One half of the missile lodged in his skull now lay on the floor and his expression turned to horror. The Gasmoxian had sliced it cleanly in two. N. Gin stared up at the Emperor, incredulous.

Emperor Oxide raised an eyebrow, as if puzzled by the question hidden in N. Gin’s gaze. “Did I not tell you that I wasn’t going to kill you?” Then he put away his weapons and swept out of Engineering, leaving N. Gin with the realisation that he had been left there to die.

 


Nitros Oxide finished composing a communication to the officials of the race he was due to compete in, explaining and apologising for his unforeseen absence. He reluctantly hit send then slouched back in his chair and sighed. The sound of the airlock whooshing open made him sit up sharply. Who was coming onto his ship uninvited? Then Emperor Oxide stepped into view and he inhaled a shriek. “How did you get on my ship?!”

Sulphurous blinked. “It was a simple matter, my son. The door, opened.”

“It’s supposed to be locked!

“It appears to be malfunctioning.”

He cursed. Of course it was. He would have to see to that once he got out of this situation. If he got out.

Sulphurous took a moment to examine the interior. “This ship, Nitros. You. . . built it?”

“Yes?”

“You have your mother’s talent.”

Nitros frowned in response and shook his head. “What do you want?” He demanded. “What are you doing here?”

The Emperor closed his eyes and sighed before answering. “It has become quite clear to me that you will not be made to see reason. You leave me no choice then.”

Nitros glanced at the exit, gaging whether or not he could shove past Sulphurous and make a break for it. “So what are you going to do?”

“The only option left to me.” He pulled out his folding pistol and Nitros’ eyes went very wide as it was pointed at him.

“Y-you can’t be serious. I thought-”

“I’m not going to kill you, fool child. I just don’t need you conscious to take you home.”

Nitros bolted but Sulphurous’ aim was true. He took the stun bolt square in the chest and crumpled to the floor. “You’re. . . awful. . .” he gasped out before succumbing to unconsciousness.

Sulphurous simply sighed in response. “It didn’t have to be this way.” Then he scooped Nitros up into his arms and carried him out of the ship.

 


Cortex flipped open the left compartment of his chair and pressed the comm button. "Dr. Cortex to N. Gin. Give me a status report." Silence. Cortex frowned and tried again. Still nothing. “Norman, stop what you are doing right now and answer the comm.” But that didn’t work either, which was unusual. He exchanged a confused look with N. Tropy and Brio. Switching to a different channel, he pressed the comm button again. "Treezan, this is Cortex." There was no response from Sickbay and he sighed in frustration as he recalled his earlier comment of “You may return to whatever it was you were doing,” whatever that had been. Comming the Canteen was similarly fruitful. “Is anyone there?” he asked of the Games Room.

This is Pinstripe. What can we do for you, Doc?”

“Finally,” he muttered. “N. Gin is not responding to my hails. Could one of you please go down to Engineering to check on him?”

Sure thing.”

The comm clicked off leaving Cortex to assume that they were now deliberating amongst themselves over who should be the one to do it.

 


“All right. So who wants to go bother N. Gin?”

Treezan stuck her hand in the air. “I’ll go.”

“You sure kiddo? You know how N. Gin gets when he’s interrupted.”

“Yeah, I know. But I guess I’m already on his bad side for the day anyway, so. . .”

Pinstripe gave her a look of sympathy. “That’s . . . unfortunate.”

Treezan nodded sagely. “Yeah. . .” Then she got to her feet. “I’ll be right back!”

 


Treezan stepped out of the lift after the doors had opened with a ping into the connecting corridor. She had taken four steps into Engineering before she had fully registered N. Gin slumped against a console with a deathly pallor to his skin. She inhaled sharply and rushed forward with a cry of “N. Gin!”

He hauled his eyes open and fixed his gaze on her as she knelt by his side and took his hand. “What happened?!” It was then that she noticed that the missile lodged in his skull had been cleanly cut in two and she gasped again. Without the life support system in the missile he was-!

It was. . . the Emperor. . .” He rasped. His voice was so weak that it was barely audible. About a million questions jumped into her head, foremost among them was, “Why?!” but now was not the time. If she acted fast, she could-“Let’s get you to Sickbay.” Treezan got to her feet and was about to haul him over her shoulder when he spoke again.

“No.”

The word caused her to freeze and a jolt of emotion to shoot through her chest. He pulled strength from who knew where and spoke clearly if haltingly. “There is. . . no time. I am. . . inconsequential.” Tears began to leak out of Treezan’s eyes and roll down her cheeks. “He is going after everyone else. You must. . . stop him.”

She didn’t know what Emperor Oxide was planning or why he was doing this but N. Gin was right. That came first, as much as it killed her to leave him like this. Treezan swallowed and nodded. “O-okay.” She squeezed his hand. “But then I’m getting Tropy and we’re coming back for you.”

N. Gin’s expression softened and he managed a small smile. Then his eyes slid closed and he went very still.

She bit down on a trembling lip and ran to the comm. “D-Dr Cortex?”

Treezan? What have you to report?”

“N. Gin is. . . Emperor Oxide is. . .” She stopped talking, shut her eyes, took a deep breath and exhaled.

Cortex filled the silence with a confused, “They’re what, Treezan?”

“Emperor Oxide has killed N. Gin.”

What?”

“He-. . . he destroyed the missile, the-the life support system and then-. . . he just left him to die.” She continued before he could speak further. “N. Gin thinks-. . . that is to say, he thought, that Emperor Oxide is going to go after us next but I’m not sure how and I don’t know where he went.”

 


“What on Earth are you talking about?” was Cortex’s baffled reply as N. Brio and Tropy exchanged horrified looks.

One of the forward consoles bleeped for attention. “Um, I think I know,” said N. Brio. “The docking clamps in Docking Bay Three have just been broken.”

Cortex frowned.

Treezan’s voice came over the comm. “What’s going on?”

“I think we’re about to find out.”

“We’re being hailed,” said N. Brio.

“Put him through.”

Brio gave him a perplexed look but answered the hail. Sulphurous Oxide appeared on the viewing screen seated in his command chair, one pair of legs thrown over the other, his fingers steepled. “Doctor Cortex,” he said before Cortex had even opened his mouth. “I trust that you have discovered by now the unfortunate fate of your. . . colleague.”

You left him to die, you fiend!” Treezan raged through the comm. “How could you?!”

“I think you will find that’s inaccurate. He was already dead.”

“How dare you?!” Cortex shot to his feet with a snarl as Brio gripped the sides of the console in disgust. Tropy frowned.

“But that is irrelevant,” Oxide continued with a dismissive gesture.

“More important is the why,” said Tropy.

“He knew too much. I needed him to remain quiet a little longer, until I had retrieved what I came here for.”

“Your son?”

“My son, yes. And one other thing. Information. You have something that interests me.”

“And what would that be?” Cortex snapped.

“The power crystals,” said Brio.

“More precisely, their location. Your colleague was kind enough to confirm that your forces are no longer in possession of them and that they are somewhere on Earth.”

“And that is where you’ll be headed next, I presume,” said N.Tropy.

“You presume correctly."

“Then would I also be correct in presuming that it was you who sent the mine, or whatever it was?”

“You are quite astute. Much like your colleague.”

“But that mine could’ve destroyed us,” Cortex objected. “Why would you risk sending such a thing if you needed information from us.”

Emperor Oxide sighed. “It was supposed to disable your engines to allow me time to ascertain whether or not the crystals were in your possession. Unfortunately I could not have predicted that Nitros would be passing by at that precise moment nor that he would then chose to investigate. As a result of his actions the mine became confused and you were both caught in the explosion.”

“So what now?” asked Cortex. “Why are you telling us all this?”

Emperor Oxide smiled for the first time and then chuckled. “I think you all know what happens now.” He snapped his fingers and the screen went black.

Tropy stared at his console in concern. "I'm getting rising power readings from Oxide's ship. He appears to be powering up his weapons."

"Raise shields."

Brio gave him an indecipherable look. "What shields?"

Doctor Cortex,” Treezan’s hushed voice came through the comm. Cortex jumped. He had forgotten that she was still on the line. “Is. . . is this. . . the end?”

“No,” Tropy replied. “There is still one course of action left to us.”

Cortex nodded. “Do it.”

Needing no further prompting, he raced to the lift. An age seemed to drag by as the turbo lift descended and the doors to Level Four finally opened. Treezan stared back at him with a slightly glazed expression. The eyes of the damned. “I should,” she began in a hoarse whisper. “I should tell the others. . .”

“That would probably be for the best,” he agreed. She moved round him and got into the lift in a daze and he sprinted to his lab. There was no time to boot up the Time Twister and warp everyone back to the past. He would have to go back alone. He located and pulled on his portable time machine in record time but his hands were shaking and he fumbled with the straps.

No, no. Calm, calm. “Calm, Nefarious. Calm yourself.” Perhaps he shouldn’t have dismissed Treezan after all. . .

 


N. Brio's eyes widened in horror as the power readout suddenly stop building. “Cortex-!”

A white hot beam of energy punched through the Bridge of the Space Station, instantly incinerating him and then Cortex, a few seconds later. It continued, ripping through the infrastructure and obliterating everyone and everything it came into contact with. The Space Station exploded in a fireball of debris. . .

 

Chapter Text

An age seemed to drag by as the turbo lift descended and the doors to Level Four finally opened. Treezan stared back at him with a slightly glazed expression. The eyes of the damned. “I should,” she began in a hoarse whisper. “I should tell the others. . .”

“That would probably be for the best,” he agreed. She moved round him and got into the lift in a daze and he sprinted to his lab. There was no time to boot up the Time Twister and warp everyone back to the past. He would have to go back alone. He located and pulled on his portable time machine in record time but his hands were shaking and he fumbled with the straps.

No, no. Calm, calm. “Calm, Nefarious. Calm yourself.” Breathe in, breathe out. His hands stopped shaking allowing him to finish buckling the straps. Just as he had pulled on the wrist device, he was floored by the Space Station shuddering. He hastily wound in the number of hours to twist back and just as he was about to confirm the entry, a brilliant white light drew his attention upwards. Tropy’s eyes widened in horror and he punched the confirm a little harder than was necessary. The clock hands on the wrist device began moving and he was twisted back in time. . . but too late. . .

 


Pinstripe, Dingodile, Moe and Joe, Ripper Roo, Papu Papu and Tiny, and Koala Kong over the comm, had accepted the news of everything that had transpired and their impending doom with great confusion and disbelief.

The Space Station shuddered. “What the hell. . . ?” Pinstripe muttered. Then a bright light was burning their vision.

“This is it, mates,” said Dingodile quietly.

In the few seconds they had left, they reached out and tightly grasped the hands of those they were nearest to, forming a circle. . . and then they were gone. . .

 


Oxide glanced towards a large hub-like machine that was on one side of N. Tropy’s onboard laboratory. "I’m guessing this is the Time Twister you were talking about?"

"Indeed. Technically it's the Time Twister v2. A greatly condensed and compact version of it’s predecessor.”

“Really? How big was the first one?”

“Big enough that it would be difficult to fit onto the Space Station. And all built by one man.”

“Huh. Impressive. I guess.” There was a long awkward pause as they both glanced around the lab, assessing the damages before Oxide decided to ask, conversationally. “So. . . uh. Who built it?”

“Are you really interested?” he replied dubiously.

“Just answer the question.”

“Doctor Nefarious Tropy.”

The Gasmoxian squinted at him. “You’ll have to describe him as I never considered learning your names all that important.”

Kong sighed. “Tall fellow with blue skin.”

“Ah. Yes. Him. He ‘greeted’ me at the Docking Bay. I may have also seen him during the race. Wasn’t very memorable as I recall.”

The koala’s eyebrows nearly shot clean off his head in surprise. “. . . I imagine you hold that opinion on all of us, correct?”

“I certainly don’t remember you.”

“You wouldn’t because I was not in the race.”

“Why not?”

“Because I-. . . because. . . I wasn’t interested.”

“You weren’t interested in saving your planet?”

“That’s not what I meant. There were enough racers participating and in the end it was Crash Bandicoot who saved the day as I knew he would. Some of the others, my colleagues, were in it for personal glory and gain and I had no interest in competing with that. If it had just been about saving the planet, then yes, perhaps I may have joined.”

“So what? You didn’t want to race because their intentions weren’t noble enough?” he scoffed.

Kong inhaled through his nose in irritation. “You’re not listening to what I’m saying.”

“Because it sounds ridiculous.”

“Then allow me to simplify this for you. Crash Bandicoot saved the day as he always does. There were more than enough participants. And those who were not aligned with Crash Bandicoot were competing for personal gain. Therefore I considered participating as pointless and tedious.”

“Well why didn’t you just say so?”

Kong nearly throttled the alien in frustration.

Oblivious, he continued. “Shall we move on? These labs aren’t going to inspect themselves.”

The koala shook his head but followed him into N. Gin’s lab nonetheless. And another awkward silence descended.

“I must ask, Oxide.”

“What?”

“There’s no delicate way to put this. Do you perchance have any friends?”

What?! What kind of question is that?!”

“You possess the unparalleled ability to irritate absolutely anyone you come into contact with. It truly is remarkable.”

Oxide stiffened. “Is. . . is that so?”

“You haven’t noticed?”

There was a long pause before he answered in a small voice. “. . . I don’t mean to be. Not all the time.”

“Why then?” he asked gently, seeing an opportunity to learn more.

For a moment he seemed vulnerable. “It’s. . .” and then the moment was gone. “None of your business.”

Kong sighed. “I suppose I should’ve suspected as much.”

“Is this everything?”

“No, we still have N. Brio’s labs to examine. Considering it’s on the same side as the impact site, I imagine we’ll find it in a similar state.

“Let’s go then, I have things to do.”

An agonised howl followed by the sound of something hitting the floor from one of the other rooms made the pair freeze in their tracks and whip around.

“What the heck was that?” Oxide muttered clutching the datapad like a shield. They exchanged looks and Kong went first, Oxide following reluctantly behind.

They spotted a hideously burned figure, coughing and gasping for breath and struggling to get their feet in Tropy’s lab.

Kong frowned, recognising him instantly and approached. “Dr Tropy,” he knelt beside him as Oxide uttered a confused, “Huh?”. “What happened?”

N. Tropy was shivering and seemed oblivious to the koala’s presence. “I must. . . I must warn them. . .”

Kong gave the man a onceover. He was no medical expert but those burns looked serious. He made a decision. “Let’s get you to Sickbay,” he said. Then scooped Tropy into his arms, lifting him easily and began walking to the turbo lift.

No, Kong. You must listen.”

Kong continued walking, Oxide following behind looking disturbed. “I’m listening.”

“Emperor Oxide. . .”

“What?!” Oxide exclaimed. “He’s coming here?!”

Oxide!” Kong snapped and the Gasmoxian swallowed any further protest.

“Gasmoxia. . .” Tropy continued. “Sent the mine. . . He wants the crystals. . . You mustn’t. . . you mustn’t. . .” He broke off into a coughing fit.

The turbo lift opened and Kong stepped out onto Level Two. “Oxide, Treezan should be on the Bridge. Fetch her here, immediately.”

“Uhh-” Oxide began.

Kong gave him a fierce look that brooked no further arguments. “Go!”

“Okay.” The Gasmoxian disappeared back into the turbo lift, bound for Level One.

“Mustn’t what, Dr Tropy?” Kong prompted gently.

“You mustn’t let him on. . . or he’ll. . . or he’ll. . .” He dissolved into another coughing fit.

 


Puzzled looks greeted Oxide’s entrance onto the Bridge.

“Oxide if you’re here to give me your report,” said Cortex. “You do realise you could’ve just used the comm instead?”

Oxide ignored him and looked directly at Treezan. “Treezan, you’re needed in Sickbay. Medical emergency.”

This caught the attention of everyone in the room. “What?”

Who?!” N. Brio demanded.

Oxide looked awkwardly at N. Tropy. “Him. Or. . . another one of him at least.”

“Time travel,” Cortex stated, exchanging a concerned frown with Tropy. “Something very serious must happen in our future then.”

Treezan ran on ahead and took one of the lifts down to Sickbay leaving the N. Team and Oxide to take the other.

 


Kong looked up as Treezan stepped into Sickbay. She gasped involuntarily and her hands flew to her mouth. Other Tropy was sprawled on his side on one of the sickbeds. He was shivering and coughing and seemed to be having some difficulty breathing.

“I made him as comfortable as I could,” he said.

“I wouldn’t go in there,” Oxide’s voice came from outside. “It’s uh. . . pretty bad.”

The N. Team then appeared, joining Treezan at the entrance.

Cortex froze midstride and uttered, “Good heavens.” N. Brio recoiled, clutching his hands to his chest. N. Gin went wide eyed and Tropy struggled to suppress a grimace.

Treezan gathered her composure and approached. “These burns,” she said after examining him at length. “Are very deep. . . I’m not sure the bioregenerator can do anything for him since I’ve never had to treat burns of this severity before. . . but I could. . . try?”

“No,” said Tropy stepping forward. “There’ll be no need for that.”

Treezan gave him a questioning look.

“Once the timeline he came from has disappeared, he will vanish along with it.”

“Oh. I see.”

“The best you can do for him now is make him comfortable.”

“Well. Fortunately, or unfortunately, the burns are so deep that he doesn’t feel them anymore.”

I’m. . . cold. . .” other Tropy whispered hoarsely.

She squeezed his hand. “I’ll get you a blanket then.”

“I will deal with that,” said Tropy. He then left to retrieve a blanket from his sleeping quarters.

Cortex sighed and placed his hands on his hips. “It seems a meeting is in order. Kong, did you and Oxide finish your damage assessment of Level Four?”

“We had only to inspect Dr Brio’s lab, which as you know, is located on the side of impact.”

N. Brio sighed.

“And did you find anything requiring immediate attention?”

“We did not.”

He nodded. “There aren’t any critical systems in Brio’s lab, so for now I’ll call that damage report concluded. Now I want you to tell us what the other N. Tropy told you and Oxide.”

Tropy reappeared with a blanket bundled under one arm.

“Tropy, Treezan. Join us in the Meeting Room when you’re done here.”

“No. Treezan. Leave us.”

Treezan blinked back. “O-okay.”

“All right then, Treezan,” said Cortex. “With me.” He lead N. Gin, Brio, Kong and Oxide into the lift headed back to Level One. Treezan looked back, and watched Tropy gently lay the blanket over his other self and then take his hand before following.

 


Cortex had called the other minions to the Meeting Room and they had assembled there with confusion. “All right then, Kong. Oxide. Let’s begin. Tell us what happened.”

Koala Kong took a breath. “We were in the process of examining Dr N. Gin’s lab when Dr N. Tropy from the future twisted back in time to our present. He was critically injured but was able to pass on some information. It seems that the damage our Space Station sustained was from a mine sent by Gasmoxian forces. Their Emperor has become aware of the existence of our power crystals and desires to come into possession of them. At some point he will appear to us directly and in the other timeline was invited aboard or otherwise gained entry to the Space Station. Dr Tropy was unable to inform me of the exact consequence of this action but warned me against it. Although judging by the state of his injuries, they seem dire.”

“I see,” Cortex said evenly as the others began muttering amongst themselves in concern. He then fixed Nitros Oxide with a look of steel. “So tell me, Oxide. What do you know of this?”

Well? Um. . . Not much really. You might even say nothing at all.”

Cortex nodded. “Is that so?”

“Yes, you see. . . I haven’t exactly been back to Gasmoxia in a while.”

Cortex nodded again. “Unfortunate. But. I can believe that. And I don’t suppose a racer like you would have much involvement or interest in Gasmoxian politics even if you had , would you?”

Oxide responded with a shrill laugh and then tried to regain face by clearing his throat.

N. Brio glared at him and folded his arms. “But you can at least tell us about your Emperor.”

“Yes,” N. Gin agreed. “And why he’d be interested in the crystals.”

Just before he said this, the door to the Meeting Room whooshed open and N. Tropy limped in. “The timeline has been altered,” he announced.

“Is that good news or bad news?” Cortex asked as Tropy hobbled over to a free chair.

“Only time will tell. At the very least I can say that the future that my other self came from is unlikely to repeat itself.”

Cortex nodded. “I suppose that’s something. Continue, Oxide.”

“Um. Well. You’d have to explain what these power crystals are, first,” Oxide replied.

“A power source in the form of a crystal,” N. Gin explained. “Hence the name.”

Oxide scratched his chin. “I see. I suppose he sees some kind of potential for innovation in them. Otherwise unless some kind of energy crisis on Gasmoxia has become a recent development that I’m not aware of, I can’t really explain the sudden interest.”

N. Gin “Hmm,”d and folded his arms. He did not appear satisfied with Oxide’s response but otherwise did not press the issue further.

“And your Emperor?” Brio asked with impatience.

“What’s there to say? He’s the Emperor. Ruler of all Gasmoxia. I’m not his biggest fan. Actually there are quite a few who aren’t. He’s not the nicest person in the world.”

Papu Papu stood up and all eyes were on him. “Papu Papu has noticed that Oxide has been careful not to tell us Emperor’s name. Papu Papu thinks Oxide is hiding something.”

“Yeah, Oxide,” Pinstripe interjected. “What gives?”

It must be no coincidence then that you and Emperor Oxide share a family name,” said Kong.

“W-what if it was?” Oxide lent back in his chair trying to look casual. “What if I’m just tired of explaining it everytime?”

“You would’ve just said so,” said Pinstripe.

“So who is he, Oxide?” Cortex asked. “Who is he to you?”

The Gasmoxian heaved a defeated sigh. “All right, fine. You were going to find out anyway. Sulphurous Oxide is Emperor of Gasmoxia, and,” a sigh. “My father.”

What?!” was the collective response.

“Yes, yes,” he said tiredly. “I’m actually a prince, and all that. And now you know.”

“How many siblings do have?” Tropy asked.

“None. It’s just me.”

“So you’re Crown Prince, is what you actually meant to say.”

A frustrated sigh. “Fine. Yes. I am Crown Prince of Gasmoxia.”

“And heir to the throne.”

And that.”

“Holy. . .” Treezan mumbled.

Struth,” Dingodile agreed.

“Well, this is certainly an interesting development,” Cortex remarked.

“What the heck are you doing racing?” Pinstripe asked.

Oxide raised an eyebrow. “That’s a strange question to ask. I enjoy it and I’m good at it.”

The potoroo glared at him. “That’s not what I meant.”

“I know what you meant. Why am I not fulfilling my royal duties? Because. . . Because I. . .” Then he was on his feet. “You know what? It doesn’t matter. Emperor Oxide is coming here, for you, and you don’t want to be here when he does. I know I don’t want, so if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a ship to fix.” And with that he stalked out of the Meeting Room.

The N. Team exchanged looks. “I believe Oxide is talking sense for once,” said N. Tropy.

“I would agree,” said Cortex.

“So what’s the plan now, Doc?” Pinstripe asked.

“Let’s review shall we? Kong, are you absolutely certain that was everything that other Tropy was able to tell you?”

“I’m afraid so.”

“Very well. We don’t know precisely what happened, or . . . will happen but we at least know this. Sulphurous Oxide sent a mine, presumably with the intent to destroy us. Thanks to Nitros Oxide, however, this plan was foiled, something which he appears to be well aware of and he is coming here, I’d imagine, to finish the job.”

“If that’ss the casse,” said Joe. “Why give uss the warning about letting him onboard? Ssurely he would’ve opened fire on uss the moment he arrived?”

Cortex frowned and stroked his beard. “That is a good question, Joe.”

“Maybe Emperor see Oxide’s ship?” Tiny suggested.

“Oxide’s ship is already docked with the Space Station. Unless he already knew Oxide was onboard beforehand, he would’ve been unable to detect the ship thanks to the alloy the Space Station is composed of.”

“If he does know, he will want to come onboard to retrieve him,” said N. Gin.

“But if he doesn’t know, what would be his reason for contacting us, instead of, as Joe said, opening fire the moment he arrived?” asked N. Brio.

Dingodile’s ears perked up. “Hey now, here’s a question. Does Emperor Oxide know that we don’t have the crystals?”

“If Emperor Oxide thinks there might be the slightest chance that we do have them,” said N. Tropy. “He would want to make certain of this before he took action.”

“Which could explain why he chooses to contact us first, instead of just destroy us,” Cortex agreed.

“Perhaps Oxide was on the Bridge at that precise moment? That could be why the Emperor wanted to physically come onboard then.”

“And in allowing him to do so,” said Kong. “It appears that we seal our fate.”

Cortex sighed. “It certainly looks that way. . . On the other hand. . . This may suggest that by the time Emperor Oxide had arrived, we had fixed something that could’ve saved us, like the shields, or the weapons. And by letting him onboard the Space Station, he was able to undo this.”

“That is a distinct possibility,” Tropy agreed. “In which case, I believe we now have a plan of action.”

He got to his feet. “I believe we do. We should-”

“Wait!” All heads turned to Treezan.

Cortex blinked at her in surprise. “Yes, Treezan?”

“Um. . .” She got to her feet and planted her hands on her hips in an attempt to look commanding. “As Chief Medical Officer, I strongly recommend that you allow me to tend to everyone’s injuries before you proceed.”

“And I agree,” said N. Brio. “Our injuries should come first.”

The others murmured assent.

“Yes,” Cortex replied. “You’re quite right. To Sickbay then, Treezan.”

“Yes. Good,” she said, nodding. “But, um. . . My surviving bioregenerator will probably need a quick repair job first.”

“Then it shall have one.”

 

Chapter Text

The doors to the Bridge whooshed open and Papu Papu stepped in baring a tray with three cups. He had assigned himself the role of distributing chocolate bars, crisps, some fruit and water every now and then as well as coffee or soft drinks to the other residents of the Space Station in order to keep them going. He would appear with mugs or glasses of the caffeinated drinks every couple of hours.

Coffee, Papu Papu, really?”

Papu Papu had the grace to look abashed. “. . . Apologies, Dr N. Tropy. I forget. Tea, for you, I will bring.”

That is, for everyone with the exception of N. Tropy who only drank tea.

He was currently bringing coffees intended for Dr Cortex and N. Brio who were working together on the Bridge, attacking the rewritten computer language, and Koala Kong who, for his interest in languages, was assisting.

Dr N. Gin and N. Tropy were tackling Engineering in a desperate attempt to repair as much as they could before the inevitable arrival of Emperor Oxide. Treezan was on hand to assist by distributing the necessary tools as required.

The rest of Cortex’s minions were occupying themselves with general tidying up as a distraction, rather than genuinely being helpful, as they were otherwise unable to aid in the repair effort itself.

And Nitros Oxide was in Docking Bay Four working on his own ship.

Cortex, Brio and Kong all looked up from what they were doing when Papu Papu appeared in their field vision and wordlessly handed them their cups of coffee.

“Ah, excellent. Thank you, Papu Papu,” said Cortex.

Papu Papu nodded and left.

“We should probably be careful of over-caffeinating,” said N. Brio absently as he carefully sipped the hot drink.

“That’s going to be the least of our problems if we don’t finish this in time.”

Brio sighed and took another sip.

Kong massaged the bridge of his nose. “And I fear I may be in need of short break.”

“A short break sounds good,” Cortex agreed. He crossed over to his command chair and activated the comm. “N. Gin, N. Tropy. I’m just checking in. How is it going down there?”

There was a short pause before N. Gin responded. “It is. . . proceeding. . .”

“I see. Then I will let you get back to work so it can proceed further.” The comm clicked off and he was just about to return to the forward console when Pinstripe’s voice came through the speakers.

Hey Doc, you gotta minute?”

“Pinstripe, what is it?”

We were just thinking. What do we know about this Emperor Oxide?”

Cortex blinked. “Only what Nitros Oxide has told us.”

Which is what?”

“Next to nothing,” said Kong before Cortex could respond. “I am in agreement with you, Pinstripe. I too desire to know more. A confrontation with the Emperor is inevitable. So it would be in our best interest if we knew exactly who we were dealing with.”

That’s what we were thinking.”

Cortex stroked his beard. “I see.” He exchanged a look with Brio. “I can’t deny they have a point.” He opened a comm line to Oxide’s ship directly, but there was no response.

“If he’s outside the ship, he won’t be able to hear you,” said Brio.

Cortex commed down to Docking Bay Four. “Oxide, are you there? If you can hear me, please return to your ship and open a channel. Or alternatively, use the comm on the wall.” Then he sat and waited. Eventually the comm beeped. “Put him through.”

What do you want?” Oxide huffed. “I’m busy.”

“Oxide, we want you to tell us anything and everything about your father.”

How will that help you?”

“Because it’s in our best interest to understand exactly who we’re dealing with.”

He wants the crystals and he’s coming here to finish you off, what more do you need to know?”

Cortex glared at the comm in frustration. “It was your actions that brought us to his attention, Oxide. And all we want is information, is that really too much to ask?”

Silence. Then. “Fine,” he sighed in a defeated tone. “I suppose I could use a break anyway. But do you think you have the time? Sulphurous Oxide could be dropping out of lightspeed at any moment.”

Right now I think we could all use a break, Oxide. I am transferring you over to stationwide communication. That way everyone can hear you and. . . contribute if necessary.”

All right. Where should I begin?”

“At the beginning? It’s a very good place to start.” Kong chuckled despite the situation.

Hmm. The beginning then. Let’s see. Once upon a time-. . . No, wait. A long time ago, Gasmoxia used to be an Empire lead by a line of Emperors.”

“Which you yourself are descended from, yes?”

Yes, yes,” he replied irritably. “My royal bloodline.” A sigh. “But then times changed, government change, politics changed, and the ruling family were. . . removed from power. It was a very dramatic moment. You might even say, historical.”

“How did your family survive this?” Cortex asked with a confused frown.

The Emperor was killed but his wife made a deal to spare the lives of her children. They could keep their royalty, but their authority, most of it anyway, would be transferred to an official elected by the people. That was our first uh. . . oh. How should I translate this?”

Prime Minister?” N. Tropy offered over the comm.

Or President,” N. Gin added.

Whichever one of those works. Anyway it remained that way for centuries.”

“Until your father took the throne of course,” Cortex interjected.

Of course. Are you going to let me explain or what?”

“Oh. Uh. . . Yes. . . Apologies. . .”

You would be forgiven for assuming that Sulphurous inherited the throne from his father but you’d be mistaken. The Emperor was his uncle. His father was the Emperor’s younger brother. And he was third in line to inherit after his cousins; the Emperor’s sons.”

Kong frowned in confusion. “So what happened to them?”

Apparently. They suffered an unfortunate accident, if you catch my drift.”

Kong’s frown deepened. “That is. . . troubling. Did he tell you this himself?”

Of course not. What kind of fool do you take him for? This is mostly what I suspect because of the type of person he is and as it was far too convenient in my opinion. Also popular consensus, at least among the. . . Rebellion. . . is that he did it. But popular consensus is not proof. And no one could find anything to connect him to the incident.”

“What happened exactly?” asked Cortex.

A shuttle accident. It was absolutely totalled. The only way to identify the bodies was through DNA testing. Many suspect that it was sabotage. But Sulphurous is no mechanic by any stretch of the imagination. He had friends who were, however.”

“Ah, so,” said Kong. “Even if the sabotage and the one responsible for it was discovered, by the law, only they would be the one prosecuted. Unless of course they were to confess his involvement.”

Except it would be their word against a prince of Gasmoxia. The Crown Prince, even.”

Man, Oxide,” said Pinstripe over the comm. “Your old man sounds like a real piece of work so far.”

Yes. . . He does. . . And that’s just the beginning.”

I presume the next step in this cunning plan was to remove the current Emperor from the throne?” asked Tropy.

Not at all. The Crown Prince or Princess becomes the next Emperor or Empress when they reach the Age of Ascension. And the former ruler becomes their advisor. All he had to do then was wait.”

Oh. . . I see. . .”

“What happens if the Emperor or Empress dies before this?” Kong asked out of curiosity.

Depending on their age, they either ascend early, or the eldest sibling of the current ruler, if they have any, temporarily takes the throne until the rightful heir becomes eligible. If none are available, that falls to their wife or husband, assuming they’re still alive. And then failing that, they just follow the Line of Ascension.”

“Interesting. And this Line of Ascension also comes into play if the current ruler is unable to provide an heir, yes?”

Yes, if no nieces or nephews are available. But we’re getting off track. Where was I? Ah yes. That gave Sulphurous a lot of time to plan for his coronation. Because when that happened, he transferred authority from the current, uh. . . Prime Minister, back to him.”

“Which would’ve been difficult to pull off without considerable support,” Cortex commented.

It would. Which is why he used that time to build a following. He gained allegiance from a number of military leaders, wealthy aristocrats and industrialists and anyone who’s services would be useful to him, or anyone who could be persuaded. He ensured their loyalty through the usual methods. Deals. Bribery. Threats. Intimidation. That sort of thing.”

How do you know all thiss?” asked Joe.

What do you mean?”

About the bribery and sso on.”

One of his many lessons. “If someone can be useful to you, give them what they want. If they can’t, make them do what you want. That is how you gain allies.” Can’t really argue with that one.”

I ssee.”

“The whole thing sounds like it was carefully orchestrated,” Cortex remarked.

It was. I wasn’t there to see it, of course, but there are videos of the coronation. After he was crowned, Sulphurous made the announcement that leadership of Gasmoxia would be returned to him in full. There was an uproar but the military appeared in force and the people were quickly subdued.”

“And what became of the Prime Minister? Was he one of the Emperor’s allies?” Kong asked.

Oh no. Definitely not. This was in the Coronation video too. The Prime Minister had no idea what was going on, so naturally he objected and demanded Sulphurous “stop this madness immediately”. And for that he was well, executed. Literally beheaded on the spot. It was quite a sight.”

Several reactions to this occurred all at once, layered one over the other; Pinstripe’s “Geeeez,” Dingodile’s “Struth, mate,” the Komodo Brothers’ hissing and Brio’s muttered, “Good grief.”

Just like that?” Treezan asked, her tone coloured by a mixture of disbelief and horror. “He didn’t try to talk to him or anything? Persuade him to join him? Just killed him?”

You poor, naïve child,” Oxide responded. “You don’t have a clue, do you?”

“It was a message, Treezan,” Brio told her gently. “He was sending a message to the people of Gasmoxia about the price of disobedience.”

Ooh. So. You mean like. My way or the highway?”

My way or the highway,” Oxide repeated. “Good one, I’ll remember that. Although in this case it’d probably be more like, my way or I’ll drive you off the highway.”

That’s awful.”

Yes, well. I did say he wasn’t the nicest person in the world, didn’t I?”

That’s an understatement, geez,” said Pinstripe.

But what happen to Emperor? To Uncle?” Papu Papu asked. “Would not that he would do something?”

Do what exactly? Before Sulphurous’ coronation, the royal family had no power anyway. So what could he do? But I neglected to mention earlier that his wife was also a casualty of Sulphurous’ machinations. After losing his family all at once, he became consumed by grief. Something which worked out very well for Sulphurous since it prevented his interference.”

Then what of the parents of Emperor Sulphurous? Would not they say something?”

My grandparents? Grandfather contracted a terminal illness when Sulphurous was in his sixties. He literally wasted away. Grandmother. . . ran. . . She couldn’t deal with it.”

That sucks,” Pinstripe offered. “Understandable. But it still sucks.”

Indeed. Sulphurous then cut off all communication with her in retaliation. So Grandfather couldn’t speak, he was dead and Grandmother could speak but he wouldn’t’ve listened. It probably didn’t help that she also one of the common people.”

“There must’ve been some controversy surrounding their wedding,” Kong observed.

There was.”

[And the people? How did they react?]” Ripper Roo asked in his laughter-speak.

Oxide replied with some confusion. “Uh. . . what? Did someone cackle down the comm just now, or am I getting static on the line?”

“That was Ripper Roo, Oxide,” Cortex explained. “He was asking about the people’s reaction.”

Oh. Well. Keep your head down and stay out of trouble has been the general consensus.”

“You mentioned a rebellion, earlier,” Kong observed.

Yes. A small minority rebelled. They have been trying to kill him for centuries but to no avail. You wouldn’t expect it but Sulphurous can defend himself very well. Keeps himself in top shape. Usually likes to appear unharmed so that people will think him harmless, or defenceless, only for them to find out that he isn’t the hard way. I’ve seen him deal with his would be assassins and it’s quite, um, chilling.”

“Please elaborate, Oxide,” said Cortex.

The way he acts. Cold, impartial, disgusted. As though the very idea of someone attempting to kill him is a personal affront. It offends him. He tortures them first. Makes them suffer. Draws it out as long as he can, until he’s satisfied that he has suitably punished them for their transgression before ending their pitiful lives. And he does it all without a smile. As if he’s so angry that he’s looped all the way back round to calm.”

[Yikes!]”

There was a shrill tone to Treezan’s voice as she demanded, “And this is who’s coming after us?!”

Yes, and now you understand why I’m in such a hurry to leave.”

Geez, man,” Pinstripe breathed down the comm, more to himself then anyone else.

And with that, I think I’ve had a long enough break. I’ve got an engine to fix, so if you’ll excuse me, I-”

“Hold on a moment,” Cortex interrupted. “You haven’t finished, yet.”

What do you mean? I’ve told you everything you need to know.”

But this is only half the story, Oxide. You haven’t told us where you come in.”

And why would I do that? You wanted to know about Sulphurous Oxide, and so I’ve told you.”

“Except anything involving yourself.”

You want me to diverge to you my entire life story, or most of it, just like that? I don’t know you. I don’t even like you.”

“Then don’t tell us all of it, just tell us enough. Give us the abridged version if you will.”

The abridged version-?” He stopped and took a long deep breath and then exhaled. “The abridged version. If it’ll stop your questions and let me get back to fixing my ship, then I suppose I can live with telling you that. All right then. So you’re probably wondering, how does such a person possibly find love? Well the answer is. . . He didn’t. . . Not exactly. My mother was the daughter of one of his wealthy allies and she agreed to marry him.”

“Ah, a marriage of convenience,” said Kong. “And who’s suggestion was that? I dare not assume it was your father’s.”

No indeed. I believe, or at least assume it was her father’s, my other grandfather. Although she could’ve been the one to suggest it, I don’t know. She’s the second child in her family, after an elder sister who stands to inherit the family’s company, so for her it was a good move. As well as for the company itself. Her family gives Sulphurous their allegiance and he gives her family prestige. It certainly helps against the competition.”

“Indubitably.”

And then, some years later, you come into the picture,” said Cortex.

Yes, that’s one way to put it. Because of all of the attempts on Sulphurous’ life, it was decided that for my own safety I would be kept out of the public eye entirely.”

“I also imagine that you would’ve been kept under constant supervision at all times,” said Kong.

. . . Yes. . .”

“And forbidden to leave the palace?”

Of course.”

“Hmm. That sounds like a recipe for a not particularly enjoyable childhood.”

Yes. . . But I suppose I could’ve had worse.”

“Did you have friends?”

I had a few. But not so much these days. I have found that there aren’t many I can really trust.”

“That is unfortunate.”

What can you do?” he replied with a dismissive shrug that no one could see.

“I suppose this all explains your rather grating personality,” Cortex observed.

. . . Thanks,” Oxide replied flatly.

“And your relationship with your father?” asked Kong. “He doesn’t exactly sound like the kind and caring type.”

Oxide chortled at the very idea. “Yes, the words kind and caring do not belong in the same sentence as Sulphurous Oxide. But he wasn’t cruel, just. . . distant. Like he was shut off emotionally, even from himself.”

“Not a very cheerful fellow, then.”

Oxide snickered. “Not at all.”

“And your mother really agreed to marry this person?” N. Brio asked dubiously.

Her family has been loyal allies since even before the shuttle accident. I believe they may even be called, friends. So yes. Mother knew very well who she was marrying and it was entirely her decision.”

Brio frowned and folded his arms. “I see.”

Anyway, it all changed on my fiftieth birthday. It’s a-”

Fifty!?” Cortex and company, with the exception of N. Tropy, responded in unison.

“How old are you?” Cortex continued.

Older than all of you put together,” Oxide retorted. He could not see N. Tropy frowning to himself. “Gasmoxians are very long lived. Your Earthling lifespans are so fleeting in comparison. How do you cope knowing you have only a mere hundred years on this miserable rock?”

“What is the importance of your Fiftieth birthday, Oxide?” Kong asked before anyone could respond to that. “You were about to explain.”

It has a special term that I don’t think I can translate. As for why it’s important, it is the first milestone in a Gasmoxian’s life.”

“The equivalent of a human’s eighteenth perhaps?”

Depends. What’s so special about an Earthling’s eighteenth birthday?”

“In some cultures this is when a human is legally considered an adult.”

Ah. Then no. That doesn’t happen until we reach seventy five.”

Seventy five?” Cortex repeated.

Kong frowned. “Then judging by the way you are talking, you must be hundreds of years old, yes?”

Positively ancient by Earthling standards,” he chuckled.

How long are your Gasmoxian years compared to our Earth years?” N. Gin asked.

I believe they are much the same.”

“And your father? How old is he?” Cortex asked.

Uhhhh. . . Hmmm. . . He must be in his seven hundreds by now.”

“Seven hundred?!” Treezan repeated as Cortex asked. “Is that old for a Gasmoxian?”

Well it’s not young for a Gasmoxian,” he retorted.

This is all beside the point,” N. Tropy cut in unexpectedly.

Then the forward console beeped. Cortex sat up sharply as he gripped the arms of the command chair, eyes going wide as saucers. Brio swore he nearly snapped his neck whipping around so fast and Kong cursed loudly. Brio examined the forward console. “False alarm,” he squeaked. “That was-” he cleared his throat. “That was just a passing asteroid.”

This was met with a collective sigh of relief. Treezan gave what sounded like a muffled scream and Ripper Roo whined down the comm.

Someone check my pulse,” said Pinstripe, weakly. “I think I just had a heart attack.”

Tiny think that Tiny see life before eyes just now.”

Oxide gave a laugh that was shrill with anxiety. “I think that was a reminder to keep on track, wouldn’t you agree? So where was I then? Ah yes, my fiftieth birthday. That was when everything changed. First, I was officially announced as Crown Prince to the rest of the world and that was a nerve-racking day, let me tell you. And second, this is when he began to teach me to follow in his footsteps. Or at least, he tried.”

“What went wrong?” asked Cortex.

What can I say? I could never connect with my heritage the way Sulphurous could. Or better yet, I could not share in his obsession with it. So what if our royal bloodline used to be great and was then ruined? So what if he returned it to greatness again? Everything was fine the way it was and now it’s all a big mess. I just don’t understand why he did it.

“Your father must’ve been most disappointed,” said Kong.

And frustrated. “Don’t you understand that you are part of a great bloodline?”” he quoted. ““We were born to rule. The throne is your destiny, Nitros and your birthright. You cannot refuse it.” And so on and so forth.”

“What a delightful individual,” Kong remarked with a heavy dose of sarcasm. Oxide snickered again. “So where does your love of racing come in? It doesn’t sound like you got that from your father.”

You can blame Mother for that. Empress Sodia Oxide is the daughter of a wealthy industrialist who is a hovercraft manufacturer. She taught me everything I know about how to build, fix and maintain hovercrafts-”

“Interesting!” Kong exclaimed suddenly. “Oxide, is it then possible that she was the saboteur?”

I never asked and she probably wouldn’t confess even if I did. But at the very least I’m pretty sure someone in the Chloride family was.”

I’m surprised your father allowed you to indulge in this interest, Oxide,” said N. Tropy. “I cannot imagine he would’ve considered racing and hovercraft maintenance as princely activities.

He has hobbies himself. It may surprise you to know this but Sulphurous is an artist; a sculptor.”

That does surprise me.”

Although you are partially right but not for the reason you suggested. Building hovercrafts? Fine. Watching the races? Fine. Actually participating? Not so much. Out on the racetrack I would be vulnerable to an assassination attempt, or failing that, I could wind up in a fatal accident, and so I was forbidden from entering or participating. Of course I wasn’t going to let that stop me.”

“So what did you do?” asked Cortex.

Well, Mother had given me use of the company test track. That’s where they test out the functionality of their prototypes. They also liked to use it for racing in private, as a hobby.”

“Because if you’re a professional hovercraft manufacturer, naturally that comes hand in hand with a need for speed,” Kong remarked with amusement.

The Chlorides were certainly guilty as charged,” he agreed. “I used their racing programs to indulge myself, and to practice. Completely without Sulphurous’ awareness, or permission.”

“At least until he found out?”

I entered myself into a professional racing event under a pseudonym, and a disguise and I won. And was subsequently unmasked on the winner’s podium. That would’ve been bad enough. Unfortunately, there was a rebel presence in the audience. So. . . they saw an opportunity and even though this would expose their identities, they went for it. They relieved one of the security guards of their weapons and then tried to shoot me from over fifty feet away before they were overwhelmed. It was an impressive shot. Didn’t kill me, of course, but it got me right in the shoulder. Maybe a little more marksmanship training would’ve done the job but I suppose we’ll never know.”

A surprising attitude towards the ones who tried to kill you, Oxide,” said N. Tropy.

It’s not as if they are the ones who are truly at fault. That would be Sulphurous. His actions are the cause of their reactions. Besides, I probably would’ve done the same in their position, and I if was a more noble sort.”

I see.”

“So what happened next? He must’ve been furious,” said Kong.

Oh absolutely. It was the first and only time I have heard him raise his voice. And since this was the second time I-oh. Oops.”

Second time, Oxide? What do you mean?” asked Cortex.

Second time I’ve been shot at. The first time was many years before. A failed assassination attempt. They tried for Sulphurous but found me instead. And so the fact that I put myself in harm’s way on purpose after being expressly forbidden not to. . . Yes, furious is the right word. So now I’m banned from racing altogether. Watching, participating? All gone. Building my hovercraft? Only under supervision.”

“And this must be the straw that breaks the camel’s back, yes?” asked Kong.

The. . . what? How. . . how does a straw break anyone’s back?”

“The final insult?”

Oh. Yes. I suppose. This incident made me arrive at two conclusions. That racing is what I definitely want, and ruling is what I definitely do not. And so I began making plans to run away. First, I started acting like the model son that Sulphurous desired so that he wouldn’t suspect anything. Second, I began researching the means to build a small spacecraft, which is the much smaller prototype of the one I fly today, and then built it and tested it in secret. Third, I researched my next move after leaving the planet by getting in contact with an off world sponsor to help me begin my racing career. He was impressed by the footage I sent him and thought I had promise and so he agreed. And finally, I made plans for a dramatic exit. Because if there’s one thing the Oxide family is good at, it’s drama. That day arrived when I completed work on my spacecraft. I got in contact with press and news outlets around the planet informing them that I had a big announcement to make. And then I waited. So the press conference arrives, I call my spaceship, and my announcement is simply thus; “I am Nitros Oxide, Crown Prince of Gasmoxia and I renounce my claim to the throne!” Cue my spaceship flying in, which I had all packed and ready to go, as I finish talking. And as they’re going wild, I climb in and shoot off into space, leaving Gasmoxia far behind. Oh! But not before bidding my dear father farewell. You see he’d been drawn out onto one of the balconies by the noise, and I course I wasn’t going to let that opportunity pass by. What I did I say to him again? Oh yes. “I’m leaving, Father. Don’t follow me.” And then off I went.” He cackled at the memory. “The expression on his face must’ve been priceless! Such a pity I never got to see it.”

Kong applauded. “Magnificent, Oxide. A suitably dramatic exit.”

Thank you, thank you!” Oxide replied gleefuly.

Kong stopped. “It’s a shame then that you seem to have turned out much like him.”

What do you mean?”

Surely you’re not unaware? You appear to a planet in order to challenge the inhabitants to a race in a game that you call Survival of the Fastest. And then you destroy their home and enslave the populace when they lose. Those are the exploits of a conquerer, Oxide. Are you trying to carve out a small kingdom of your own in the galaxy?”

Not a kingdom,” he objected. “A company. All inhabitants of defeated worlds become workers of my company and remain on their home planet. They get wages, some benefits-”

“But they don’t have a choice. In some respects kingdoms and companies are much the same. So how then do you rationalise they way you treat your “employees” against the way your father treats his subjects?”

Look, I’ve never claimed to be the nicest person in the galaxy you know. Nor do I claim to be better than him, just. . . different. But at least I give you all a fighting chance-”

“You cheat,” Kong objected.

I’ve never said anything about racing by the rules either.”

“So if someone were to cheat their way to first place, you would accept the loss?”

Of course. Cheating, is fair game in my opinion. So long as you cross the finish line before I do, that’s a win. It doesn’t matter how you do it.”

Truly, Oxide?”

Did I say I would leave your planet alone if you won?”

“. . . Yes?”

And did I?”

“. . . You did.”

I’m a man of my word.”

“I don’t-. . . How can you-. . . Your logic is so-” Kong sighed in frustration and pinched his nose. “I have nothing to say to that.”

Listen. . . Kong was it? I could be a better person if I wanted to be, but I choose not to. I have my reasons. You’ll just have to accept that.”

Kong sighed again. “As you say, though I do not respect that.”

There was a pause. “Oxide?” Cortex asked calmly. “Is that everything?”

Well uh. . . apparently I ended up saying a bit more than I intended to. But yes, that is finally everything.”

And this is the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth?”

Of course, did you I think I just made this all up?”

“Then thank you, Oxide, that will be all. You may return to fixing your ship.”

It’s about time.”

The comm clicked off and a deathly silence fell over the Space Station. Cortex clasped his hands together and rested his chin on them as he frowned at the floor, looking deeply concerned.

Brio was chewing on a fingernail. He exchanged a troubled look with Kong. “. . . Dr Cortex-”

So I think I speak for everyone when I say this,” Pinstripe cut in. “What the hell are we gonna do now?”

 

Chapter Text

Cortex glanced at the comm but did not reply. Kong and Brio exchanged looks again.

So um. Is anyone else terrified or. . . is that just me?” Treezan asked, filling the silence.

It’s not just you, pet,” Dingodile replied gently.

I mean he’s just so. . . so. . . so awful!”

I know, Treezan.”

What’re we going to go? Is there even anything we can do? The Space Station is a mess and- and. . . Um. . . I-. . . I think I need a minute.”

Tropy’s voice could be heard from across the room. “Treezan where are you going?”

The doors to the Bridge whooshed open moments later and Treezan stepped in with tears building in her eyes. “Um. . . S-sir. . ?”

Brio held out his arms. “Come here.” Treezan ran into his embrace and began to cry into his shoulder.

Kong sighed. “I admit that some small part of me harboured the belief that there was a possibility of negotiating. But, judging by everything we’ve heard, that is not the case. It seems clear by the events of the other timeline that he is not going to let us walk away with our lives. And without the crystals in our possession this does not place us in a good position for bargaining, if at all. So if discussion is off the table, what course of action do we have left?”

Cortex sat up. “This is what we’re going to do.” He had the Space Station’s full attention. “Myself, N. Brio, N. Gin and N. Tropy will contact the Castle back on Earth and explain the situation. From there they will be able to maintain an uplink with the Space Station’s computer and work on translating it from the ground.”

But Dr Cortex, maintaining a connection with the Space Station’s computer across such a distance and over an extended period of time will put a strain on the Castle’s power,” N. Gin objected.

“I’m aware, N. Gin but necessity compels us. It will leave myself and N. Brio free to assist with the repair effort in Engineering. We are going to focus on bringing the shields and weapons back online.”

My sleeping quarters were destroyed, and the computer I use to contact Catherine along with it.”

“Then you can use mine after I have spoken with Nina.”

Understood,” he replied reluctantly.

“Kong? You will remain on the Bridge to assist with the translation effort.”

“Yes, Dr Cortex.”

Treezan? You will work with Papu Papu to create an energising formula as a substitute for caffeine. Sleep and rest are a luxury we can no longer afford so we need something to keep us going that won’t also kill us if we ingest too much of it.”

Treezan sniffled. “O-okay. I-. . . I can do that. Sir.”

Papu Papu will meet Treezan in Sickbay,” said Papu Papu.

She sniffled again. “Okay. I’ll be right there.”

Brio put a hand on her shoulder. “Are you all right now, Treezan?”

She nodded. “Yes, sir. Thank you, sir.” She gave him a quick hug. To Cortex she said, “I’ll-I’ll get right on it.” And then left.

And what about the rest of us?” asked Pinstripe.

“Keep doing whatever it was you were doing,” Cortex replied.

He sighed. “Sure thing, Doc.”

Cortex stood and looked to Brio. “N. Brio? Shall we?”

Brio sighed. “Yes. . .Of course. . .”

The two left the Bridge and each headed for their respective sleeping quarters.

 


Dingodile looked at Pinstripe. They were in the Games Room with Tiny Tiger, Ripper Roo and the Komodo Brothers. They, including Papu Papu at the time, had all sat down to listen to Oxide’s explanation and were still sitting even after he had finished. None of them felt any immediate desire to return their admittedly useless work. “What about Tawna, mate? You gotta tell her too.”

Pinstripe looked pained. “I-I know. I just. . . I don’t know what to say.”

“You musst tell her ssomething,” said Joe.

Pinstripe nodded. “Yeah. You’re right. I gotta talk to her.” He stood up. Then immediately sat back down. “No I can’t.”

“She’s gonna feel pretty bad being the only one who wasn’t told,” said Dingodile.

Pinstripe nodded again. “Yeah. Yeah. You’re right. Okay.” He stood up. “I’ll go talk to her.” He got as far as the door before he stopped and his shoulders slumped. “My room is gone.”

“Maybe assk Cortexx,” Moe suggested. “Or N. Brio?”

Pinstripe scratched his chin. “I don’t want to interrupt either of them if they’re already talking. That would be kind of awkward.”

“Cortexx is already expecting N. Gin to usse hiss computer after he’ss finished,” said Joe. “You could jusst wait and assk him them.”

“Yeah. All right. I guess I’ll go form an orderly queue after N. Gin, then.”

“[We’ll be here,]” said Ripper Roo.

 


Cortex sat down at his personal computer, switched it on, and called Nina. He massaged his forehead with one hand as he waited for her to answer. He was not looking forward to this conversation at all.

“Hey, Uncle.” He looked up. Nina Cortex was gazing placidly back at him from the vidcam. “Another headache?”

He blinked then straightened up. “No, I’m afraid it’s a lot worse than that.” She frowned in confusion. He heaved a sigh. “It’s not going to be easy for me to say this, or for you to hear it but. . . The Space Station. . . we’ve been attacked.”

“What?”

“Now we’re all all right, for now, but-”

“What do you mean you’ve been attacked?!” she demanded.

“Nina let me explain. I’ll start at the beginning. We regained consciousness some time ago to find the Space Station had been critically damaged. Now we didn’t know why and we didn’t know who but it seemed to be no more than an accident. We might have hit something in space. So we got to work on the repairs.” Nina was frowning but she remained silent. “But then Dr N. Tropy from the future came back in time and brought us a message.”

“What?” She looked alarmed. “But if he did that then. . . something real bad must’ve happened.”

“Yes. I’m afraid so. It seems Gasmoxia was behind the attack. We have come to the attention of their Emperor, Sulphurous Oxide-”

“Oxide? You mean that alien guy?”

“His father.”

Nina’s eyebrows shot up, “Huh.” But then she was back to frowning. “So what does this Emperor guy want?”

“The power crystals.”

She shut her eyes in dismayed understanding “. . . Of course.”

“And he’s coming here to retrieve them.”

She nodded. Of course he was. Concern was etched on her face as she asked. “So. . . so what’re you going to do? You have a plan right?” The worry deepened. “Right?”

“Of course I have a plan, Nina,” he replied gently. “Myself, N. Gin, N. Brio and N. Tropy are going to work on bringing the shields and weapons back online. Our computer was scrambled by the impact, so this is where you come in. We need you to establish an uplink with the Space Station’s computer and translate it from the ground. Kong will be assisting on this end. Now I appreciate that this will put a strain on the Castle’s power but-”

“That’s fine,” she cut in. “We can shut down any unimportant systems to ease the load. Or less important ones if we have to. Whatever it takes.”

He smiled. “That’s my girl.”

Nina smiled back but then it broke. She buried her face in her hands and took a moment to regain her composure. “So. . .” she began at length. “It sounds like you’re in a real trouble for once, huh?”

“For once? Please. Trouble is my middle name.”

“What no it’s not, it’s Periwinkle.”

He inhaled sharply through his nose. “Nina I told you never to repeat that.”

“Maybe I should start calling you Uncle Periwinkle.”

Nina.”

“What you don’t like that? Then I guess you’d better come back here and stop me, Uncle Periwinkle, because I’ll-” she gulped. “I’ll-” her voice cracked. “I’ll just keep calling you that if you don’t.”

He took a breath. “Nina, I-”

“Don’t.” She shook her head. “Don’t get mushy on me. Just-. . . just come back okay?”

He nodded. “All right. I will. You’re grounded when I do.”

She laughed.

I’m being perfectly serious. You think I’ll tolerate such blatant disrespect for your Uncle? You can think again.”

She was chuckling now.

But there is one more thing, Nina. I suspect Maren and Alex, and Isaac have all been brought up to date by now, but Catherine. Because of the damage to the Space Station, N. Gin is unable to contact Catherine directly.”

She nodded in understanding. “Okay. I’ll go get her then.”

“And I will send N. Gin in.”

 


N. Brio powered up his personal computer and stared at the monitor, deliberating on whether to call Maren or Alex. Since neither of them were expecting it, he couldn’t be sure who would be the most likely to answer but he eventually settled on Maren and initiated the call. She didn’t answer right away and he was just about to cancel and try Alex when suddenly the vidcam popped open and there she was, hastily adjusting the camera on her end. Maren Brio had green eyes and dark brown hair pulled back into a low ponytail and was wearing a raspberry coloured top and light blue cropped trousers.

“Sorry sweetie, I wasn’t expecting your call.” She sat down and gave the camera a stern look and pointed a finger at it. “Now stay.” When she was suitably happy that the camera was going to behave itself, she turned her attention to him with a brilliant smile that he couldn’t help but return, if wearily. “Hey, sweetie-” The smile instantly evaporated off her face to be replaced by a look of concerned horror. “Nitrus what happened?”

He was mildly confused for a moment until he glanced down. Oh. Falling rubble had ripped through his clothes and slashed his side open but while the wound was now gone, the bloodstains and the tearing were not. With everything going on, he hadn’t found the time to change into a fresh set of clothes. He hadn’t even thought about it. He met her gaze and told her weakly. “Get Alex.”

“O-of course.” She disappeared offscreen and he could hear her calling for their son. It took her a moment to find him but she finally reappeared with Alex.

“Hey, Dad-whoa what happened to you?” he asked, eyes going wide. Alex Brio was around the same age as Nina and had olive skin, lighter than Brio’s but darker than Maren’s, green eyes and short, auburn hair and was wearing a light green, short sleeved shirt over a dark green, long sleeved t-shirt and red jeans.

He gulped. They were both staring at him wearing matching looks of worry. “Th-th-th-th-” Brio clapped both hands to his mouth. No, no, no. He was supposed to be telling them in a calm and collected manner. Now with his stutter reemerging, they knew that he was anything but.

“Dad. . . ?”

“Sweetie, it’s okay. Just take your time, we’re not going anywhere.”

He took a deep breath. “Th-there’s. . . b-been. . . an. . . attack.”

They reacted instantly. “What?!”

“On the Sp-Sp-Space Station.” Another breath. “B-but. . . w-we’re fine. We’re all fine.”

Maren breathed a sigh of relief. “Oh thank goodness.”

“But who attacked you?” asked Alex.

“It was. . . Gasmoxia. Their Emperor is-. . . No. Wait. L-let me start at the b-beginning.”

They both nodded. “Okay.”

He took a deep breath. “S-some time ago we. . . we collided with something. W-we didn’t know what it was at the time, but it had. . . it had damaged the Space Station. S-so we s-started repairing it. B-but then. . . but then something happened. D-Dr N. Tropy came back from the future to br-bring us a warning. Gasmoxia. . . was behind the attack. Th-they’re being led by their Emperor, S-Sulphurous Oxide.”

“Oxide?” Alex repeated with a frown. “Like that Nitros Oxide guy? The one who wanted to turn Earth into a giant parking lot?”

“And turn us all into slaves?” Maren added with a disapproving look.

“Y-yes. He-he is Gasmoxian. The Emperor is. . . his father.”

“Whuuuuh?” was Alex’s response.

“That’s. . . that’s some coincidence,” said Maren. She had a contemplative expression on her face.

Brio shook his head. “It’s no coincidence. E-Emperor Oxide seeks the power crystals. And-and it was because of Nitros Oxide that. . . that they were brought to his attention.”

Maren’s expression hardened and Alex shot her a concerned look. “Then that means that he’s coming here?”

“Ye-yes. I’m afraid so.”

“But he doesn’t know that you don’t have the crystals yet, does he?”

Brio shook his head. “W-we think not.”

“Then why did he attack them?” Alex objected.

“He-. . . he probably meant to disable us first. So-so that he could question us later.”

“So what went wrong?” asked Maren.

N. Brio managed a small smile. “Nitros Oxide went wrong. He was. . . nearby. He threw off the mine.”

“What happened to him? Is he on the Space Station with you?”

He nodded. “That’s right.”

“And if time travel was involved, then this Sulphurous Oxide character is real bad news. Right?”

Brio swallowed and could only nod in reply.

“Oh sweetie. . .” Her hands went to her mouth as she fought to maintain her composure.

“Is there um,” Alex gulped. “Is there anything we can do?”

“Y-yes. W-we need. . . we need you to connect the Castle’s computer w-with the Space Station so you can. . . so you can translate it. Th-there have been some. . . some disruptions to the code. . . so now. . . now we can’t understand it.”

“Okay. Link computers. Translate the code. Can do. But what about the others? Do we need to tell them too?”

“N-no. They’re-they’re being told. I would. . . imagine. . . that they already know. So you can. . . w-work together.” Then he remembered something. “Except. . . Catherine. . . Y-. . . you might have to wait. . . for Catherine.”

“Okay so wait for Catherine, then link computers and translate the code. Is there anything else you want us to do?”

Brio took a deep breath. “Don’t. . . don’t cry,” he said, immediately sending Maren into tears.

Alex gave him a lopsided smile. “You sure you didn’t mean don’t panic?”

He smiled back. “And. . . and don’t panic.”

“Okay, I can do that. But . . . but you have to do something for me.”

“What-. . . what’s that?”

“Come back. Please?” Alex replied. “I’m extremely attached to having both my parents alive and well.”

He nodded. “Yes, I-. . . I plan to.”

Alex swallowed. “Good.”

“Oh sweetie,” Maren wailed.

“Oh Mom,” said Alex with a sigh. “It’ll be okay. We’ll be okay. Right?” Brio nodded again.

“Right. You’ll probably want to get on with whatever it was you were doing, and we should get started on that translation. I’m guessing we probably don’t have a lot of time do we?”

“We don’t know how much time, but-. . . but probably not.”

“Okay. Then. . . then we’ll talk later.”

“Yes. . . We will. I-. . . I love you both.”

“We love you too,” they chorused, Maren finishing with “Sweetie” and Alex with “Dad”. The vidcam window disappeared and the screen went black as the computer was shut down. But Brio did not get up right away. He ground the palms of his hands into his eyes as he tried to follow his own direction. “Don’t cry”.

 


N. Tropy heaved a sigh as he sat down at his personal computer. He turned it on, called Isaac and then spared a look at himself in the mirror. Good heavens! He looked like he had just fallen out of bed. This wouldn’t do at all. So he grabbed a comb and hastily raked it through his hair in an effort to look presentable.

Isaac answered the vidcall as he was still combing and raised an eyebrow at him. Isaac Tropy was slightly older than Nina and Alex, not to mention taller. He had light blue skin, dark turquoise eyes, a pointed nose and a mop of black hair and was wearing a white, short sleeved shirt under a navy, sleeveless, v-necked jumper, a black tie and dark grey trousers.

“Isaac. . .” he said. He dropped the comb and straightened up in his seat.

“Father,” Isaac smiled back with amusement. “This is outside our scheduled contact time so I was surprised to receive your call. You’re usually so. . . regular. And prepared. Is something amiss?” Tropy blinked then dropped his gaze to his hands, clasped them together and then looked up only to watch the smile drain off Isaac’s face. “It is quite serious, then.”

He took a breath. “Isaac?”

“Yes, Father?”

“Do you recall a certain individual by the name of Nitros Oxide?”

“The one that tried to turn Earth into a planet-sized car park? Yes, I remember him well. He is not one I’ll soon forget.”

“Good. Because it seems that his actions have drawn the attention of someone rather unpleasant.”

“Drawn towards us you mean?”

“Something that we sought to possess.”

Isaac’s frowned. “The power crystals. So who is this person?”

“The Emperor of Oxide’s home planet of Gasmoxia, Sulphurous Oxide.”

He looked surprised. “That is either an extraordinary coincidence, or Nitros Oxide is the Emperor’s. . . ?”

“His son.”

“Is that so?”

“I would not believe it myself except for Oxide’s great reluctance to admit to it.”

A raised eyebrow. “Oh? You mean he’s on the Space Station with you?”

“Unfortunately yes. He has also become involved in the situation.”

“I see. So what has happened exactly?”

“Well. . .” Tropy raised his hands to rest his chin on them. “A number of hours ago, we regained consciousness to discover the Space Station had been critically damaged by something explosive. No immediate attack was forthcoming, so we began repairs.”

“And this was how Oxide became involved? He was caught in the explosion?”

“Yes. We did not learn until much later that this explosion was a mine sent by Gasmoxian forces.”

Isaac frowned. “You learnt this from Oxide?”

“No. He had no knowledge of the Emperor’s plan.”

“Then who?”

“From. . . myself. Specifically myself from a future timeline that will hopefully not be repeated.”

Isaac’s expression turned deadly serious. “You have told me that you will only loop back directly on your own timeline if you absolutely have to since anomalies or paradoxes generated in this area could have lethal consequences for both of us.”

“Yes. . . So now you understand the gravity of the situation.”

His expression became alarm. “Death,” he said at length. “Death is in the future.”

“. . . I’m afraid so.”

“Then would this not be reason enough to travel further back in time again, say before the explosion, or even before you leave for space?”

“Isaac, you must understand that Emperor Oxide wants the crystals and we do not believe he is aware of the fact that we do not have them. If he does not encounter us in space, then he will target us on Earth instead. But besides that, this timeline is not yet lost to us.”

A look of understanding blossomed on Isaac’s face. “I see. You have no desire to allow Emperor Oxide to reach Earth and would prefer to confront him in space, where you believe, if everything goes according to plan, you will have the element of surprise.”

Tropy smiled. “Precisely.”

“Then let us hope that everything goes according to plan. Which leads me to my next question. What is the plan?”

“After this conversation is concluded, myself, Dr Cortex, N. Brio and N. Gin will begin repairs on Engineering with the intention of bringing the shields and weapons back online.

But you have a part in this as well.” Isaac’s response was to raise his eyebrows. “The Space Station’s computer has also taken damage and we are subsequently unable to comprehend its output.”

“So while you all work on the repairs, you need me, or rather myself and my friends to establish a connection with the Space Station’s computer and work on translating from here, correct?”

Tropy smiled again. “Yes, exactly.”

Isaac nodded. “Simple enough. It will put a strain on the Castle’s power but considering the situation it is of no consequence. At the very least we will find a way to manage, I’m sure.”

“Excellent. Then I can leave this task in your capable hands.”

“Of course. I trust that my friends are being brought up to date on the matter as we speak?”

“They are. Oh. Except for Catherine. The damage we sustained in the attack has left N. Gin without the means to contact her directly.”

“I see. We can wait for her then. Or get started without her, whichever we decide is best. Do you have a timeframe for between now and the Emperor’s arrival?”

“Unfortunately not. My other self, he was. . . he suffered extensive injuries and was only able to convey what I have already told you.”

A brief look of horror flashed across Isaac’s face but then it was gone. “I won’t keep you, then. We both have things to do.”

“Yes. . . We do. . .” There was a pause. Then they both spoke at once, “Isaac-”

“Father, I-”

Tropy blinked. “Yes?”

“I-. . .” Isaac seemed to be about to speak further but thought better of it. Instead he added, “I will not disappoint you.”

“I know you won’t. And we will see each other again, my son.”

Isaac smiled. And then he brightened up. “I will prepare a nice cup of real tea for you when you get back. Goodness knows what you’ve had to make do with in the meantime.”

Tropy put his face in hands and groaned. “You have no idea of the horrors I have had to endure. Papu Papu tried to serve me coffee. Coffee, Isaac.”

Isaac recoiled in mock outrage. “The audacity! But really it’s a shame that you don’t drink coffee. It is just as good as tea.”

“Do not say such blasphemy.”

“Look.” Isaac produced a cup from offscreen. “I am drinking some right now.” He took a sip. “Mmm, tasty.”

“Isaac, I will disown you.”

He laughed then said, “I jest, it is just tea.”

Tropy shook his head in exaggerated dismay. “I cannot believe a child of mine even drinks coffee. I am surrounded by coffee drinkers.”

“Think of the tea, Father.”

“I will think of the tea.”

“Let it give you strength.”

“May it give me strength.”

Isaac laughed again and Tropy smiled. “Until next time, then.”

“Yes. Until next time.” He waited until Isaac shut off the vidcam on his end before letting the smile drop off his face.

 


Cortex was surprised to find Pinstripe waiting for him outside his personal quarters. “Pinstripe? What are you doing here?”

“My room is gone and. . . uh. . .”

“Ah of course. So you wish to use my computer to contact Tawna.”

“Yeah. . .”

“Then you may do so after N. Gin.”

“Thanks.”

“In which case please remember to turn it off when you are done.”

“Of course.”

To N. Gin. “I believe Catherine is ready for you.”

N. Gin nodded and headed in. When he took a seat at Cortex’s computer, Catherine was waiting for him. Catherine Gin was around the same age as Alex and Nina. She had red hair and blue eyes and was wearing a green t-shirt with an exclamation mark emblazoned on the front in yellow and blue jean shorts with suspenders. “Catherine. . .”

“Dad? What’s going on?”

Straight to the point of course. With everyone else being contacted at the same time, it would be hard to not notice that something was up. “We’ve been attacked,” he replied, not bothering to mince his words.

She sat up sharply. “What?”

“Do you remember Nitros Oxide?”

Catherine frowned. “Yeah I remember. Did he do this?”

“No. It was his father, Sulphurous Oxide.”

“His father?” she repeated.

“Yes. He is the Emperor of Gasmoxia.”

“Wait. . so. . . wait. That means that Nitros Oxide is a prince. . . right?”

“He is the Crown Prince.”

Oh. Huh. . . That’s. . . Huh. Didn’t see that one coming.”

“I don’t think anyone did.”

“But. . . wait. Why is this all happening?”

“Emperor Oxide wants the power crystals.”

Catherine nodded. “Of course he does. It’s always about the crystals.” N. Gin dropped his gaze to the desk for a moment. “So what happens now?”

“Dr Cortex, N. Brio, N. Tropy and I are going to repair the shields and weapons. We also need you to link the Castle’s computer to our Space Station so you can translate it.”

She raised her eyebrows and then frowned. “Did something happen to it?”

“It was damaged in the explosion so now the output is scrambled. And since we need all available hands in Engineering, this task must fall to you.”

She nodded. “Okay, piece of cake. What else do you need me to do?”

“That is all.”

Catherine nodded again. “All right, I’ll get on that, but first. Are you. . . uh. . . okay?”

He blinked. “I am. . . not exactly well but I have endured worse.”

She gulped. “Yeah. . . And how is everyone else holding up?”

“They are holding up. At the very least we are better now than we were in the immediate aftermath.”

“Okay. . . Good.” She glanced offscreen. “I think they’re getting started on the translation. I should go join them. Talk to you later?”

“Catherine wait, I-” he hesitated until he saw her puzzled look. “I haven’t. . . told you everything. . .” She frowned. “This morning, or, earlier today at least, we awoke to find the Space Station in disarray. Something had either hit us, or we had hit something in space. Since no further action seemed forthcoming, we got to work on the repairs. But that changed when N. Tropy from a future timeline came back to our present to bring us a warning.”

Catherine looked alarmed. “That’s. . . not good.”

“No. . . It isn’t. He was critically injured so he could only tell us the identity of our attackers, which is Gasmoxia as you know, before he. . . succumbed. . .”

Her alarm increased. “Oh. . . geez. . .”

“So now you understand, Catherine. This won’t be like facing Crash Bandicoot. If this goes wrong, if we fail-”

“No! Stop. . . Don’t-. . . don’t say that.”

“Catherine. . .”

“Not after. . . not after Mom. . .”

He could only sit there and watch as Catherine buried her face in her hands and struggled to suppress her anguish. “. . . I am sorry.”

“I could. . .” she said at length. “I could get the mech. . . and come get you?”

No.” His expression was stern. “I will send for you when it is clear. You must not come for me before then.”

She gazed back fiercely. “But Dad-”

Catherine. I need you here. You can help me by helping with the translation.”

Softly this time, “But Dad. . .”

“None of us have any intention of letting that future come to pass, Catherine. So please, listen to me.”

She held his gaze for a moment, then shut her eyes and heaved a sigh. “All right. . . Fine. I guess. . . if things go wrong, then N. Tropy will bail you guys out, right?”

“If it comes to that.”

She nodded. “Right. Let’s hope it doesn’t.”

“It won’t.”

“Okay.”

“And I will contact you again when it is safe.”

“Okay. I’ll be waiting.”

“There is one more thing. For the same reason as I, Pinstripe is unable to contact Tawna directly.”

“Oh, okay. I’ll uh. . . I’ll go get her, then.”

N. Gin nodded. “I will send him in.” Pinstripe was slouching against the wall and immediately shot upright when the doors whooshed open. “I believe it is your turn, now.”

“Right. . . thanks.” He trudged into the room, his footsteps feeling heavy, and sat awkwardly on a chair that was not built to accommodate someone of his height. Tawna appeared moments on the vidcam moments later and he couldn’t help but smile, his troubles momentarily forgotten. “Hey, doll.”

She smiled back. “Hey. . .” But it seemed strained. Her gaze flicked briefly to his shoulder and frowning, he followed it. Oh. Oops. The bioregenerator had the healed the wound there, but it had not vanished the bloodstain. He returned her gaze at a loss for words. “Uhh. . . I can. . . explain?”

Tawna’s expression remained carefully controlled. “I assumed that was why you were calling.”

“Yeah. . . So. . . uhh. What exactly do you know?”

Only that something is going on.” Her gaze flicked back to his shoulder again. “Something serious.”

He heaved a sigh and ran a hand through his hair. “Yeah. Okay. So. This is what’s happened. We woke up, a little while ago. And, everything had been trashed. It was a mess.”

A brief look of alarm flashed across her face before settling into a light frown.

But then nothing happened. So we ran a check of the Space Station to make sure there was nothing major, which there wasn’t, and then we got to work-well. . . I say we, I mean Dr Cortex and N. Gin, N. Brio and N. Tropy got to work on the repairs. We got started on clean up since there’s not much else we can do. But then, uh. . .” He glanced off to the side and scratched his neck. “Well. . .”

“What happened?” Tawna prompted gently.

I wasn’t there, but N. Tropy from a future timeline, or. . . a possible future timeline came back with a warning.” Tawna’s frown deepened. “And he was hurt real bad, I think. What did Kong say? “Critically injured”. Yeah, so. . . yeah. He couldn’t tell us much, but what he did tell us was this; that we were attacked by a mine sent by Gasmoxian forces who are being led by their Emperor, Sulphurous Oxide.”

“Like the Nitros Oxide that came to Earth?”

Would you believe that the Emperor is Oxide’s father?”

Tawna tried to respond to this revelation several times but couldn’t find the words. Until, “Oh.”

Yeah. Oh is right. He spilled the beans after we confronted him on it.”

“Wait, he’s with you right now?”

“Uhh, more or less. Right now he’s in Docking Bay Four working on his ship. He got caught in the explosion that got us, that’s why he’s here.”

Tawna frowned again. “Does the Emperor know about this?”

“We got no idea. And we won’t know for sure until he shows up.”

“I see. And what is the Emperor’s goal exactly.”

“The power crystals.”

She sighed. “Why am I not surprised?”

“They’re all the rage these days.”

She nodded and then looked at him. “And you? Are you okay?”

He swallowed the sudden lump in his throat. “Yeah.”

“Is everyone else okay too?”

“Yeah. We’re good-well. . . We’re alive at any rate. And Treezan turned the bioregenerator on all of us so all of injuries are gone.” He subconsciously rubbed at his shoulder.

She nodded. “Good. Does Dr Cortex have a plan?”

“Bring the shields and weapons back online and get you guys to handle translating the Space Station’s computer. It was scrambled in the impact.”

She nodded again looking perplexed. “That’s something of a plan at least. But you won’t really know how to handle things, or what will happen, until the Emperor shows up will you?”

“. . . Yeah. . .”

“So. . . are you really okay?”

He swallowed and then found himself shaking his head. “I mean. . . I’m not freaking out. Not yet. But uh. . . this guy, this Emperor Oxide, he’s a real piece of work. He’s even worse than-” Pinstripe stopped talking. Tawna stared back sympathetically. He dropped his gaze and mumbled, “Than we were.”

“It’s okay, Pinstripe. You’re not that person anymore.”

“I know but. . .”

“He scares you.”

He heaved a sigh. “Yeah. . .”

“It’s okay to be scared.”

“Yeah. I know.”

Tawna took a deep breath. “Pinstripe? Look at me.” Pinstripe pulled his gaze off the table and looked into her eyes. “Everything will be all right.” He gulped and nodded. “You’ll get through this. You’ll come back to me. Okay?”

“O-okay.”

She smiled. He smiled back. “I love you.”

“I love you too, doll.”

“Now I’m going to help with the translation, so I’ll talk to you later.”

“Sure. . .”

“I mean it. We will talk later.”

He nodded, gaining confidence. “Yeah. We will.” He even managed to give her a reassuring smile. She smiled back and then she was gone. He shut down the computer and left the room. Dingodile, the Komodo Brothers and Ripper Roo were waiting for him.

“[Hello!]” Ripper Roo greeted him first.

“Heyyyyy uh. What’re you all doing here?”

“We thought you might need some moral support,” Dingodile explained.

“I see. That’s uh. . . nice of you.”

“How d’ya feel, mate?”

“I feel. . . a bit better I think.”

Dingodile nodded as Joe said, “That’ss good.” Then they lapsed into silence.

Pinstripe looked around at all of them. Subdued despair hung in the air and all of them were absorbed by the spectacle of the floor. He sighed. “Come here you guys.” They shuffled forward obediently. He held out his arms. “Come on.” They looked briefly surprised and exchanged looks but then they were pressing forward into the group hug. “Everything will be all right,” he said echoing Tawna’s words. “We’ll get through this.”

 


Time had slipped away from Koala Kong. His heart lurched in his chest when the forward console beside him beeped for attention. He approached it with trepidation and couldn’t help but hitch in a breath when he examined the read out. He crossed over to Cortex’s command chair and activated the comm. He said simply, “Dr Cortex. My friends. He is here.”

 

Chapter Text

The tool N. Brio was holding clattered to the ground. He had gone wide-eyed. Cortex exchanged looks with N. Tropy and N. Gin who had both paused in the middle of what they were doing. “Well. . .” He said. “It seems we are all out of time.”

We are being hailed, should I respond?” Kong asked from the Bridge.

Cortex dropped the tools he was using into the toolbox and activated the comm unit on the wall to reply. “No, I am on my way. I’ll be there shortly.”

Understood.”

“B-b-but. . . w-we’re not r-ready,” Brio objected.

“We need a little longer to fix the shields,” Tropy agreed.

Cortex nodded. “I will stall him for as long as I can then.”

“How are you going to play this?” N. Gin asked.

“. . . I don’t know,” he confessed. “But I am curious to see what Emperor Oxide intends to do, so I will defer to his first move. Let him think he has the upper hand for now.”

N. Gin nodded. “Good luck then.”

“Yes. . . I suppose we are all going to need it.” Then he left. Kong turned his head when the doors opened and he entered the Bridge.

“Dr Cortex,” he said by way of greeting. “Oxide-. That is, Nitros Oxide wishes to know if his presence is required on the Bridge.”

Cortex frowned but before he could consider it properly and respond, the forward console beeped, indicating they were being hailed again. He sighed. And made a snap decision. He quickly commed Oxide’s ship. “Oxide, if you’re still there please stay put. I will comm you again.”

All right,” Oxide replied.

To Kong. “Put him through.”

Kong nodded. Then Emperor Oxide was onscreen. After everything he had heard about the alien, Cortex had to fight down the urge to inhale sharply through his nose as Kong gripped the forward console suddenly. The Gasmoxian was seated in his command chair with one pair of legs thrown over the other and his fingers steepled. His face was carefully schooled into a neutral expression, yet he was as every bit as intimidating as his reputation suggested. “There you are,” he began conversationally. “I was beginning to fear that you had all perished.”

Cortex blinked. “I-. . . apologise. I was. . . previously occupied.”

“Yes, you seem to have encountered some. . . difficulties. . .”

Cortex fought to keep his face neutral and he saw Kong shoot him a glance. So that was how he was going to play it. “Yes. . .” He agreed. “You could say that.”

“What happened exactly?”

“We were struck by something.”

“Evidently.”

“Unfortunately we cannot say exactly what.”

The Emperor nodded. “I see. That is unfortunate. My scans indicate that there is a small amount of debris from another ship present, but we cannot seem to locate it. It suggests it was Gasmoxian in origin, though. . . it could be mistaken. What has become of this ship? Do you know?”

“We. . .” Cortex replied as he hurriedly thought of an answer to the question. He couldn’t let the Emperor know that Oxide was on the Space Station just yet. “Did not detect a ship upon regaining consciousness. . . It must’ve left.”

The Emperor frowned. “We do not detect any fuel emissions that support this. The ship came here and did not leave. Nor was it destroyed, as there is not enough debris to indicate this. And I do not detect it aboard the Space Station, though truthfully I do not detect much of anything. So what has become of it?”

Cortex breathed in through his nose and exhaled. He just had to keep stalling for time. “What is so important about this ship may I ask?”

“Because I am tracking someone who is very important to me. And I have recently discovered that he may have passed through this way at some point in time. Or near enough. So if the ship’s pilot is indeed who I’m searching for, then I must know where he is.”

Cortex nodded. “I see. . . We. . .” He struggled to think of a passable reason for it’s absence. “Noticed. . . an asteroid pass by recently, close enough to trigger an alert. . . Perhaps the ship you’re so interested in was simply. . . swept away?”

Emperor Oxide frowned. “That seems. . . highly unlikely.”

“I don’t know what else to suggest. The ship wasn’t here when we woke up, and it isn’t here now. I don’t know what happened to it.”

The Emperor blinked. “I see.” He frowned. “That is. . . unfortunate.”

“And I wish I could help you, but I cannot.”

He nodded, “Of course. . .”

Kong turned in his seat and spoke as quietly as he could. “Dr Cortex, the shields are back online.”

Cortex nodded slowly and then smiled. Now he could finally drop the pretence. “But nevermind that. There is something very interesting about this situation. You are not the first Gasmoxian to come to Earth. Or near Earth in this case.” The Emperor raised an eyebrow. “And now I’m wondering, why have we suddenly become so popular?”

“You speak of Nitros Oxide. He is the reason I am here. He is the one I’m searching for.”

Cortex pretended to look surprised. “Is that so? How curious. It was after Oxide left Earth that we were lured into space and nearly destroyed. And now you show up claiming to be looking for him. Quite the coincidence don’t you think?”

“Are you suggesting that I did this? What would be my reason for doing so?”

“What indeed? I can tell you for a fact that a particular kind of crystal can be found on Earth. Which can become a source of great power when combined in numbers and have thus become hotly contested for between two factions. I would know this because my colleagues and I are one of them. So if a certain eye was drawn to Earth and became aware of the crystals, it wouldn’t be too much of a leap to imagine that this eye would subsequently come to desire them in the same way that we do, yes?”

“And this would be my reason?”

“Precisely.”

Emperor Oxide’s expression gradually became a smile. “Well well. You are quite astute. It would appear that I have underestimated you Earthlings.”

Cortex smiled back. “It happens.” Of course time travel had brought them that information but there was no need make the Emperor aware of that.

“I apologise for my tardiness then, but I had to wait for confirmation from the mine before I could act. It took a number of hours for me to receive it, and then to travel across that same distance took me just as long. I hope I haven’t kept you waiting.”

“Oh not at all. In fact you are just in time.”

A confused frown. “In time for what?”

“Raise shields.”

Kong activated the shields. Emperor Oxide looked even more confused. “What is that going to do?”

“This is going to prevent you from boarding my Space Station.”

“You think your shields can save you?”

“If you desire the crystals, then you will not fire upon my Space Station for risk of destroying them.”

“If you have the crystals then produce them.” Cortex frowned and said nothing. The Emperor smirked. “I thought not. Open fire.”

“Dr Cortex-” began Kong with alarm.

Furthermore,” Cortex cut in. He was the picture of calm. “If you desire to be reunited with Nitros Oxide, you will not fire upon my Space Station for risk of destroying us all.”

“You attempted to bluff me with the crystals, Earthling. You think you can bluff me a second time using Nitros. My son?”

“That’s Dr Neo Cortex. And the reason you cannot detect his presence is because of the alloy I built my Space Station with. And his presence is the reason I am aware of the fact that he is your son in the first place, Emperor Sulphurous Oxide.”

Emperor Oxide’s expression turned to horror. “Cease fire. . .” he said, his voice barely above a whisper. Then louder, “Cease fire!”

Cortex frowned at the sound of something blazing across the shields forcefully enough to rattle the Space Station. “Kong, report.”

“A discharge of energy from Emperor Oxide’s ship just washed over our shields. They are holding.”

The comm bleeped as several people contacted him at once but he had no time to respond as the Emperor had regained his composure. He fixed Cortex with a glare and demanded, “Where. Is. My. Son?”

Cortex calmly opened a channel to Nitros Oxide’s ship. “Oxide, you may come to the Bridge now.” He switched it off without waiting for a response then lent back in his command chair, threw one leg over the other and folded his hands together, returning Emperor’s Oxide’s hostile stare with a placid gaze. The Emperor’s scowl intensified. Then the doors opened and Nitros Oxide was stepping onto the Bridge. “I’m here,” he announced.

“Oxide,” Cortex replied. “Thank you for joining us.” He gestured at the screen. “I believe you are already acquainted.”

Emperor Oxide had gone wide-eyed. “Nitros. . .”

“Indeed,” Oxide replied. “So. Sulphurous. . . Father. How have you been? Still subjugating the populace as always?” The Emperor was speechless. “I’ll take your silence as a yes, then.”

Emperor Oxide got to his feet and marched towards the view screen. “Dr Cortex. You will lower your shields at once so that my son can return to Gasmoxia with me. It is your home, Nitros. It is where you belong.”

“I have no intention of going anywhere with you, Father.”

“And I have no intention of lowering my shields.”

“Then I will order my ships to open fire so that I may lower them for you,” the Emperor replied.

Cortex frowned in mock concern and exchanged a look with Oxide. “Is that really wise? My Space Station has already sustained significant damage. You would damage us further, perhaps even destroy us. Would you truly risk killing your own son just to get him back?”

The Emperor seethed and glared at him. Then he spoke again, shifting his focus onto his son. “What of your mother, Nitros? Have you no consideration for her?”

Oxide dropped his gaze to the deck. “I know I hurt her,” he said after gathering his thoughts. “But I had to leave. I couldn’t stay, not with the way things were. That’s what I told her, and that’s what I’m telling you. You haven’t changed. So until that happens, if that happens, I am not coming back. And nothing you say will make me reconsider.”

The Emperor’s expression was sour. “Is that so?”

He planted his hands on his hips and stared back defiantly. “It is.”

“Well then,” Cortex chimed in, brightly. “It seems we’ve reached an impasse.”

“Indeed,” the Emperor replied reluctantly. He sat once more in his command chair and looked from Oxide to Cortex and back again. “It is quite clear to me that you two are in on this together. What isn’t clear is how this came to be. I assumed earlier that you, Dr Cortex, had simply deduced my intentions. But I see now that you already knew. So tell me this. How is that either of you came to know of my plan?”

Oxide and Cortex exchanged knowing looks. “We are not at liberty to disclose that information,” Cortex replied.

“I see,” he replied icily. Then took a deep breath and sighed. “So. Now that you have your shields, I cannot board your Space Station. Nor can I fire upon you for risk of damaging your Space Station further. But with the damage you have sustained, you are not going anywhere. So what do you plan to do now?” Cortex and Oxide exchanged looks. Both were silent. “In that case, if one of us can think of a solution to our predicament, we will signal the other. Until then, I will simply wait.” He snapped his fingers and the screen went black. Cortex and Oxide both heaved a sigh.

“That was quite a gamble, Dr Cortex,” said Kong.

“Yes, it was,” he admitted. “But you see, something about Tropy’s-. . . the other Tropy’s wounds had been bothering me.”

“He’d been fried to crisp,” Oxide commented.

Cortex gave him a disapproving glare. “Yes. He had been burned by an intense heat. And then after listening to your explanation of the type of person your father was, Oxide, it occurred to me then that whatever had caused it, whatever the Emperor’s weapon was, it had to be some kind of powerful energy weapon. Unconventional and grandiose.”

“So in other words you needed him to fire it, or at least, commence the firing procedure in order to see what is was and how it worked,” said Kong.

“Precisely. It was all part of the plan.”

“But he is right about one thing,” said Oxide. “What do we plan to do now?”

“Let’s take a look, shall we? Kong, if you would?”

Kong turned back to the forward console and brought up a scan of the Emperor’s spaceship on the view screen. “According to this scan taken during the firing procedure, there was a significant buildup of energy located here at the ship’s prow.”

Cortex nodded. “So I see. In other words, Emperor Oxide’s main weapon is to build a massive amount of energy at the prow and then release it in a forward stream.”

Kong frowned. “That doesn’t seem very. . . practical.”

“No indeed. As we saw it took a number of seconds to build to even a portion of its full charge. Probably a limit to the spaceship’s manoeuvrability as well while that happens.”

“A weapon of fear, then.”

“Indeed,” Cortex agreed. “But such weapons have their weakness. And if I am correct, I believe I know what this one’s is.”

“If he’s using the spaceship’s own power to charge the weapon,” said Oxide. “That would mean that he would have to temporarily divert power from other systems. So the engines, like you said, and, I’m guessing, the shields?”

“That is precisely right, Oxide. Look there.” He pointed to the view screen. “The scan results show that the spaceship’s shield rating was at zero while the weapon was charging.”

“Perhaps this is why he wants the power crystals?” Kong suggested. “If he could charge the weapon with an alternative power source, this would then neutralise the consequences of using the ship’s own power. And with his propulsion system and shields intact, his ship could become a significant force to be reckoned with.”

“Yes,” Cortex agreed. “Especially considering that the crystals could also possibly boost the weapon’s power, or reduce the charge time.”

“Or both,” Oxide added.

“Or both,” he agreed. “But now I know exactly what I plan to do.”

“What’s that?”

Cortex switched the comm over to Stationwide communication. “This is Dr Cortex. I apologise for ignoring you all earlier but I had no choice. So let me assure you now that Emperor Oxide has stood down and I believe I have a plan of action. Since the Emperor has to drop his shields to charge his weapon, this leaves his ship vulnerable and creates an opening for us to attack. I believe we can destabilise the weapon if we fire upon it the moment it reaches maximum charge.”

“Sounds risky,” Oxide commented.

“Yes, but I see no other course of action open to us.”

The comm bleeped. “This is N. Tropy and N. Gin. How exactly does this weapon function?”

“It builds energy at the ship’s prow and then releases it in a forward stream.”

I see.” There was a long pause. “Then yes, we believe you are correct. This will if course completely destroy Emperor Oxide’s ship and anyone else in the immediate vicinity, however.”

So we would not recommend waiting until maximum charge, Dr Cortex,” N. Gin added. “You do not want to destroy us as well.”

“Yes,” Cortex agreed. “You’re right. I will conduct some calculations to determine the level of charge needed, then.”

“You do realise what this will mean don’t you?” Kong asked of Oxide as Cortex began running the calculations at one of the forward consoles.

“That Sulphurous will die?” He folded his arms. “I’m no fool. He may be many things but he’s not invincible.”

“And. . . you accept this?”

“As much as I wish things had turned out differently, they haven’t, and so here we are. The son he loved was in his head. An idea. He had no love for me.”

Kong nodded solemnly but said nothing.

“Oxide, what is the status of your ship?” Cortex asked.

“It’s space-worthy but it won’t be going anywhere very fast.”

Cortex nodded. “That’s fine. We don’t need you to go very far, just far enough.”

“If I leave and you die, Sulphurous will drag me back home. Not something I’m looking forward to and wish to avoid at all costs if possible.”

“Oxide, it’s the only way. The Emperor won’t fire upon the Space Station while you remain onboard.”

He sighed. “I know. But are you certain that this will work?”

“At the very least this is our only option, but beyond that I have full confidence that we will be able to pull this off. So please, return to your ship and wait for my signal.”

“What about your time traveller? What was his name again? Trophy?”

Cortex looked surprised. “N. Tropy?”

“Right. Him.”

He frowned and returned to the comm. “N. Tropy, Oxide just brought up the subject of time travel.”

There was a brief pause before N. Tropy responded. “Then I will tell you what I told my son. I do not believe that this timeline is yet lost to us, nor do I believe that it can be sufficiently altered to generate a better outcome at this point. Emperor Oxide desires the crystals and will confront us here, or on Earth. There is no changing that. And currently we are the ones who hold the upper hand; the Emperor is unaware of our plan, and our progress. However should things go wrong, I am prepared to twist back in time once more, but only if things go wrong. Is that sufficient?”

“Yes, thank you N. Tropy. I believe you have your answer, Oxide.”

Oxide raised his eyebrows and blinked. “Yes. I suppose I can’t argue with that.”

“And one more thing, Tropy, how are the weapon systems coming along?”

We believe repairs will be complete within the hour.”

“Excellent. That be will all.”

“So that leaves me an hour to continue working on my engine,” said Oxide.

“Less time than that, Oxide. I need you in your ship and ready to go when the weapons come back on line.”

Oxide nodded slowly. “Yes. All right. I’ll be there.” Cortex nodded back and he pivoted on two feet and left.

“What should I do, Dr Cortex?” Kong asked.

“You may continue working on the translation. Is it nearly complete?”

“It is.”

“Excellent. Now the only thing left to do is wait.”

 


“Dr Cortex, the weapons are now back online,” said Kong.

Cortex took a deep breath and let it go. “The moment is upon us then.” He flipped open the compartment in the right arm of his command chair and opened a channel to Oxide’s ship. “Oxide are you there?”

I’m here. Is it time?”

“Yes. You should move away as far as you can. With your ship being as small as it is, you face a greater risk of being destroyed if you are too close to the explosion.”

Now you tell me,” Oxide muttered. “If you would be so kind as to remove the docking clamps from my ship.”

Cortex nodded to Kong who turned to the forward console and disengaged the docking clamps. The Bridge doors whooshed open and Tropy in his portable time twister stepped in followed by Brio and N. Gin. Cortex nodded at them as they took up positions at the other consoles and then switched on the comm. “This is Dr Cortex. I don’t know exactly what is going to happen, but we are now preparing to commence the operation. I suggest you all find something to hang onto; Things are about to get very. . . interesting.”

“Oxide’s ship has cleared the Space Station and is moving away,” Kong informed him.

“No w-word from the Emperor th-though,” Brio added.

Cortex steepled his fingers. “Give him time. He’s probably waiting for Oxide to get clear.”

A minute dragged by before Kong spoke again. “One of the Emperor’s escort ships has just shot off one of Oxide’s engines.”

“And we’re b-being hailed,” Brio added.

Cortex nodded. “Now everyone, let’s put on a little show for the Emperor. We don’t want to tip our hand too soon.”

“Understood,” they chorused.

“And Kong. Inform me the moment the weapon reaches a seventy five percent charge.”

“Yes, Dr Cortex.”

“Put him through.” The Emperor appeared on the view screen once more and he barely had the time to utter, “Emperor-” before the Gasmoxian was speaking.

“Dr Cortex,” He said with deliberation. “I do not know the reason for my son’s sudden departure. . . but I do not care to know.”

He gulped. “Surely we can-”

“Oh no, Dr Cortex. I am not interested in negotiation. All I wanted from you was an answer, and I have received it. So your usefulness to me has come to an end. Begin the firing procedure,” he said and then smiled.

“Cortex, he’s charging his weapon!” Tropy informed in an alarmed tone that was very convincing.

“I can see that,” he snapped back.

“W-w-w-what do we do?” Brio asked in a panic that probably wasn’t entirely for show.

He squeezed his eyes shut. “There’s nothing we can do.”

“If you have any last words, speak them now,” said the Emperor. Cortex exchanged wordless looks with the other scientists. “Well? Do you?”

He was speechless. He dropped his gaze and frowned. Then Kong caught his eye and nodded. “Yes,” he breathed, a hopeful expression blooming on his face. “Open fire.”

The smile dropped off Emperor Oxide’s face. “What?”

N. Gin, who was manning the weapons station, fired off a volley of missiles. They arced through space and slammed into the Emperor’s ship. The pool of energy destabilised and bloomed outwards, swallowing the ship and the two escorts in a brilliant explosion of light. The Emperor’s image disappeared from the view screen with barely a change of expression; he had had no time to utter any last words.

“Dr Cortex,” Kong spoke with concern. “The energy wave is still coming. . .”

Cortex nodded and flicked on the comm. “Everyone brace for impact.”