Chapter 1: Crash to the Future
It was a dark and stormy night, not fit out for man nor bandicoot. If you were to venture out into the ocean somewhere between Australia and New Zealand, you'd find yourself at a secret trio of islands that, tonight, were being vomited on by tidal waves and storm clouds. And, if you were to venture though the vilest, most polluted one of these islands, minding the potoroo gangsters that maintained the power plant, you'd find a crooked castle looming over the archipelago, complete with an airship tied to the top, rocking back and forth through the sky like a balloon in the wind.
And if you were to somehow make it through the halls of this castle, minding the occasional swinging ax and a couple yellow blob monsters from down in the laboratory, you'd hear a pair of voices in the midst of a heated argument.
"But Dr. Cortex, we have not determined the cause of past failures!" One voice was timid and stuttering.
"Moron! This bandicoot will be my general, and he will lead my Cortex Commandos to world domination! This time, I shall reign triumphant!" And the other was, well, the exact opposite.
Next, you'd have heard the sounds of crackling electricity and some high-pitched squeals. The electrocution wasn't actually integral to the experiment. It was just that, when given the option between electrocuting the test subject and not electrocuting the test subject, Dr. Cortex tended to favor the former.
"We are closer than ever before! Quickly, into the vor-"
And then, you'd have heard a third voice suddenly cry out, "Stop!"
"What the-? How did you get in here?"
"Neo, you fool," the newcomer spat. "Don't you have any idea what you're about to do?"
"W-Who are you?" asked the timid voice.
"Wait a minute, I remember you!" said the deeper voice. "We had Evil Laughter 101 together at the Academy. You're Dr. N-"
"Listen to me, Neo," cut in the newcomer. "If you want your dreams of world domination to ever come to fruition, you must do exactly as I say..."
It was an incredibly appropriate time for a clap of thunder.
Wumpa fruit. Wumpa fruit everywhere the eye could see. It trailed off beyond the horizon no matter which way you turned your head. The sunlight gave the sea of fruit an almost golden glow. And standing in the middle of this heaven on earth was a bright orange bandicoot, a toothy grin spreading over his face.
Suddenly, a Wumpa the size of a boulder erupted from the pile and landed before the bandicoot's sneakers.
"We love you, Crash!" the delectable snack declared in an angelic voice. "We want to be with you forever..." Crash opened his mouth wide, preparing the oblige its request, and then-
"Crash! Crash! Wake up!"
Our hero reluctantly opened his eyes to find another bandicoot looming over him – a teenager with fur as orange as his and her blonde hair tied back in a ponytail. Being a girl, Coco couldn't quite pull off the "nothing-but-pants" look of her brothers, and she'd outgrown her overalls, so now Coco wore a white t-shirt with a flower on it. See, because she was a GIRL, and girls like flowers and pink and stuff.
Crash let out an irritable grumble. This was not the first time he'd had his beauty sleep rudely interrupted, and if Crash had to fetch a battery one more time, somebody's butt was getting spun.
"Crash, get up! This is important!" Crash would've happily ignored her and drifted back off, but then Coco started shaking him. Sensing the urgency in her voice, Crash yawned and pulled himself to his feet.
Our lovable marsupial had dozed off in front of the hut's fireplace, napping in his usual belly-up, arms outstretched fashion. He rubbed the sleep from his eyes and looked around. Coco hadn't come to Crash alone; she was accompanied by their adopted brother, Crunch – a bigger, beefier bandicoot with reddish-brown fur who shared Crash's hatred for wearing shirts.
"That jerk Cortex is down at the beach tearing stuff up with his robots!" said Crunch. "C'mon, we've gotta go kick his butt again!" He slapped his metal fist into his palm to punctuate the point.
"Hold up, Crunch, maybe we should think things through," said Coco. "Something seems off here. Cortex should still be stuck in some random dimension after his Psychetron backfired on him. How'd he get back to our world so fast?"
Crunch rolled his eyes. "Because Cortex always comes back."
"And what about Aku Aku? He ran off to that outer space temple of his, remember? He said he sensed an 'imbalance in the time stream.'"
"That's just more of Aku Aku's mumbo-jumbo." Crunch let out an impatient huff. "C'mon, when has Cortex ever been an actual problem for us? We'll beat him like we always do."
"I guess you're right..." And with that, Coco and Crunch ran outside.
Crash lingered behind a while longer. He wanted to make sure he had all his equipment on before running head-first into battle with the forces of villainy. Blue jeans? Check. Sneakers? Check. Fingerless gloves? Check, and highly fashionable. Crash even still had on his knee-pads, a recent addition to her arsenal upon Coco's insistence that Crash keep his knees protected from all the sliding and double-jumping he tended to do.
Our fuzzy hero took one last glance around the house. The Bandicoot household was littered with items that, though seemingly random, were actually memorabilia from past adventures: A jet-ski, a racing trophy, Mecha-Bandicoot's head mounted on the wall... Above the fireplace rested an old photo of Crash's ex, Tawna, and on the other end of the living room, Polar and Pura – Crash's pet polar bear cub and Coco's pet tiger cub respectively – were engaged in a match of tug-of-war over a slobbery piece of rope.
Crash let out another yawn. He had half a mind to nod off again, but luckily, Crash's heroicness usually outweighed his laziness. And besides, the thought of N. Sanity Island's total destruction made it hard to sleep soundly. Smacking his lips, Crash took the time to scratch both Polar and himself behind the ears, then followed his siblings out the door. Guess it was time to save the world again.
The beach where Crash had washed up all those years ago was only a few steps from his hut. N. Sanity Beach was exactly as Crash remembered it. Broken tiki boats littered the shore, crabs scurried back and forth over the sand, wooden crates floated inexplicably in the air, and giant, destructive robots launched rockets and set fire to the trees.
Crash did a double-take. His jaw dropped. He'd fought Cortex's robots before. Cortex's robots were floating security cameras and little machines with arms that opened or closed depending on whether you needed to spin them or jump on them. These things attacking the beach were not Cortex's robots. These robots were twice as tall and armed with every weapon under the sun – machine guns, saw blades, missile launchers, you name it. You wouldn't have thought they were actually Cortex's if they didn't have the unmistakable "N" logos on their chests and the standard Lab Assistant faces with big round Harry Potter glasses.
The robots seemed to have backed Coco and Crunch into a corner, so Crash sprang into action. He gave the head robot his hardest tornado-spin, but all this accomplished was to make Crash hop around and clutch his sneaker in pain.
"Dang it! These guys are too strong!" Even Crunch's metal fist failed to leave a dent.
"I've got an idea," said Coco. "Follow me!" The instant the Lab Assistants launched their homing missiles, Coco leaped into the air via her kung fu skills and landed on one of the robot's shoulders. At the last second, Coco tumbled out of the way, causing the missile to hit the unlucky Assistant and explode spectacularly.
When the smoke cleared, there was nothing left of the robot but its head, which rolled to a halt at Coco's feet. The other Lab Assistants backed away slowly.
Crash and Crunch traded glances.
The next instant, the air was filled with spinning, jumping, and backflipping bandicoots. Every last missile, bullet, and plasma-ray was led into a Lab Assistant instead of a lovable marsupial. Pretty soon, Crash and his siblings had racked up a respectable robot body count.
But it wasn't enough. The robots kept coming and coming, tens of hundreds of them teleporting onto the beach, two for every one the bandicoots destroyed.
"W-Where do these things keep coming from?" Even Crunch was out of breath, and he was nothing but a big hunk of muscles with fur.
No sooner had the question left his mouth than the leader of the robots teleported before them. The bandicoots could tell this was the leader by the shape of its metal head: A gigantic, flat-topped forehead with a gray "N" branded on it, a lower lip the proportional size of a banana, and strips of pointy black steel representing the beard, and, err, unique hairstyle of one Dr. Neo Cortex. Naturally, this robot was also much larger than the Lab Assistants, which was where the resemblance ended seeing as Cortex made Peter Dinklage look gigantic. And, more troubling, its entire left arm seemed to be a scaled-up version of Cortex's signature ray-gun.
"Cortex! I was wondering when you'd show your ugly mug!" spat Coco. "How'd you get back to our dimension?"
The Cortex-bot stayed silent. Frankly, the idea of Cortex keeping his trap shut was a bit unsettling, but the bandicoots were too preoccupied to dwell on it. Wordlessly, the Cortex-bot made a sweeping gesture, and then another person teleported into battle. But this one wasn't a robot...
Crunch and Coco gasped while Crash merely looked confused. Standing before them was a perfect copy of none other than Crash Bandicoot himself. From the reddish-brown mohawk to the cream-colored fur around his chin and tummy, he was an exact match. The only difference was their fashion sense – this Crash's gloves and jeans were jet black, and he also wore an equally black cape around his neck (insofar as Crash can be said to have a neck).
The evil Crash (but not the Evil Crash because that is a totally different dude who lives in the Tenth Dimension) let out a maniacal cackle. Like our Crash, this one had a giant, toothy grin, only his grin seemed less goofy and more murderously insane.
"That's your evil plan this time?" scoffed Crunch. "Cloning Crash?"
"Making the exact same bandicoot twice?" smirked Coco. "Talk about being creatively-bankrupt."
Crash smiled and waved at his twin. He figured any clone of himself must be a pretty swell guy. But the other Crash apparently didn't see it that way, seeing as he responded by pouncing forth and spinning into Crash-prime while cackling like a maniac.
"Whoa!" yelped Crash.
"Big brother!" Coco and Crunch tried to attack Crash's clone, but he effortlessly dodged and spun both of them into submission.
The robo-Cortex stepped forward, patting the Crash clone's shoulder with his mechanical arm. "Excellent work, Crash, my boy. Now ready the Vice-Versa Reverser Device." On his master's orders, the caped Crash pulled out a gigantic machine that had miraculously fit inside his pants, then wedged it into the ground.
Our Crash managed to feebly lift his head just in time to see the device give off a spooky green glow. The last thing Crash saw was a wave of darkness passing over the sky. Then everything went black.
On the plus side, Crash got to catch up on his beauty sleep after all.
Chapter 2: Crash Landing
Chickens. Thousands upon thousands of chickens piling up into the sky. Crash wanted nothing more than to spin the critters to his heart's content, sending feathers flying every which way, but... he knew Farmer Ernest would not approve. Crash bowed his head, his ears drooping.
But then, a very rare and special thing happened. Ernest noticed how sad his pointless "no spinning chickens" policy made Crash, and a sympathetic smile crossed his beak.
"Come on in, Crash," said the emu, swinging the gate open. "I'm just a silly farmer. What do I know? Go ahead, spin all the chickens you want."
Crash's tongue flopped out, drooling in anticipation. He charged towards the chicken horde, readying his spinning muscles, and then-
"Crash... Crash Bandicoot! Please! You must awaken, child!"
Crash groaned and opened his eyes. He was getting ready to express his displeasure with a sour look when he realized who'd woken him: Aku Aku.
Aku Aku had been Crash's first ever friend – well, besides Tawna, but she'd been a girlfriend, which was slightly different. The spirit of a powerful witch doctor sealed inside a wooden tiki mask, Crash's brightly-plummaged buddy was probably his biggest boon on adventures. Without Aku Aku, Crash would've died the first time a crab brushed against him. But these past few days, Aku Aku had teleported off to his temple in hyperspace thanks to some "imbalance in the time stream" he kept going on about. Crash wasn't sure why a spirit from an ancient civilization had a temple smack in the middle of outer space, but he figured it was best not to worry about it.
Crash was so happy to see Aku Aku again that he jumped out from where he'd been sleeping to give the mask a bear hug, not even noticing his surroundings.
But Aku Aku was acting weird. "Um... I am pleased you are so ecstatic to see me, brave hero, but shouldn't we get to know each other first before you invade my personal space?"
Crash frowned and released him. This wasn't right. Aku Aku was talking like Crash was a stranger, but they'd known each other for years! Every time Crash had got hit, Aku Aku had taken the fall for him! How could he forget everything they'd been through?
"You must be quite confused, noble bandicoot warrior," said Aku Aku. "Please, do not be alarmed by your surroundings."
Crash immediately looked around, alarmed. He appeared to be standing on a sunny beach. Why, that wasn't alarming at all! Crash grinned and picked up a nearby hermit crab, but upon closer inspection, Crash realized the crab was made of plastic. His grin faded, and Crash dropped the crab back into the sand, which was also plastic. Even the clear blue sky was actually a painted backdrop.
"Crash Bandicoot, you have been sleeping for a very, very long time." Aku Aku seemed to be looking at something behind him, so Crash turned around to see what the big deal was about. He gasped.
Standing before them was a large, mechanical pod wrapped in cords and wires. Was that where Crash had been sleeping? A funny feeling tugged at the pit of his stomach.
"I promise I shall explain everything soon," Aku Aku said in an urgent whisper, "but first we must escape this wretched place and go somewhere safe. Lord Cortex's forces will be arriving any minute-"
"Or maybe," said a voice from behind them, "they're already here."
"No! It cannot be!" Aku Aku and Crash spun around to find the Cortex-bot from before staring them down, along with a small handful of those suped-up Lab Assistants.
Lord Cortex raised his ray-gun arm, which glowed green. Crash winced and closed his eyes, but instead of the noise of disintegrating bandicoot, Crash heard glass shattering. Cautiously, he reopened an eye. Apparently, there'd been a plane of glass between Cortex and the fake beach. Our orange hero sighed in relief.
"Crash, my boy!" Lord Cortex cheerfully outstretched his robo-arms. "It's been too long!"
Crash folded his arms and scowled at Cortex, but if this bothered the mad scientist, he didn't show it.
"You monster!" yelled Aku Aku. "How dare you-?"
"Oh, you and your overreactions, Aku Aku!" Lord Cortex's voice laughed from within the machine. "Listen, Crash, whatever this hunk of wood has told you, I'm really not that bad a guy."
"He's lying, Crash!" said Aku Aku. "Don't listen to anything he- Mmph mmph mmph!" A Lab Assistant had clamped a hand over his mouth.
Now Crash was confused. On one hand, Aku Aku was much more trustworthy than Dr. Cortex. On the other hand, Crash was extremely gullible.
"What's wrong, Crash?" chuckled the doctor. "Is it the helmet? Here, is this better?" The robo-head folded back, revealing the true Cortex beneath.
Crash gasped. The last time he'd seen Cortex, his skin had been bright yellow, the big "N" on his forehead had been bluer, and his voice had been a bit softer. But now Cortex looked like he had in the old days – His skin was closer to a regular Caucasian, his "N" was gray, his voice was deeper and less goofy-sounding, and he had way fewer polygons.
Or, um, maybe the old Cortex had been depicted in super detailed HD graphics. Crash scratched his head. He was remembering both versions for some reason.
"Oh, don't look so surprised," smirked Lord Cortex. "I imagine you're quite confused right about now-" Crash nodded pitifully. "-so allow me to bring you up to speed. Come, walk with me."
Crash considered declining the offer, but then he noticed the Lab Assistants aiming their weapons at him, and he thought better of it. The procession of robots, bandicoot, and mad scientist stepped over the broken glass, the robots carrying a struggling Aku Aku. They left the pod and fake beach behind and stepped into a long, dark hallway.
"I've been studying you closely, my orange companion," Lord Cortex said as they strolled. "The Neo Cortex you know is an incompetent, washed-up fool who you constantly defeat. In fact, you've gained quite the reputation among the populace of my world, which I assume is why that moronic mask went through all the trouble of breaking into my humble home and awakening you from cryo-sleep."
Crash tried to smile at the compliment, but to be honest, this new, robotic Cortex intimidated him. It felt wrong for Cortex to tower over Crash instead of the other way around.
"But you see, your victory over this Cortex is a mere fluke," continued Lord Cortex. "A random flux in the temporal continuum that branched off into an alternate timeline." Crash would've been taking careful notes on this important information, but he was too busy cleaning wax out of his ears. "In the true timeline – this timeline – my endeavors into world domination were quite successful. You've already met your true self, of course. But why are you still alive, you ask? Well, you could say I'm a bit of a collector." Lord Cortex motioned towards other slabs of glass in the wall. Crash's eyes widened.
The pod where Crash had been sleeping wasn't the only one in this hallway. There were rows upon rows of these pods lining the walls, each in a different fake environment behind a pane of glass like some twisted museum. And in each pod was a different slumbering hero. There was a fantasy castle-themed one with a pod holding a purple dragon, a dystopian city one with a pod holding some weird pointy-eared, spiky-haired guy with a smaller pod next to it holding some strange orange mammalian creature, and countless others.
"You see, I wasn't content to merely enslave my own world," said Cortex, "so I used the Psychetron – one of my most ingenious inventions, if I do say so myself – to enslave the Infinite Dimensions, too. I even enslaved alternate timelines like yours. I imagine my Vice-Versa Reverser Device has made quite a mess of your homeworld by now. And so instead of letting all these defeated heroes go to waste, I've started a little trophy room."
But Crash wasn't listening anymore. He was too busy gaping in horror at all the heroes – a yellow-orange feline creature and a tiny robot in a sci-fi setting, a sneaky-looking raccoon in a Paris setting... It went on and on. Crash was so transfixed that it took him a moment to notice Lord Cortex was staring at him.
"Bandicoots truly are a majestic species, don't you think?" He flashed Crash a skeevy smile.
Crash raised an eyebrow and made the kind of face that said, "Hey, I don't swing that way, buddy."
"You'd be the perfect mutant solider if it wasn't for your crippling mental defects," said Lord Cortex. Then suddenly, he said, "Ah, here we are. What a gorgeous view!"
The procession had reached a gigantic window that gave a nice, clear view of the sun setting on a pair of islands. For a minute, Crash almost didn't recognize them.
"Aren't they beautiful?" grinned Cortex. "I call them Neo Island-" He pointed to the first island, which had a Cortex-head carved into the mountainside with a waterfall pouring from the mouth. "-Periwinkle Island-" He pointed to the second island, which mostly consisted of a gigantic tree stump. "-and Cortex Island." He motioned to where they were standing.
Crash's heart sank. These were N. Sanity, Wumpa, and Cortex Islands, Crash's home, only they'd traded all their forests and temples for tall black buildings and thick smog. This couldn't be happening. The islands couldn't be… be…
Crash felt faint. The next thing he knew, his sneakers left the ground, and Crash, well, crashed through the window.
"Uh oh," said Crash. He had just enough time to look down before the laws of physics kicked in. The deja vu would've been staggering, except recent renovations had left Cortex Castle twice as tall as before.
Aku Aku escaped the Lab Assistant's grasp long enough to cry out, "Crash! NO!" before watching him plummet to the ocean below.
"Well, that's just great," said Lord Cortex. "Now I need a new display for my trophy room. Also, a new window."
Landing in the ocean was exactly as unpleasant an experience as Crash remembered. He kicked and spluttered to breach the surface, but without his trusty scuba gear on, Crash couldn't swim for beans. Salt water filled his lungs as the world around him grew fainter and fainter...
As fate would have it, Crash washed up on exactly the same spot as last time, only instead of N. Sanity Beach, it was now called "Neo's Truckin' Parking Garage." Also, the soft, comfortable sand had been replaced with pavement.
Crash groaned and coughed up seawater, then flopped over onto his back, his eyelids drooping. Call him crazy, but Crash was feeling a little down. He'd failed. The other shoe had dropped. His endless battles with Dr. Cortex had finally reached their inevitable conclusion: Cortex had won.
The only bright side Crash could see to all this madness was that at least things couldn't possibly get any worse.
"Crash... Bandicoot?" said a voice from behind him. "Tiny squash Crash Bandicoot..."
Chapter 3: Authentic Australian Cuisine
I know what you're thinking. You're thinking, "Wait a minute, you referenced Crash Nitro Kart, but it looks like this fanfic is happening right after Twinsanity. But Twinsanity happened right after Wrath of Cortex because Cortex and Uka Uka were still frozen at the beginning, but Nitro Kart had both Crunch and Cortex in it, so that can't possibly-" *head explodes*
Days of Future Crash: Where continuity goes to die!
"Tiny squash Crash Bandicoot... WITH HUGS!"
Crash made a horrified gurgling noise as one of his worst enemies gave him a big, squishy hug.
"Tiny can't believe it really Crash!" Tiny cheered, squeezing Crash tighter. "It really great hero of legend!"
Something was seriously wrong here. Visually, Tiny Tiger was the same as ever – same old loin cloth, same old sneakers, same old light orange fur with brown stripes on his back because contrary to his surname, Tiny was actually a thylacine, a Tasmanian tiger, an extinct marsupial and not a feline tiger at all, which fits much better with the Australian motif, and you'd have to be a total idiot to get him mixed up with a real tiger because what kind of tiger lives in Australia?
The point is, normally Crash would've been squished like a grape by now, but somehow, Tiny came across as a tad less ferocious than normal.
"Tiny go show Crash to all his friends!" Without further ado, Tiny slung the bamboozled bandicoot over his shoulder and ran out the parking garage.
On the other side of Neo's Truckin' Parking Garage, a truck had parked, and out stepped a man and woman of the ordinary human, non-Evolvo-Rayed-animal variety.
"I dunno," frowned the man. "I've heard this place isn't very good..."
"I don't care!" snapped the woman. "I'm starving!"
The couple crossed the street into a restaurant, which a blaring neon sign proclaimed as Dingo's Diner. The restaurant's interior appeared to have been halfheartedly decorated with stuffed koalas and kangaroos, and it was serious disrepair. The man stood in the doorway and warily watched a swarm of flies buzz about.
He was about to turn tail when a voice called out, "G'day, mates! Welcome to Dingo's Diner, the only joint of these here islands that serves quasi-authentic semi-edible Australian food!"
"Gah!" The couple recoiled at the creature standing before them. It was hard to tell if it was a reptile or a mammal. The thing had the tail of a crocodile but with the unmistakable ears and fur of a dingo, all wrapped up in a shirtless, pants-wearing package.
"Dingodile's the name." Sensing the couple's unease, Dingodile hurriedly added, "Ah, did I mention Dingo's Diner is also the only joint on the islands to feature live marsupial entertainment?" Dingodile shot a look towards a brown, ratlike mutant seated in the corner. The mutant glanced up from his newspaper ("The Neo Times"), spotted the customers, then gasped and hopped out of his chair to do a pathetic little dance.
The couple was less than pleased with this. For one thing, the mutant's slicked-back hair and red pinstriped suit didn't scream "Australian outback." For another thing, the couple had realized they were the only two customers in the restaurant.
"Fantastic, just fantastic!" Dingodile laughed, a hint of desperation in his voice. "Let's give a big round of applause for Pinstripe Potoroo!"
There was a resounding silence.
"It's customary to tip," remarked Pinstripe, returning to his newspaper.
"Let's say we order you blokes some food." Dingodile retrieved a pen and notepad from his jeans pocket. "Remember, you got the whole Australian cuisine at your fingertips-"
"Salad," the woman immediately answered.
"Chicken," said the man.
"And a diet cola," added the woman.
Dingodile sighed heavily, then went to bang on a pot dangling from the ceiling. "Hey, Rusty!"
"Whuh?" The kitchen door swung open, and out came a sky blue walrus wearing a white chef's hat.
"Toss a garden and throw a flightless bird on the barbie," said Dingodile. "Oh, and pour a Diet Cortexa-Cola."
"Okie dokie!" The door closed back.
"Wait a minute." The woman's eyes narrowed. "Are you really Australian mutants?"
"Of course we are." Dingodile let out an anxious laugh. "Mutated by Lord Cortex's own Evolvo-Ray."
"I thought Lord Cortex only mutated bandicoots."
Dingodile bowed his head. "No, no, he... he made a couple others first before Commander Crash came along... but we're all rejects."
"Fine, but I don't think you're all Australian," said the woman. "Walruses aren't Australian."
"Well, yeah, but-"
"And what about that thing?" She pointed to Pinstripe. "I mean, what the heck is a 'potoroo' supposed to be, anyways?"
Pinstripe looked up from his newspaper and recited in his Italian gangster accent, in a tone of voice that implied he's had this exact conversation a million times over: "A potoroo is an endangered kangaroo-like marsupial of the genus Potorous-"
"And what's a 'dingodile?'" demanded the man. "That's not even a real thing!"
"Well," said Dingodile, "it's a portmanteau of 'dingo' and-"
"I want to see a real Australian animal!" yelled the woman. "Do you have a koala mutant? I've only ever seen koalas in zoos ever since our glorious Lord Cortex wisely chose to bulldoze the continent of Australia to make room for that giant gold statue of himself."
"Well... we do have a koala," said Dingodile, wiping sweat from his brow, "but you gotta understand, he ain't-"
"Bring. Out. The koala."
With a resigned sigh, Dingodile called out, "Kong?"
Out from a back room stepped a hulking, muscular koala mutant with a sweaty red sleeveless shirt, sweaty yellow sweatpants, and an even sweatier patch of black chest hair. Kong stared at the couple with a blank expression.
"Eww!" spat the woman. "He's gross!"
"Well, not all koalas get to be cute and cuddly-" Dingodile began.
"Dinner time!" It was at this point that Rusty Walrus burst through the kitchen door and proudly handed the couple their plates of food. "Dig in!"
"It's about time." The humans grouchily seated themselves at a table.
The woman was bringing her fork to her mouth when her boyfriend cried out, "Wait! We forgot to bless our food!"
"Oh, right, thank you for reminding me."
They bowed their heads and put their hands together as the man recited: "Dear Cortex, thank you for this meal. Amen."
And with that out of the way, they started eating. A moment later, however, they spat their food back out.
"This tastes like stinky walrus!" yelled the man.
"And not in a good way!" added the woman.
"We're not paying for this."
The couple stormed out the restaurant. As soon as they were gone, Rusty threw down his hat and furiously stomped on it while Koala Kong burst into tears.
"Oh, what's the point?" Dingodile clutched his head with his hands. "Cortex was right – we're just a buncha useless lesser mutations!"
"Youze think the humans will ever accept us?" scoffed Pinstripe. "Forget about it! Nothin' short of a miracle could-"
"TINY FIND LEGENDARY HERO!"
Back at the new-and-improved Cortex Castle, Lord Cortex stood before the shattered window overlooking the islands, his helmet folded back over his face. Aku Aku floated beside him, imprisoned in a blue forcefield bubble. Nearby, a janitor Lab Assistant swept up shards of glass with a humble broom and dustpan.
"I always knew the good Crash Bandicoot was more than a mere legend," said Aku Aku. "Do not get too comfortable, Cortex. You're about to lose your entire empire."
"Ha! You really think one braindead marsupial can stop me?" Lord Cortex let out a hearty evil laugh. "This Crash may have beaten me in his own timeline, but in this one, I'm already nigh-unstoppable."
"It is fate," Aku Aku said simply. "Crash will always defeat Cortex."
"Oh please, you ancient hunk of wood!" sneered Cortex. "Do you have any idea how many variants of himself Commander Crash has killed while conquering the Infinite Dimensions? Fat Crashes, short Crashes, evil Crashes... even an alternate future where we all looked and acted completely different, and instead of spinning crates and collecting crystals, Crash beat up larger mutants with his fists and then rode around on their backs! Thank god that nonsense never came to pass."
"Oh, come now, you're making that up!"
Just then, a handful of Lab Assistants entered the hallway with a prisoner in tow.
"Lord Cortex," beeped a robot, "we are experiencing some issues dealing with this prisoner."
"What?" Cortex glanced over at it. "Isn't that the one who escaped even after we handcuffed him? Didn't I order you to stick him in the guillotine?"
"Yes, Lord Cortex, but our efforts to decapitate him have been unsuccessful."
Cortex rolled his eyes (not that you could tell with his helmet on). "How do you possibly screw up a simple decapitation?"
"The prisoner doesn't have a neck, sir."
"Well, then cut off his arms!"
The Lab Assistant looked over the prisoner. "He doesn't have those, either. His extremities float off of his torso. It's pretty freaky, sir."
Cortex let out a groan of frustration. "Fine, then stick him in a pod and put him in cryo-sleep with the other heroes."
The Lab Assistants dragged the prisoner off, causing his screams to grow fainter and fainter: "You monster! Just you wait! I've beaten a whole army of robo-pirates! I can take you! I can..."
Cortex turned back to Aku Aku. "Ugh. See what I have to put up with?"
"You poor thing," said Aku Aku flatly.
Behind them, the janitor Lab Assistant sighed and shook its head.
Chapter 4: Invasion of the Bandicoot Snatchers
Take a drink every time I make an obscure reference to the games!
The staff of Dingo's Diner watched in stunned silence as Tiny roughly deposited the legendary hero onto the floor. Crash picked himself up, dusted himself off, and then looked up to discover he was sharing the room with a pyromaniac hybrid monstrosity, a steroid-filled koala, a walrus wielding a butcher's knife, and a trigger-happy gangster stereotype. Crash locked eyes with Rusty, who licked his lips. Crash tried to give a friendly smile, but his drooping ears betrayed him.
Pinstripe was the first to speak. "Orange fur... blue jeans... sneakers... Hey, dat iz the legendary hero!" Crash's ears perked up.
"Legendary hero?" gasped Rusty. "You mean the Crash Bandicoot from the alternate timeline who always defeated Cortex and was rumored to be on display at Cortex Castle? That legendary hero?"
"Tiny recognize him anywhere," Tiny said proudly. "He look just like Commander Crash."
"Y'know, now that you mention it, he does bear a resemblance," said Rusty. "He's got a little less meat on him, though." Koala Kong nodded his agreement.
"Hold the phone a minute!" yelled Dingodile, scowling at Crash. "I think he looks a little too much like Commander Crash. How do we know this ain't some kinda trick?"
"Hmm..." Tiny looked lost. "This tough problem. We need someone smart to solve."
"I've got it!" Pinstripe snapped his fingers. "We can ask Ripper Roo!"
"Great idea!" said Rusty. "Ripper Roo is the smartest, calmest, sanest guy around!"
Crash's eyebrows jumped up in a "WTF?" expression.
"Alright, then, that's settled." Dingodile banged on the pot hanging from the ceiling again. "Hey, Roo, c'mere, willya?"
The kitchen door swung open, and out hopped the person Crash had come to think of more as a walking landmine than a blue kangaroo. Crash involuntarily flinched as Roo opened his mouth, bracing himself for the maniacal laughter.
"I say, if it isn't the legendary hero, Crash Bandicoot!" proclaimed Ripper Roo in a heavy English accent (pronouncing it "bandy-coot"). "Why, I never thought I'd see such a sight before my very eyes!"
Had he had a drink in his mouth, Crash would've spit it out right about now.
The only sign of Ripper Roo's insanity was his straightjacket – which, granted, is a pretty big sign – but other than that, he came off as surprisingly put-together. His mustache was well-groomed, his bowtie was straight, and he had a black tophat on his head. Oh, and behind the pair of glasses pushed over his snout, Ripper Roo's eyes were white with pupils instead of yellow and swirly, which was a definite sign of sanity. It was pretty much how Roo had dressed during his second fight with Crash, only without the part where Roo immediately went back to being insane.
"No need to stare, Mr. Bandicoot," said Ripper Roo. "Is it the straightjacket? That's a leftover from my less sophisticated days before I discovered the wonders of therapy. We've attempted to remove it, but the buckles are stuck. It's quite embarrassing, really, but you get used to it. My name is Dr. Ripperonius Roobert, but my colleges refer to me as 'Ripper Roo' for short. Pleased to make your acquaintance, legendary hero." Dr. Roo offered a foot. Crash shook it with his hand, though he had to be wary of the razor-sharp (but well-groomed) toenails.
"So you think this bloke is legit, then?" said Dingodile.
"Most certainly," nodded Dr. Roo. "The legendary hero is said to be a kindhearted soul with the IQ of a cardboard box-" Crash grinned at the compliment. "-whereas Commander Crash is a cruel, bloodthirsty monster."
"Good enough for Tiny," said Tiny. "Now Crash save us from mean Lord Cortex!"
"Yeah," nodded Pinstripe. "He may not look like much, but if dis guy could escape Cortex Castle single-handed and make it all the way to Neo Island, he must be pretty tough." Crash flexed his muscles. When he really strained, they were nearly as thick as bean sprouts.
Dingodile groaned in frustration. "This bloke couldn't take on Lord Cortex in a million years!"
"What do you mean?" frowned Dr. Roo.
"Just- Just look at him!" Dingodile pointed to Crash, who was busy picking his nose. "He's so dumb he can't even talk!"
Koala Kong let out an indignant gasp.
"No, no, you ain't dumb, Kong!" spluttered Dingodile. "I only meant-"
"Tiny see nothing wrong with Crash," said Tiny, who also had a finger up his nose.
"I think we can count on Crash!" said Rilla Roo, the half-gorilla, half-kangaroo mutant. Everyone else in the room suddenly raised their heads, mystified.
"Did you blokes hear something?" asked Dingodile.
"I didn't hear nothin'," said Pinstripe.
"It was probably just the wind," said Dr. Roo.
"Never mind... Forget I said anything..." Rilla Roo returned to his corner to cry softly to himself.
Dingodile was about to keep arguing as if nothing had happened, but then the front door swung open, revealing yet another familiar face standing in the doorway – With those overalls and straw hat, there was no mistaking this emu for anyone but Farmer Ernest. But rather than his usual pleasant demeanor, Ernest seemed to be out of breath, his eyes the size of dinner plates.
"They're coming! They're coming!"
"Who coming?" gulped Tiny.
Ernest managed to utter only a single, terrifying word: "Bandicoots."
A chill fell over the room.
"No," breathed Dingodile. There was a feminine scream. Everyone's head shot towards the culprit – Koala Kong.
"Dang it! They musta caught wind o' my Wumpa Whip smugglin' operation!" Pinstripe scambled for a vintage tommy gun hanging on the wall.
Crash was confused. How could all these big, strong mutants be scared of a couple lovable bandicoots? But before Crash could dwell on this, Tiny manhandled him again.
"Sorry, legendary hero." Tiny emptied a nearby potted plant, then squished Crash inside and poured the dirt back on top of him.
"Wait, was that Crash Bandi- Agh!" Farmer Ernest never got to finish his question because at that exact moment, a plasma-bullet struck him. "Not... again..." Ernest managed to say before the paralysis overtook him.
A handful of Lab Assistants barged into the room, accompanied by a trio of familiar-looking bandicoots. A pair of googly white cartoon eyes stuck from out the top of the potted plant, then widened in shock. It was Coco, Crunch, and Tawna!
Outwardly, they looked the same as always, but their outfits had been replaced with black leather uniforms with red "N" logos on them, and, of course, dark sunglasses over their eyes. And behind the sunglasses, their faces didn't look as quite as warm and friendly as usual.
Pinstripe wasn't looking at Tawna's face, though. "Hey, sugar. To what do I owe the pleasure of- Ack!"
Like a spring-loaded trap, Tawna kicked Pinstripe between the legs, then yanked the tommy gun from his hands and snapped it over his knee.
"My baby!" Pinstripe fell to the floor, clutching his broken weapon.
"Lord Cortex gave us strict orders to search the premises." Tawna's usual breathy voice had been replaced by a cold monotone. "Any citizens found harboring a fugitive bandicoot are to be subjected under section B of the 'Cortex-rules-the-world-he-can-do-whatever-he-wants' clause to immediate disintegration."
Crash couldn't believe his eyes. The Tawna he knew was a little ditzy, sure, and leaving Crash to date Pinstripe and work at the Moulin Cortex wasn't the best judgment call ever, but she wasn't evil!
"Hey, you can't just barge in here and boss us around!" yelled Dingodile. "We're Cortex's creations, too! We're your equals!"
"Are you disrespecting the master?" Crunch raised a fist.
"What? No, I-"
"ARE YOU DISRESPECTING THE MASTER?"
"Crikey!" Dingodile received a face full of metal-knuckle sandwich. "What was that for, you flamin' blighter- Ow!"
This couldn't be right. Maybe if Crash talked some sense into them, his fellow bandicoots would quit acting so mean. Our hero started climbing out of the pot, but Koala Kong caught him, yelped in horror, and then sat on the flower pot to prevent escape.
"What are you dolts up to now?" Coco eyed the pot suspiciously. "Did that pot just move?"
"We're simply, err, attempting to grow some of those giant man-eating plants that used to litter the archipelago," said Dr. Roo. "You know, to add to the Australian authenticity."
"I suppose that's reasonable..." Coco eyed the vase again, but by now it had stopped wobbling – the proximity of Kong's butt to his face had made Crash pass out. "Alright, we'll catch you screw-ups later."
As soon as the door was closed behind the bandicoots and Lab Assistants, Dingodile muttered, "Jerks."
With the coast clear, Kong sat up, and Crash tumbled out of the pot, gasping for air.
"Sorry we had to put you through that, old bean," said Dr. Roo. "But you haven't any idea how ruthless those bandicoots are."
"They think they so great just 'cause Cortex let them join Cortex Commandos and not us." Tiny folded his arms. "But we got rights, too!"
"The bandicoots were so much stronger than all his other minions that Lord Cortex fired us," explained Dr. Roo. "We tried to start up this restaurant and make a name for ourselves, but then Lord Cortex built a Cortex Vortex space station and used it to brainwash the entire planet. He didn't bother with us since we were already loyal to him, but now all the brainwashed humans and bandicoots treat us like dirt."
Crash wasn't particularly surprised by this news. He supposed that in this timeline, with Commander Crash being Lord Cortex's right-hand man, there'd been no one to break all the crates in every level and focus the gems into a space station-destroying laser-beam.
"That's why it's so fortunate you've come along," said Dr. Roo. "On our own, we stand no chance of overthrowing Lord Cortex, but with your expertise, we may be able to dethrone him and set up a society that actually isn't a planet-wide dictatorship."
"Expertise?" spat Dingodile. "Crash ain't got enough brains to give himself a headache!"
"Don't be such a downer, my dear dingo." Dr. Roo shook his head. "For some time now, I've been sitting on a course of action to bring down Lord Cortex, but I was afraid to share it before Crash came along. You see, Cortex's old partner, Dr. N. Brio, was deemed an enemy of the empire after trying to steal credit for the invention of the Evolvo-Ray. Rumor has it that N. Brio is hiding out on a space station at the edge of the galaxy right outside Cortex's reach. And rumor also has it that N. Brio is committed to taking his old partner down once and for all. If we could only find some way to contact him, I'm positive N. Brio's resources would give our legendary hero the extra boost he needs to defeat Cortex."
The other mutants pondered this for a moment.
"That does sound like good plan," said Tiny.
"Well, then, what are we waiting for?" asked Dr. Roo, his mustache twitching with anticipation. "We haven't time to waste. Cortex is bound to discover Crash's location sooner or later. Now, who's with me?"
His comrades hesitated.
"Tiny go," decided Tiny. "Tiny want to see legendary hero in action."
"I'd rather stay here and work in the kitchen," shrugged Rusty.
Koala Kong shook his head "no."
"I'll pass," came Pinstripe's high-pitched voice from the floor.
"And you, Dingodile?" Dr. Roo turned to him expectantly.
Dingodile folded his arms, but then he sighed and said, "Oh, alright! I'll go, but only to keep an eye on this 'legendary hero.' I don't trust him." Crash grinned and gave Dingodile a big hug. "Yeah, yeah, don't get all mushy about it..."
"It's decided, then," said Dr. Roo. "The four of us shall venture through Neo Island to find a way to contact Dr. N. Brio." And so the party of Crash, Dr. Roo, Tiny, and Dingodile headed for the door.
"Don't worry about the diner," Rusty called after them. "The rest of us mutants can handle it." He pointed to a back window, where Crash could see a couple generic mutants. He vaguely remembered a couple of them, like Pinstripe's potoroo underlings who'd worked at Cortex Power (where they'd mostly flung barrels at Crash) and the pirate rhinos who's manned N. Gin's warship (where they'd mostly flung barrels at Crash).
"Oh boy!" Tiny smiled as they stepped out the front door. "Tiny always wanted to go on adventure!"
"Goodbye, guys!" called out Rilla Roo, the half-gorilla, half-kangaroo mutant. "Good luck beating Cortex!"
Everybody looked around, confused.
"There it was again!" said Dingodile. "I swear I heard something."
"Must be drafty in here," shrugged Dr. Roo.
Chapter 5: Brave Neo World
Where the thick jungle and native villages of N. Sanity Island once stood, there now rose the suffocating smog and towering skyscrapers of Neo Island. The buildings had a shadowy, gothic aesthetic to them, and they were lined with garish neon signs and colorful billboards proclaiming, "A SUBSERVIENT CITIZEN IS A HAPPY CITIZEN."
Crash had glimpsed the city from the window of Cortex Castle, but it wasn't until he stepped out of Dingo's Diner that he got a good look. It kind of reminded him of that future city Cortex built back when he used the Time Twister to conquer all of history, only less sci-fi, more dystopian.
The mutants held their breath as a police car sped by, but luckily the police officer Lab Assistant failed to notice a certain legendary hero.
"How much longer 'til they spot our little bandicoot stowaway?" Dingodile gestured towards Crash, who was hiding behind Tiny and Dr. Roo.
"Not to worry, I'm one step ahead." Dr. Roo reached into the folds of his straightjacket with his foot and retrieved a fake fox tail. "I had the foresight to bring this piece of Tiny's cosplay."
"How you know about Tiny's secret hobby?"
"We simply attach it to Crash-"
Crash let out a "Whoa!" as Dr. Roo shoved the tail down his pants and tightened the belt.
"-and voila! Crash Bandicoot becomes Crash Fox."
Crash eyed his newfound behind accessory and experimentally swung his hips. To his delight, the fox tail swiveled back and forth.
"Hmm..." Dingodile looked the disguise over. "Y'know, I never thought about it before, but Crash does kinda resemble a fox..."
"Eh, Tiny don't see it."
"Well, it's not like it matters," said Dingodile. "There's no way anybody would be stupid enough to fall for-"
"Ugh! You morons again!" The mutants spun around to find Tawna, Coco, and Crunch standing behind them on the sidewalk.
"So, finally given up on that worthless restaurant, you disgusting lesser mutations?" The psychotic grin on Coco's face rivaled Commander Crash's. Apparently, that ran in the family.
"N-No, we're just, err, taking a walk around the city on our lunch break," stammered Dingodile.
"Yes, we're simply enjoying the fresh air," said Dr. Roo. "Or smog, as the case may be..."
"And are all you gentlemen... respecting the master?" Crunch cracked his steel knuckles. All four mutants nodded anxiously. "Good."
"Whatever." Coco turned in the opposite direction. "Let's get out of here. We bandicoots have more important things to do than put up with you losers and your dumb new fox friend." And with that, the evil bandicoots walked away.
"...Well, huh," said an awestruck Dingodile.
Dr. Roo flashed him a smug smile. "What'd I tell you?"
Tiny, however, seemed less pleased. He let out a heavy sigh.
"What's wrong, mate?" frowned Dingodile.
"Coco's constant insults give Tiny inferiority complex." Tiny bowed his head. "Tiny wishes Tiny were bandicoot instead of obscure extinct species."
"Hey, don't listen to those blighters!" Dingodile immediately placed his hands on Tiny's shoulders. "Take it from a half-dingo, half-croc, you've gotta accept yourself for who you are."
Tiny gave a small smile and wiped his eyes. "Thank you. Tiny feel better now..."
"Anytime, mate." Then Dingodile noticed the stares Crash and Dr. Roo were giving him. "What're you lot lookin' at?"
"Why, Dingodile," grinned Dr. Roo, "that's the sweetest thing I've ever heard you say."
"Well, don't read too far into- Ack!" Dingodile groaned as Crash once again gave him a big hug.
"Yay! Group hug!" And Tiny joined in, too.
"I'd hug you, too, but, y'know…" Dr. Roo nodded towards his straightjacket. "I suppose I could hug you with my legs-"
"No, no, that's okay!"
The four of them spent the rest of the day scouring the city for any means of contacting Dr. N. Brio. Unfortunately, they met with little success. The mutants found feral racoons, feral hobos, and even a disturbingly skinny Papu Papu in a back alley with a handful of N. Sanity tribesmen holding a sign reading, "Will belly-dance for food," but no N. Brio.
And it didn't help that Crash "Fox" had the attention span of a two-year-old on a sugar high. Because this strange, Cortex-run world was so alien to Crash, he tended to run off towards the first building that caught his eye. This included Neobucks, where Lab Assistants served piping hot, flavorless caffeinated beverage units, the movie theater, which only played dramatic reenactments of Cortex's life in mandatory, eye-bleeding 3D (the role of Cortex played by Arnold Schwarzenegger), and N-mart, whose shelves were lined with nothing but Cortex-themed products.
Crash played twenty-questions to ask the N-Mart Lab Assistant working the cash register if they had any Wii games. The Lab Assistant explained that Nintendo didn't exist anymore – Lord Cortex's first act as ruler of the planet had been to abolish the whole company – but he would be happy to suggest some classic Playstation titles such as "Neo Cortex," "Neo Cortex 2: Crash Strikes Back," and "CTR: Cortex Team Racing." Crash declined the offer. If he heard the word "Cortex" one more time today, he was gonna be sick.
"Stupid Lab Assistants," an elderly man muttered as Crash walked out the door. "It's hard enough to get a job in this economy without 'em..."
By nightfall, our heroes had decided to give up and return to Dingo's Diner empty-handed. Despite their failure, though, they were content. Tiny happily sipped a flavorless caffeinated beverage unit while Crash played with his brand new yo-yo. Unfortunately, like everything here, it had Cortex's ugly mug plastered on it, but Crash would have to make do.
Dingodile was just saying, "Well, that was a waste-" when they passed by a man on the sidewalk holding a megaphone to his mouth. The man's head was poking out of a hole in the gigantic grin of an incredibly uncomfortable-looking Crash Bandicoot costume.
"Hey, Le Louvre, Smithsonian, your worst nightmare has arrived!" The megaphone made his voice ear-bleedingly loud. "Come one, come all, to the world-famous Museum of Cortex-Family History!"
Crash scratched his head. This guy had looked a lot bigger on TV.
The man gestured behind himself to the cliffside where Cortex's head had replaced N. Sanity Island's Skull Rock. At the foot of it, there rested a pair of ornate doors leading into the aforementioned museum.
"Come see the grandest artifacts from the epic conquests of the Cortex family's blood-soaked warlords, ruthless dictators, serial killers, and defense attorneys!" said the announcer. "You'll also see the past inventions of our glorious leader, Lord Cortex! Prototype Evolvo-Rays, the Planetary Minimizer, the Mutate-O Raygun 3000, the Matrix Chamber, and even the Holo-Messenger, a handy little gadget that lets you communicate with anyone else in the world."
Crash and company did a double take.
"Err, s'cuse us, mate." Dingodile approached the announcer, shaking his head in disbelief. "Four tickets to the Cortex Museum, please."
Chapter 6: Fight at the Museum
Within the dimly-lit halls of Cortex Castle, a large congregation of bandicoots spilled into an auditorium. At the stage stood Coco, Crunch, and Tawna, while in the seats sat a variety of unique and colorful bandicoots, ranging from orange to magenta to brown.
"Listen up, Cortex Commandos!" A microphone amplified Coco's voice across the stadium. "As many of you know, our glorious leader, Lord Cortex, selected our noble race to become his mutant army for world conquest. Cortex realized that bandicoots are the perfect species for his mutations, and so he fired all his other loser minions to focus his Evolvo-Ray solely on us. This is how we got to where we are today, sitting atop a throne of fallen nations!"
The auditorium erupted with cheers.
"But many of you have also heard the rumors," Coco added darkly. "The legends of a different timeline, one where Lord Cortex's greatest creation, my brother Crash Bandicoot, ruthlessly betrayed him and foiled his evil schemes countless times."
The bandicoots all shuddered at the thought.
"Of course, Lord Cortex cleverly used his Psychetron to travel to this 'good future' and defeat the legendary hero, sucking all the goodness out of the timeline with his Vice-Versa Reverser Device and then sealing Crash away in suspended animation is the castle trophy room. That is... until today, when the meddlesome marsupial escaped with the help of the spirit guardian of these islands, Aku Aku."
The crowd gasped.
"We've imprisoned Aku Aku, but this so-called 'legendary hero' is still out there." A scowl crossed Coco's face. "Commander Crash is busy enslaving the Infinite Dimensions, so it's up to us to kill this interloper." And with that, she turned to her comrade. "Crunch will now do a bandicoot role call before we assign you to your squads."
Crunch took the mike, then read off from a clipboard:
"Cash Bandicoot." A bandicoot in a snazzy suit with slicked-back hair twirled his mustache in reply.
"Clash Bandicoot." This one was dressed as a sword-wielding gladiator.
"Crass Bandicoot." This bandicoot replied with a rude hand gesture.
"The twins, Bash and Mash Bandicoot." Bash swung a club while his sister swung a sledge hammer.
"Rash Bandicoot." A bright red bandicoot violently scratched himself.
"Slash Bandicoot." This one had razor-sharp claws.
"Smash Bandicoot." A buff bandicoot wearing ripped jeans grunted in reply.
"Thrash Bandicoot." This one was perpetually spinning uncontrollably.
"Trash Bandicoot." Flies buzzed around this one.
"And lastly, Dash Bandicoot." This bandicoot's hair consisted of orange spikes that jutted backwards off his head, and the only clothes he wore were white gloves and red shoes.
"All bandicoots present and accounted for," said Tawna.
"Y'know, if you ask me, none of us really look like bandicoots," frowned Crunch. "I mean, we don't even have tails. We look like tailless foxes."
At this remark, Coco's eyes went wide.
Although its exterior was mostly jagged mountain, the interior of the Museum of Cortex-Family History was neat and orderly. A tidy carpet with an "N" design woven into it led the mutants through the elaborate displays of Cortex's past glories.
"Crikey! How much stuff does Cortex have in here?" Dingodile whistled as they passed a portrait of a big-headed, yellow-skinned man riding horseback into battle during the American Civil War.
"There are currently two thousand five hundred and forty-three items in the Cortex Museum," their tour guide, the man in the Crash costume, answered brightly, "one thousand three hundred twenty-nine of which directly relate to Lord Cortex himself. Speaking of which, we're now approaching the 'Neo's Early Years' section."
Crash and company stopped to stare at a photo of baby Cortex hanging from the wall.
"Tiny threw up in mouth."
"Even from a young age, Lord Cortex was a scientific genius with dreams of world domination," said the tour guide. "If you look over here, you'll see his very first Evolvo-Ray, built at the tender age of eight."
Crash gazed up at the old machine, shivering before the first step that had started it all... or at least, he would have if he'd had a brain more complex than, like, half a goldfish's. What Crash actually did was blink slowly and scratch his nether regions.
"And over here are the first ever evolved mutants!" The tour guide gestured to a large bird cage housing two parrot mutants.
"Squawk, Polly want a cracker," the first one said dully.
"I wish I actually had a cracker," sighed the second one.
"Shut up and say the lines, Moritz."
"Funny story behind those two," the tour guide said. "The prototype ray actually warped them into the Tenth Dimension and gave them cosmic powers, but Lord Cortex and Commander Crash managed to defeat them in an epic struggle, and then Lord Cortex used their technology to-"
"Yes, yes," cut in Dr. Roo. "Could you show us that Holo-Messenger gizmo you mentioned?"
"Oh, yes, right this way." The tour guide took them deeper into the museum. "The Holo-Messenger Device was developed during Cortex's senior year at the Academy of Evil as part of an evil science project. Unfortunately, it received a failing grade because the device wasn't 'inherently' evil. But don't worry, after he took over the world, Lord Cortex made sure to give his old professor a petty and disproportionate punishment."
Our four heroes looked over the machine. The Holo-Messenger appeared to be an ordinary laptop computer with bundles of tangled and complicated-looking wires running out of it.
"How does it work?" asked Dingodile.
"It's quite simple, really," said the tour guide. "You put in a few keystrokes, and then a floating camera-bot records you, locates whoever you want to contact using science, and then plays a holographic message of your head. Lord Cortex donated the machine to us because, and I quote, 'the holograms are too hard to maintain.'"
"I see, I see," nodded Dr. Roo. "And could we hypothetically use this gadget to contact somebody?"
"What? Ha! Of course not! You're just lowly mutant underlings!"
"I was afraid you'd say that." Dr. Roo let out a sigh. "In that case, you leave us with no choice but to ATTACK!"
The tour guide flinched, but none of the mutants moved. Dr. Roo glared at Tiny impatiently. "That means you."
"Oh. Uh, Tiny squash!" Tiny bonked the guide on the head, knocking him out cold.
"Crash, Tiny, you stand guard outside while we articulate mutants contact N. Brio," ordered Dr. Roo. The two less-talkative marsupials accepted their lot in life and stepped outside the room.
"Talk! Tell us everything, or I'll turn you into a potoroo pincushion!" Clash Bandicoot brandished his sword.
"Do your worst!" spat Pinstripe. "I'll neva squeal!"
The interior of Dingo's Diner had been completely ransacked. Tabled were overturned, stuffed Australian wildlife was strewn about, and Koala Kong, Rusty, and all the miscellaneous potoroo and rhino mutants lay unconscious on the floor with welts on their noggins. Rilla Roo was cowering in the corner, but nobody really acknowledged his existence anyways, so he was perfectly safe.
"You'll never squeal, huh?" Tawna leaned in, bringing her face nearer to Pinstripe's. "Well, then, we'll have to try some more persuasive methods." She leaned into his ear and whispered, "Alright, gangster, why don't I make you an offer you can't refuse...?"
As it turned out, it had actually been an offer to knock Pinstripe unconscious the instant he eagerly spilled his guts.
Tawna cracked her knuckles, then held a walkie-talkie to her ear. "They're trying to contact N. Brio."
"N. Brio?" came Coco's voice from the other end. "Where could...? Of course! The Holo-Messenger!"
Crash and Tiny tried to seem nonchalant as an angry-looking bandicoot army led by Coco and Crunch approached them down the museum hallway. Unfortunately, acting casual did little to stop Coco from immediately grabbing the fake fox tail and yanking it off.
"Aha! I thought you looked familiar!" Coco pointed dramatically. "Get him!"
"Whoa!" The swarm of bandicoot soldiers promptly tackled Crash.
Tiny banged on the door behind him, yelling, "Dingodile! Roo! Bandicoots coming-" but he was cut off by a metal fist clonking his head.
"I knew you weren't respecting the master!" yelled Crunch. Tiny replied with a growl. The next instant, they were brawling it out in a flurry of violence.
Coco, meanwhile, was squaring off against her sort-of-brother. "Let's see if you're as good a fighter as the real Crash." Coco grinned, bloodlust in her eyes.
Crash felt it was wrong to fight his own sister, even a brainwashed alternate timeline version of her. But before Crash could mime a peace sign, Coco spun him, sending Crash flying into the far wall. "Whoa!" Crash tried to sign "time out," but Coco followed up her spin by karate chopping him in the gut.
"Come on, at least put up a fight!" Coco sneered. "My granny can fight better than you, and she's not even evolved!"
To a mutant, this is highly insulting. Crash was finally provoked enough to attack Coco with a spin of his own, knocking her into a portrait of Hernando Cortéx.
But even though she looked hurt, Coco's grin widened. "That's more like it."
On the other side of the hall, Tiny had pinned Crunch to the ground and was currently beating him over the head with his own sneaker.
"Uncle, uncle!" Crunch glared at his bandicoot underlings. "Someone wanna give me a hand?"
The other bandicoots eyed Tiny warily. Thrash Bandicoot was the first to attack, spinning into Tiny, but it wasn't clear if Thrash did this on purpose or if he was just spasming.
"Tiny smash!" Tiny grabbed Thrash by the feet and clubbed the other bandicoots with him.
Meanwhile, Crash skillfully dodged Coco's karate kicks and slid into her, knocking Coco off her feet. He followed this by leaping into the air and belly-flopping her.
"Get him off me!" shrieked Coco. Rash and Crass obediently grabbed Crash and held him down so Smash could punch him repeatedly.
Smack. "Whoa!" Smack. "Whoa!" Smack. "Whoa!"
Crash was starting to sound like a broken record, and his vision was filling with stars. He shut his eyes, defeated, and then...
"Must be breakfast time, cuz I'm makin' me some TOAST!" The door burst open, and out jumped the cavalry. Dingodile was wielding his trusty flamethrower, while Dr. Roo was holding a massive pile of TNT and Nitro crates with his feet. With a toothy grin, Dingodile sent forth a wave of flames. The evil bandicoots screamed and ran for the hills – all save Rash Bandicoot, who was too busy scratching himself. He promptly turned into a bandicoot-shaped pile of ash and googly cartoon eyes.
"Fall back! Fall back!" ordered a fleeing Coco.
"Leaving already? But I was going to offer you a nice hot cup of TNT!" Dr. Roo hurled some explosives after them.
"This baby ain't gonna hold 'em off forever," said Dingodile, shutting off his flamethrower. "Let's break for it!" Crash, Dr. Roo, Tiny, and Dingodile sped down the museum hallway.
"It sure is lucky that we somehow managed to conceal those weapons on us," said Dr. Roo as they ran.
They pushed out the museum doors and into the city streets.
"Tiny think us safe!"
Then a huge army of Lab Assistants teleported around them.
"Tiny retract previous statement."
The Lab Assistants readied their ray-guns. Crash's ears drooped. It couldn't end like this...
"Well, we're screwed," said Dingodile. "I mean, unless somethin' comes outta nowhere and conveniently saves us."
The instant the words left his mouth, a flying saucer fell from the sky and hit our four heroes with a tractor beam, teleporting them to safety.
Chapter 7: Plan N. Brio From Outer Space
Lord Cortex stood in his castle trophy room. There were many fallen heroes sealed away in the Cortex Castle trophy room – There were pods housing a thylacine, a chameleon-and-bat duo, the list went on – but Lord Cortex was staring at the single empty pod on display. The one that had once housed Crash Bandicoot.
"Such a shame," he sighed. "What could ever replace that exhibit?" But the next instant, a pair of mechanical doors swooshed open and Tawna's unit of Cortex Commandos entered the hallway.
"Good news, my lord," said Tawna, bowing. "We're recaptured the legendary hero."
Bash and Mash proudly dragged forth what appeared to be Crash Bandicoot... except this guy's nose, teeth, and eyebrows were way too big.
"FOOLS!" yelled Cortex. "This isn't Crash! It's some sort of... fake Crash!"
"My humblest apologies, my lord!" Tawna backed away, cowering.
Cortex overlooked the imposter for a minute, then sighed and said, "Well, might as well put him in the pod anyways. The exhibit looks so empty without a bandicoot in it..."
Crash slowly opened his eyes and blinked a couple times. A few seconds ago, he could've sworn an army of Lab Assistants was about to zap his butt off, but now he, Dr. Roo, Tiny, and Dingodile were on some sort of space station. Crash could tell this was a space station because he'd been on several before. They gave him a wiggly feeling in his gut.
Crash didn't know where they were, but the important thing was that they were safe.
He turned his head to find a sharp blade inches from his nose. Our hero shrieked and jumped backwards into Tiny's arms Scooby-Doo style.
"Intrudersss!" hissed one of the two green creatures standing before them. "Prepare to be exssecuted!" The other one nodded mutely and raised his sword.
"Moe? Joe? Is that you?" gasped Dingodile. "I ain't seen you blokes in ages!"
The reptilian mutants lowered their swords. "Dingodile? Tiny? Roo?" Komodo Joe's forked tongue flicked out in surprise.
Come to think of it, Crash hadn't seen the Komodo Bros in years in his own timeline, but these alternate versions looked about the same as Crash remembered, right down to the purple robes and samurai swords.
Suddenly, Moe pointed at Crash and jumped up and down angrily.
"A bandicoot?" hissed Joe. "You brought a bandicoot here?"
The Komodo Bros were just raising their swords again when a voice called out, "Komodos, stand down!"
"Massster Brio!" The lizards turned towards the foot of the stairs and did some pointless-yet-fancy backflips towards their master – Joe landing gracefully on his feet and Moe landing less gracefully on this face.
"My, my, so the rumors were true," said a familiar voice. "Pleased to make your acquaintance, legendary hero."
Cortex's former right-hand man and fellow midget might have passed for a regular human if it weren't for the pair of Frankenstein's Monster-style bolts in the side of his head (There was probably a really interesting story behind those, but Crash didn't want to know it). Dr. Nitrus Brio looked the same as ever in this timeline – He even had on the same green lab coat, though he seemed to have lost his stutter. But, while it was true he'd also betrayed Cortex in Crash's own timeline, N. Brio hadn't exactly been friendly with Crash. Sure, he'd helped Crash destroy the Cortex Vortex space station, but their last encounter had involved N. Brio turning into a giant frog monster to try and squish Crash into a pancake.
"I expect we have a lot of catching up to do," said N. Brio, "but let's move somewhere more comfortable, shall we?"
Soon enough, Crash, Dr. Roo, Tiny, Dingodile, and N. Brio were seated at a table in the space station's kitchen. The Komodo Bros stood behind N. Brio's chair, swords at the ready, as if some assassin might come for their boss any minute now. Everybody quietly sipped their tea. Crash politely extended a pinky, Dr. Roo held his with his foot, and Tiny threw his whole cup in his mouth and chewed.
"I received your urgent message, and so I used my teleportation technology to warp you here as soon as I could." N. Brio pointed to a nearby floating camera, which displayed a holographic message of Dr. Roo's head saying, "Help us, Nitrus Brio, you're our only hope!" on loop.
"Don't worry about Cortex," N. Brio added. "This station, the Brio Base, is buried deep in outer space. He'll never find it. But enough about me. I'm sure you all have lots to say. Tell me about your adventures, Crash."
Crash set down his teacup, cleared his throat, and opened his mouth. No sound came out.
"He, uh, ain't much of a talker," said Dingodile. "How about Roo and I fill you in instead?"
They got N. Brio up to speed on the situation, but you already know everything, so let's just skip past it for the sake of brevity.
"I see, I see," N. Brio said once they finished. "Quite an amazing and improbable story. Now let me tell you mine." He stared into his tea, then began:
"As some of you may remember, I used to be a pathetic, stuttering wimp always pushed around by Cortex. Oh, he started off friendly enough when we first met at the Academy of Evil. After graduation, we formed a partnership, and the two of us constructed a castle on an archipelago undiscovered by the rest of civilization. The islands were full of wildlife perfect for our experiments on mutating animals into brainwashed super-soldiers. We were supposed to be equals, but as our Evolvo-Ray and Cortex Vortex neared completion, Cortex started doing a lot less helping and a lot more bossing me around." He scowled at the memory.
"Then one day, Cortex insisted that we test the Cortex Vortex on one of our experiments, the bandcoot that would one day become Commander Crash." N. Brio gestured towards Crash, who'd nodded off with his face in his teacup. "I tried to warn Cortex that the Vortex wasn't ready, but he wouldn't listen. The experiment was doomed to failure, but then, right before we could start up the Vortex... a stranger approached us."
In unison, Dr. Roo, Tiny, and Dingodile said, "Ooooooooh!"
"Who was he?" asked Dingodile.
N. Brio shook his head. "I couldn't make him out in the darkness of the castle, but Cortex seemed to recognize him. His voice was hushed, and all I could make out was the start of his name: Dr. N-something."
"That narrow it down!" said Tiny brightly.
"Just before vanishing, the stranger warned us that we were making a mistake," said N. Brio. "And he was right! I checked the Cortex Vortex and found a huge flaw that would've ruined the whole project. I speculate that this is where our timeline differs from the legendary hero's. To make a long story short-"
"Too late," grumbled Dingodile.
"-Cortex successfully brainwashed Commander Crash. In fact, it was such a success that Cortex declared bandicoots superior to his other mutants and replaced-"
"We know. We were there."
"Oh, right. Anyways, all the best tanks and missiles and nuclear weapons were no match for Cortex's bandicoot army. And, with no heroes to stop him, Cortex was able to collect all twenty-five Power Crystals needed to convert the Cortex Vortex into a space station that could brainwash the entire planet. World domination was his, but... but even though I did most of the work, Cortex wanted to rule all by himself!" N. Brio bowed his head. "I didn't even get to rule one of the itty bitty countries like Luxemborg or Gambia."
His face hardened. "And I wasn't having any of that. I manned up, lost my stutter, and stood my ground! And so, I, Nitrus Brio, proudly started my own life independent of that megalomaniac! But, err..." He faltered. "...then he tried to kill me, so I had to go into hiding."
"Yes, yes, this is all very interesting," yawned Dr. Roo. "But we haven't got all day. How do you propose we defeat Lord Cortex?"
"How? I would've thought that was obvious," laughed N. Brio. "The only way to defeat Cortex is to unleash the one thing he fears most..." He paused dramatically. "The great Uka Uka."
It would've been an appropriate time for a thunderclap, but they were in space.
Chapter 8: Temple Fun
"So lemme get this straight," said Dingodile, raising an eyebrow. "Yer sayin' that there're ancient witch doctor spirits livin' on the Wumpa Islands?"
"Says the talking dingo-crocodile hybrid," N. Brio deadpanned.
"Hey!" snapped Dr. Roo. "The notion of mutating regular animals into sentient humanoids has a completely sound basis in evolutionary science!"
It was hard to judge the passage of time here in outer space, but by now all the undrunk tea was cold, Tiny was on his thousandth round of virtual checkers on his N-Phone, and Crash was deep in a dream about eating Wumpa and spinning chickens at the same time.
"As a man of science, I was initially skeptical of magic," N. Brio explained to whoever was still listening, "but the archipelago held many secrets. Apparently, they used to house a powerful ancient civilization, but by the time Cortex and I arrived, there was nothing left but a handful of savages led by some fat guy. During construction of Cortex Castle, Cortex and I stumbled upon a temple imprisoning a powerful, evil tiki mask. Uka Uka aided Cortex in his schemes, telling him of the Power Crystals and Gems hidden on the islands.
"In return, Cortex promised to free Uka Uka once he achieved his goal of world domination, but it's been a couple years and Uka Uka's still locked up in his temple on Cortex Island. He's probably pretty mad at Cortex, so he should side with us." N. Brio chuckled to himself.
"My bodyguards-" The Komodo Bros saluted at their mention. "-went to investigate the islands one day and returned to Brio Base with a new ally – Uka Uka's twin brother, Aku Aku. Whereas Uka Uka is cruel and destructive, Aku Aku is kind and benevolent. Aku Aku explained to me how eons ago, his brother rallied together a group of rebellious masks to destroy the ancient civilization and enslave the planet, but Aku Aku managed to use the crystals to seal them away. Naturally, Aku Aku wanted to help me bring down the Cortex Empire. I gave him the blueprints to Cortex Castle, and he ran off to infiltrate it, but I haven't heard from him since. The poor mask's probably been captured." He shook his head sadly.
"Anywho, he wouldn't let me release Uka Uka – said something about it being 'dangerously irresponsible to the stability of the planet' – but Aku Aku's gone now, so who's stopping us? And, I mean, there's no way Uka Uka could possibly be worse than Cortex at this point, right?"
This also would've been a good time for a thunderclap.
"Well, that's good and all, but there's one teeny problem," said Dingodile. "We're in the middle of outer space! How the bloody heck are we supposed to get to some temple on Cortex Island?"
N. Brio's eyes lit up. "I was hoping you'd ask that..."
A moment later, everyone stepped off an elevator into a large area below the space station.
"Welcome," N. Brio said proudly, "to the Warp Room!"
Crash had been wondering when another Warp Room would show up – There hadn't really been one on his last adventure to stop the Evil Twins. N. Brio's Warp Room used the same general layout as N. Tropy's Time Twister and Coco's Portal Chamber. In the center was a Load/Save Screen in case Crash needed to save his progress, and surrounding it in a circle were paths that led to five mini-chambers, each with five levels and a boss fight in them.
"Using the latest in teleportation technology, this baby can warp you anywhere in the world," said N. Brio. "It can bypass all of Cortex Island's security and take you straight to Uka Uka's temple."
The four heroic mutants walked into one of the mini-chambers, but N. Brio and the Komodo Bros stayed behind.
"Ain't you comin' with us?" asked Dingodile.
"No, no, I need to stay behind to, uh, keep the portals working properly." N. Brio fidgeted innocently with his lab coat.
"Yesss, and Moe and I mussst guard Massster Brio," hissed Komodo Joe. "Besssides, you guysss will sssurive without us. Probably."
"What was that?"
"Nothing! Good luck!"
And so, Crash stepped on the button labeled "eight." Then, the four heroes climbed into the spherical warp portal and vanished. The familiar sensation of teleporting overcame Crash, and the next thing he knew, he was standing in a musty, torch-lit temple.
"Ugh... Teleporting make Tiny nauseous..." Tiny clutched his tummy.
The layout of Uka Uka's temple seemed straightforward enough. Behind the mutants was an exit that led back outside to Cortex Island, and before them were five doors – a big one in the center with two smaller ones at either end.
Tiny and Dingodile pushed the big door with all their might. "Locked," spat Dingodile.
"Hmm..." While Crash played with his yo-yo off to the side, Dr. Roo examined the smaller doors carefully. "There appears to be some sort of color-coded lock."
Indeed, the big door was sealed shut by a square mechanism divided into four colors: green, blue, red, and white, which also happened to match the colors of the four smaller doors.
"Oh, I see where this is goin,'" said Dingodile. "There's a fourth of the key in each chamber, and we need to dodge deathtraps and stuff to get each one. Ugh, can this get any more cliché?"
"Let's split up," said Dr. Roo. "Conveniently, there are four doors and four of us." Crash and Tiny nodded happily.
"Any. More. Cliché?"
Our heroes each took a deep breath, picked a door, and entered. Unlike the large door, the small ones immediately moved aside, each leading into a long, narrow corridor. Crash gathered his courage and stepped through the green door, while Tiny picked blue, Dingodile red, and Dr. Roo white. Naturally, the instant everyone was through, the doors slammed shut behind them.
"I saw that coming, too!" came Dingodile's faint voice through the wall.
The sound of the door slamming made Crash flinch. He waited a minute, but nothing happened. Crash sighed in relief and walked down the passageway.
Was... Was it Crash's imagination, or did his foot just press a button on the ground? But before Crash had time to ponder this, a gigantic boulder fell from the ceiling and rolled towards him. Man, Crash really should've expected that by now.
Meanwhile, Tiny found himself standing on a small patch of stone floor. The entire rest of his chamber was a long, rectangular pool of water, like what an Olympic swimmer might use (Well, not anymore. Lord Cortex was, of course, declared the winner of all Olympic sports by default).
"But... Tiny not pack snorkel or flippers!" Tiny realized in horror. "And Tiny have pathological fear of getting fur wet!" He fell to his knees, raised his snout to the sky, and howled, "Nooooooooooooo!"
Behind the red door was... another locked door. How exciting. And beside this door were two torches: one lit, one unlit. Dingodile rolled his eyes.
After pondering the puzzle for about two seconds, he whipped out his flamethrower and lit the torch. A catchy jingle played as the door instantly swung open… only to reveal an obstacle course filled with whirling, fire-spewing ancient machinery.
Dingodile buried his face in his palm. "The other three doors are earth, water, and wind, ain't they?"
The instant the door slammed shut behind Dr. Roo, steel spikes burst out of it.
"Good heavens!" Dr. Roo started to hop away, but he stopped once he realized the spiked wall wasn't chasing him. It simply stayed fixed in place. "How very odd... Whatever could be the purpose of-?"
An extremely strong wind started blowing Dr. Roo towards the spikes.
"Oh, now I get it."
Dingodile emerged from the other end of the obstacle course flailing and screaming and just generally being of fire. Luckily, he was a cartoon character, so he was fine.
"There! I made it through the hackneyed fire dungeon!" Dingodile grumbled as he patted out the flames. "Now where's my fourth of the flamin' key?"
Just then, a faint voice said, "Who... Who are you?" Dingodile gasped at the sight before him...
It was a tiki mask like N. Brio had mentioned, only this one clearly wasn't the black and red Uka Uka. No, it was a blue mask, and he was perpetually giving off a cloud of steam, turning the surrounding area into a sauna.
"Water," wheezed the mask. "Need... water..." He was so weak that he couldn't even float. He was reduced to flopping around on the floor like a dead fish.
"A water mask, huh?" Dingodile glanced back at the fiery obstacle course full of flaming fire. "That don't seem thematically appropriate..."
Back in the earth dungeon, Crash had managed to run from the boulder until he made it to a passageway too narrow for the rock to fit. Our hero grinned in relief, caught his breath, and spun open a checkpoint crate. Then, he continued on his way.
Crash really, really should've seen that one coming.
Dr. Roo was just about to congratulate himself on doing such a good job fighting against the wind tunnel when his top hat was blown clean off his head.
"Noooooooooooooo-" In dramatic slow motion, Dr. Roo tumbled through the air, managing to catch his beloved hat mere inches from the spikes.
"It's okay... It's okay..." Dr. Roo caressed his top hat lovingly. "Daddy is here for you. You're safe now." He gently returned the hat to his head. "Phew! That would've been a real tragedy."
"TINY CAN HOLD BREATH NO LONGER!" screamed Tiny as water rushed into his lungs.
Several wacky misadventures later, all four mutants were back in the main chamber, each having rescued a different mask. The others hadn't recognized them, of course, but Crash could never forget the Elementals, Aku Aku's and Uka Uka's slightly more cliché cousins. Py-Ro had been trapped in the water chamber, Lo-Lo in the earth chamber, and yadda yadda yadda. In light of everything that happened when Cortex freed them in Crash's timeline, Crash was a bit concerned, but from the looks of things, the Elementals seemed a lot weaker than Crash remembered. They were barely even strong enough to float in the air.
"Tell us, old boys, why were all of you in the wrong elemental chamber?" asked Dr. Roo.
"It was that jerk Cortex!" said Rok-Ko. "He came in here and switched us around!"
"When Aku Aku sealed us away all those eons ago, we were given comfortable prisons that matched our elements," said Lo-Lo. "That dimwitted mask was too nice to torture us for all eternity or anything."
"But after that dagnabbed scientist enslaved the planet, he came to the temple and put us in our opposite-element prison to weaken us in case we ever got out." Wa-Wa scowled at the memory.
"Yeah, he said he couldn't rule the world if there was no world left to rule," added Rok-Ko.
"No world left to-? Hey!" Dingodile's eyes narrowed. "What exactly are you blokes plannin' on doin' once we set you free?"
"What do you think? Trigger earthquakes, erupt volcanoes..." Rok-Ko's voice trailed off as he noticed his comrades' angry glares. "I mean, uh... plant flowers."
"Yeah, yeah, plant flowers," the other masks hurriedly agreed. Crash smiled blissfully at the thought.
Dr. Roo sighed. "Alright, well, obviously setting you free would be a terribly stupid idea, so let's make a new deal. You open this door to Uka Uka-" He gestured at the big door. "-and we'll return each of you to your proper elemental prisons."
"You mean you want to meet Uka Uka?" laughed Py-Ro. "Okay, your funeral. I'd shrug, but, y'know, I'd need shoulders..."
Of course, Crash realized they could've saved themselves a lot of trouble by freeing Uka Uka the way Cortex had done it in Crash's timeline: have a space station fall from orbit and just so happen to smash into the exact right temple. But, oh well, too late for that now.
The Elementals shot out a beam of light at the lock, shattering it instantly. The gigantic door creaked open, and our heroes exchanged anxious glances.
"What's the worst that could happen, right?" said Dingodile.
Suddenly, a booming voice echoed across the temple:
"WHO DARES ENTER THE DOMAIN OF THE GREAT UKA UKA?"
Chapter 9: Pandora's Bandicoot
"WHO DARES ENTER THE DOMAIN OF THE GREAT UKA UKA?" A booming voice reverberated around the temple. Our heroes hesitated at the entrance.
"Room service?" guessed Tiny.
This, apparently, was the wrong answer because the next instant a black tiki mask lunged at them from the darkness. The worst he did, though, was nearly give everyone a heart attack, as Uka Uka halted inches from Crash's face. As it turned out, he was tethered to the back wall by some heavy chains.
"M-Mighty Uka Uka!" Dr. Roo, Tiny, and Dingodile all bowed, but Crash merely stared ahead blankly. Dingodile had to grab his arm and yank him to the floor.
"I know who you are," growled Uka Uka. "Mutant animal freaks! Cortex's expendable minions!"
"H-Hey! Tiny's feelings very delicate..."
"Sent here, no doubt, because the doctor is too cowardly to face me himself." Uka Uka's painted face contorted into a snarl. "Give me one good reason why I shouldn't kill the lot of you on the spot."
"Well, you're just a wooden mask, ain't you?" said Dingodile. "What possible harm could you-?" He couldn't finish that sentence because he had to jump out of the way of Uka Uka's laser-eyes.
"Please listen to reason, old sport!" yelped Dr. Roo. "We're not associates of Lord Cortex. In fact, my comrades and I actually came to this temple in the hope that you'd aid us in his downfall."
Uka Uka halted his laser-firing and raised a wooden eyebrow. "And if I agree to help, what will you do for me?"
The four mutants traded uneasy glances. "We can... let you out," said Dingodile, "if you promise not to destroy the world." The other three nodded in agreement.
"You just had to tip them off about the destroying the world part," Py-Ro muttered to Rok-Ko.
"Fine." If he'd had any pupils, Uka Uka would've rolled his eyes. "I promise not the destroy the world. Scout's honor." (He wanted to enslave the world.)
"Very well, then." Dr. Roo turned to Crash and Tiny. "You two, escort the Elementals back to their proper prisons."
"Okay, but Tiny not going back to water dungeon," said Tiny. "Tiny not even sure how Tiny survive that." Crash gave Dr. Roo an exaggerated military salute, and then the orange marsupials and tiki masks went off.
Now Dr. Roo and Dingodile were alone with an all-powerful diabolical force of evil.
"So... follow any sports?" asked Dingodile.
"The only sport I enjoy is watching the innocent slaughter each other for my amusement."
There was a long silence.
"I like rugby," said Dr. Roo.
"Well, well, well, this exhibit turned out pretty good after all." Lord Cortex tapped the glass in front of the beach display. On the other side, next to the pod where Fake Crash was sleeping peacefully, Aku Aku was still imprisoned in the blue bubble.
"Your villainy will not succeed, Cortex," said Aku Aku calmly. "Your lust for power will only lead you down a path to-"
"Blah blah blah!" cut in Lord Cortex. "Go tell it to someone who cares, you wooden excuse for a hero. See what I did there?"
Aku Aku was about to groan when suddenly his eyes went wide with fear. "No! It cannot be!"
"What's the matter?" frowned Cortex. "The pun wasn't that bad, was it?"
"Uka Uka is free," said Aku Aku. "I can sense it."
"What?" Lord Cortex spun towards some nearby Lab Assistants. "Go investigate the temple. If Uka Uka's gone, then retrieve Commander Crash from the Infinite Dimensions and bring him to me." The Lab Assistants wordlessly teleported off.
Lord Cortex turned back to smirk at Aku Aku. "Well, no matter. I defeated you – I think can handle your brother."
"Do not be so sure." Aku Aku's voice remained stern. "Uka Uka is a force to be reckoned with. And seeing as you left him locked away after he helped you enslave the planet, I can only imagine the terrifying fate he has in store for you."
"When I get my hands on Cortex, I'm going to stick his oversized head on a pike, incinerate his freakishly small body, and leave the remains for the vultures to devour!"
"When you get your whats on Cortex?" said Dingodile. Uka Uka gave him a very, very grumpy glare.
N. Brio's flying saucer-doohickey had teleported Crash, Dr. Roo, Tiny, Dingodile, and their new best friend back to the Warp Room. Crash did his trademark victory dance and then ran to the Load/Save Screen to save his progress to the memory card.
N. Brio and the Komodo Bros walked up to the group. "Welcome back-"
"BOW, MORTALS, BEFORE YOUR NEW MASTER, THE GREAT UKA UKA!"
In hindsight, Crash had a feeling freeing Aku Aku's brother might not have been the greatest idea ever. Sure, in Crash's timeline, Uka Uka had helped fight the Evil Twins, but back then Aku Aku had been there to keep Uka Uka's hands off the Power Crystals – figuratively speaking.
"Oh, mighty Uka Uka!" N. Brio bowed low, and the Komodos followed his lead. "We, your humble servants, have freed you so that you might dethrone Cortex."
"Trust me, I intend to," growled Uka Uka. "Unfortunately, I made the mistake of leading that traitor to the twenty-five Power Crystals. No doubt he's using their energy to fuel his machines."
"What about the Gems?" asked N. Brio. "Are those still on the islands? Could we collect them to use against him?"
"Are you crazy?" snapped Uka Uka. "We don't have time to go around every single level breaking every single crate!"
"Then what are we gonna do?" asked Dingodile.
"HOLD YOUR TONGUE, ANIMAL FREAK!"
"The great Uka Uka has a better plan." Uka Uka hovered above the group so he could scowl at them all simultaneously. "You see, Cortex didn't abandon me to rot in my prison until after N. Brio left him. That means I'm privy to details of Cortex's schemes that N. Brio is not, such as who exactly replaced Brio as Cortex's right-hand man."
"What are you getting at?" asked N. Brio.
"My point is, without you, Cortex needed someone else to help him convert his Cortex Vortex into a space station," said Uka Uka. "A person who could help him brainwash the entire planet. And also a person who could, given proper... persuasion... un-brainwash the planet."
"The person I'm referring to..." Uka Uka gave a dramatic pause. "...is none other than a sniveling little worm named N. Trance."
There were no dramatic thunderclaps in space, so Uka Uka used his magic to create one.
Chapter 10: 401 KILL
"We interrupt this broadcast to bring you an important message sponsored by our glorious leader, Lord Neo Periwinkle Cortex!"
Across the globe, TV screens were suddenly flickering to the image of a cheery announcer.
"Remember those dark times before Lord Cortex ruled the planet? Back then, did you happen to be a diabolical evil mastermind with dreams of conquering the earth, but Lord Cortex beat you to the punch? Maybe you got one of those master's degrees from Evil U?" As he spoke, the screen displayed an image of a crestfallen old man with bushy gray hair, an equally busy gray mustache, and a white labcoat with a red tie. He seemed to be sobbing softly to himself and standing over a pile of broken robots. Small, semi-transparent text at the bottom of the screen read, "Not an actor."
"Well, have I got news for you!" the narrator said brightly. "The wonderful Cortex Empire Government Dictatorship Nation has spent billions of taxpayer global currency units to create... the Evil Retirement Community!" The image cut to a dark, foreboding skyscraper in the middle of a thunderstorm while upbeat music played in the background. "Now mad scientists and other dictators put out of work by Lord Cortex have a place to go where they can live in comfort. The Evil Retirement Community comes equipped with an evil salad bar, a wicked shuffleboard room, morally neutral restrooms, enslaved rebels waiting on you hand and foot, and more!" Images of each attraction flashed by.
"Here's some testimony from one of our many satisfied evil masterminds!"
A fat, bald man with a red labcoat, shiny round glasses, and a bushy brown mustache appeared onscreen. "I used to waste my life trying to kill my arch-nemesis," he said. "But now that Lord Cortex has done that for me, I can live in leisure to the end of my days! Now if you'll excuse me, I need to go cameo in a Disney movie, too..."
The camera returned to focus on the building as the narrator quickly added, "All you have to do to join is present your evil diploma and then swear eternal allegiance to Lord Cortex so you can help him build weapons of mass destruction."
Then the video cut to black.
The enslaved rebel working the front desk was busy silently cursing his life when a group of odd-looking mutants entered the lobby.
"Hey, you!" he said, stopping them. "You four look awfully familiar. Haven't I seen you somewhere before?"
The scrawny orange mutant grinned and waved at him, while the hairy reptilian mutant glanced anxiously at the nearby TV. A news headline read, "FOUR RENEGADE MUTANTS TERRORIZE CORTEX MUSEUM!"
"We, uh, get that a lot," said the blue kangaroo. "I guess we have that kind of face. I'm actually a well-reputed doctor..." He glanced down at his straightjacket. "...escape artist."
"Oh, okay, then by all means, come inside," said the slave in a bored monotone. "So which retired evil mastermind are you lowly mutant underlings visiting?"
The doctor hesitated a moment before saying, "N. Trance."
"What's the 'N' stand for?" asked the slave.
The four mutants traded glances. All of them looked lost.
"It's just there for the sake of the pun, ain't it?" said the hairy reptile.
"Oh yeah, one of the 'N pun' guys," realized the slave. "They hang out on the fourth floor, just past all the out-of-work Nintendo villains. You can't miss 'em. Geez, though, 'entrance,' really? Kinda lame."
"Yes, well, he's from the GBA games, which had, like, zero effort put into them." The mutants sped off, barely concealing their relief.
The enslaved rebel remained at his desk, totally mystified. "So... familiar..."
The mutants were right in front of the elevator when the big, muscular one suddenly blurted out, "Hooray! Tiny so happy we fool dumb guard! Now legendary hero Crash Bandicoot can capture evil N. Trance!"
"Hey, wait a minute!" The slave was pretty stupid, but he wasn't that stupid. He immediately hopped out of his desk and dashed towards them. "Show me some Cortex Empire-issued identification before I call security to-"
But the slave's voice trailed off when he realized the mutants were staring at something behind him. He slowly turned around to find a black mask floating inches from his face.
"You don't need to see our identification," it growled, "because YOU LOWLY HUMAN MAGGOT WILL NOT LIVE TO SEE THE LIGHT OF ANOTHER DAY IF YOU DO NOT COMPLY WITH THE WILL OF THE GREAT UKA UKA, LORD OF MISERY AND RUIN!"
Crash and his friends had no further difficulty boarding the elevator because the slave had run off to cry and find a fresh pair of pants. The mutants spent their ride up in total silence, save for the faint sound of elevator music. They each tried their best not to stare at Uka Uka, who hovered beside them quietly, his face an unflinching glare. Crash coughed, more to fill the silence than because he really needed to.
An eternity later, there was a ding, and they all hurried out the elevator.
"Tropy? N. Tropy, it's your move!"
"Yes, yes, I'm thinking!" replied a voice in a British accent. "Be patient, won't you?"
Two retired villains were huddled over a chessboard, each seated in a comfy armchair.
"Servant, fetch me another cup of tea," the British one ordered his personal enslaved rebel. This evil scientist was tall and thin, wearing bronze armor embedded with countless clock faces. And that wasn't even the strangest thing about Dr. Nefarious Tropy. No, that distinction went to his bright blue skin, a side effect of too much time travel.
N. Tropy moved a chess piece and declared, "Check." For all you non-chess-players reading, that means the piece shaped like Cortex's head was in danger of being captured.
"Drat!" cursed his opponent. This retired evil mastermind was a purple egg-shaped alien from the fifth dimension. Yeah, mad scientists are a varied bunch. In lieu of limbs, he wore a suit of mechanical armor. If the spiral insignia on his chest didn't give it away, this was N. Trance. Not sure if he had a doctorate, though.
"Well, what if I move here?" Trance moved one of his pawns – That's the piece shaped like Crash's head.
"Ha HA! I am the fastest racer in the galaxy!" On the other side of the room, yet another odd-looking fellow held up his Playstation controller triumphantly. This one was an alien from the planet Gasmoxia, and as such he had bright green skin, four legs, a purple shirt, and a face that can only be described as freakishly deformed. Of course, "N. Oxide" wasn't really a pun like the other bad guy's names, but Nitros Oxide got lumped in with them anyways by association.
"Yeah, yeah, don't let it go to your head," grumbled the robotically-distorted voice of his opponent. The last retired evil scientist had kind of a beat-up look to him. His white lab coat was riddled with holes, and what's worse, his face was almost completely covered in metal with only a couple strands of red hair poking out. Oh, and he had a pair of missiles sticking out both sides of his head.
"Just because you win at Cortex Team Racing doesn't mean you're a good racer in real life," said Dr. N. Gin.
"You should've seen me in my prime," said Oxide smugly. "I used to go around challenging racers for their planets! But then Lord Cortex, err... fired nukes at my ship. I totally would've beaten him in a race, though."
"Yeah, well, I used to have one missile in my head." N. Gin pointed dramatically as his twin missiles.
"Really? What happened?"
"Warhead accident. You'd think I'd be more careful after the first time."
Just then, there was a ding from the elevator.
"Ooh, maybe that's one of the female servants with that massage I ordered," said N. Tropy. At this, N. Gin and Oxide jumped up and turned to the elevator in anticipation. The doors swung open.
"FOOLS! COWER BEFORE THE RIGHTFUL RULER OF THIS MISERABLE PLANET, THE GREAT UKA UKA!"
And then the ex-villains shrieked and stumbled backwards.
"N. Tropy, you traitorous worm!" Uka Uka floated across the penthouse towards him. "I thought you my ally, but when Cortex abandoned me, did you come to my aid?"
"W-Why, Uka Uka, I'm so happy to see you're free!" said N. Tropy, wiping sweat from his brow. "I, uh, I was going to free you, of course, but I, uh, I just remembered I left the bathwater running!" He ran for a giant tuning fork resting against the wall and teleported away.
Crash let out a slow whistle as the four mutants followed Uka Uka into the room. This place had everything – hot tubs, flat screen TVs, comfy recliners, servants everywhere... Of course, they were all pretty freaked out to see an evil tiki spirit barge in.
"Wait, so you blokes get all this, and all we get is a crummy restaurant?" huffed Dingodile.
"What the-? Who're these guys supposed to be?" asked Oxide.
"Oh, those are some of Lord Cortex's old creations," said N. Gin. "They rebelled against him and- Hey, that one looks like Commander Crash." He glared at Crash and put his hands on his hips. "Y'know, it's not polite to stare."
Crash jerked his eyes away from N. Gin's second missile. Now, Crash didn't have the best memory, but he was pretty sure that hadn't been there in Crash's own timeline. The other guys looked about the same as Crash remembered them, though.
"N. Trance!" Uka Uka growled, floating towards the purple space egg. "Submit to my demands and the sudden end to your wretched existence will be postponed!"
"I know who you are," said N. Trance. "You're that mask Cortex promised to free from your temple prison, and then when Cortex took over the world, he hung you out to dry like a complete tool."
"I'd be careful what you say, mate," said Dingodile. "This bloke's got laser-eyes." Uka Uka's eyes glowed red to illustrate the point.
Crash couldn't outright tell N. Trance this, but he tried to use his facial expression and body language to convey the idea that he was a good guy and was in no way affiliated with the diabolical evil spirit floating over his shoulder.
"Here's what you're going to do," said Uka Uka. "You're going to come with us to see your old comrade, Dr. N. Brio, and then the two of you will engineer a means of disabling that wretched Cortex Vortex space station and freeing the inhabitants of this disgusting planet from being brainwashed into being loyal to Cortex. Andthenbrainwashthemintobeingloyaltomeinstead."
"Wait, what was that last part?" asked Dingodile.
"And what if I refuse?" said N. Trance.
"Then prepare to be hard boiled!"
"Oh yeah? Let's see you crack egg jokes once I've BRAINWASHED ALL OF YOU!"
Suddenly, there was a blinding flash of light, and the next thing he knew, Tiny was tackling Uka Uka and pinning him to the wall.
"FOOL! How dare you defy me?" roared Uka Uka. "Have you lost the last fleeting remnants of your sanity?"
"Oh, put a sock in it, you overblown villain cliché," smirked N. Trance. "Did it really never occur to you that the guy named 'N. Trance' might try to, I don't know, brainwash you?"
"Ha! My mystical powers protect me from such mortal trickery!"
"You, perhaps, but not your pets." N. Trance turned to his mind-slaves. "Minions, attack!"
"We... obey... Master N. Trance." Dr. Roo, Tiny, and Dingodile readied their explosive crates, claws, and flamethrower, but Crash only blinked and scratched his butt, his face a total blank.
"Ah, yes, you're the failed experiment from the other timeline," N. Trance realized. "The one who through some fluke or other can't be mind controlled. No matter. Minions! Tear them both apart limb from limb!"
The mind-slaves looked from Uka Uka to N. Trance and back.
N. Trance rolled his eyes. "Tear the bandicoot limb from limb and just break the mask into pieces or something!"
The mind-slaves understood this order much better.
("We'll just, uh, excuse ourselves out..." N. Gin and Oxide felt this was a good time to quietly exit the suite.)
Our heroic marsupial eyed the explosive crates, claws, and flamethrower anxiously. He stepped backwards towards the elevator.
Uka Uka glared at Crash expectantly. "What are you waiting for? Are you not the legendary hero? Have you not bested all these foes several times over in your own timeline? Then DESTROY THEM, CRASH BANDICOOT!"
The mind-slaves neared their prey. Crash took a deep breath, flexed his arms... and then fled the room, screaming.
Chapter 11: Boss Fight
By now, the whole Evil Retirement Community was in an uproar. The brainwashed mutants running through the halls had roused the attention of every last retired villain, and most of them still had a few death-rays lying around. Of course, Lab Assistants had been dispatched to deal with the chaos, but by then Crash had had plenty of time to find a hiding place.
"Get in there and fight, you spineless mound of fat!" Uka Uka screamed at the top of his nonexistent lungs. Crash frantically shushed him. The two of them were hiding out on ledge of a windowsill. Uka Uka, of course, could simply hover in the air, but Crash was forced to cling to the edge of the skyscraper for dear life. Years of bouncing on crates over bottomless pits had removed Crash's fear of heights, but that didn't exactly make the prospect of falling to the pavement miles below look appealing.
Our fuzzy protagonist wasn't sure how long he stayed up there, but just as his fingers were getting unbearably tired, he heard a voice from below him.
"Must... destroy... bandicoot." It was his three friends. Unfortunately judging from the swirly spirals in their eyes, they were no less brainwashed than before. From an open window just below Crash's, Tiny dug his claws into the wall and began scaling the building. It was a bit harder for the other two to climb, though, so Dingodile opted to aim his flamethrower skywards while Dr. Roo hurled some Nitro crates.
Crash yelped and jumped to a higher windowsill, his behind only slight singed. With a deafening boom, the Nitro detonated and sent rubble falling down. One of the larger chunks of concrete hit poor Dr. Roo right on the noggin.
"Blimey!" he yelled, his monotone vanishing and his pupils returning. "What's going on?"
Wait a tick. Bonking Dr. Roo on the head had turned him back to normal? So that meant, if Crash wanted to un-brainwash the others… all he had to do was beat the tar out of them!
"That does it! I'll kill them myself!" Uka Uka turned to the mind-slaves and readied his laser-eyes, but Crash cried out in horror and yanked on the mask so that he missed.
Uka Uka scowled at him. "Fine, then, you do it. Just don't expect me to give you an extra hit point like my idiot brother." Crash rolled his eyes.
"Tiny no has free will!" Tiny pounced onto Crash's windowsill, prompting Crash to shriek and dive through the window to safety. There was a feminine scream from inside, and a second later, Crash returned to the windowsill, blushing profusely.
"Nowhere to hide now!" taunted Tiny. Crash ducked a swipe from his claws, causing them to slam into the back wall and embed themselves in the concrete. Tiny tried to yank his claws out, but they were stuck tight.
For a minute, Crash and Tiny stared at each other in silence.
"Fiddlesticks," said Tiny. Crash proceeded to spin Tiny with all his might.
"Ugh... Tiny so confused..." The blow seemed to jolt Tiny out of the brainwashing. His eyes soon traveled towards his feet. "AAAAAGH! TINY HAVE PATHELOGICAL FEAR OF HEIGHTS!"
Meanwhile, on a lower ledge, Dr. Roo had pieced together what was going on. A swirly-eyed Dingodile chanting, "Roast bandicoot... for master N. Trance..." and readying his flamethrower was kind of a giveaway.
"Forgive me, old bean…"
"Huh?" Dingodile turned to Dr. Roo, only to receive a faceful of TNT. Being a cartoon character, Dingodile was left covered in suit, totally unharmed, and un-brainwashed. "Agh! What the-? What's goin' on?"
"Just a touch of brainwashing, old chap," said Dr. Roo. "Try to remain calm. Oh, and don't look down."
"Don't look-? SWEET DINGO'S BABY!"
Back on the higher windowsill, with Tiny back to normal, Crash figured he ought to return to solid ground. And because he didn't want to further invade a lady's privacy, Crash decided to climb to the roof.
He pulled himself to the top of the skyscraper and let out a slow whistle. From this high up, Crash could see for miles. Dystopian cities plastered with Cortex's face stretched as far as the eye could see. There was nothing but uniform black buildings with nary a tree in sight.
Crash didn't exactly have a head for geography (All the countries had been renamed after Cortex anyways), but he had a feeling most places on the planet looked identical to... wherever this Evil Retirement Community was. The horrible sight before him inspired Crash. He vowed then and there to put an end to Cortex's reign of tyranny! Just as soon as he took a quick power nap and found a restroom. Hmm... This "heroics" thing was much harder without Coco or Aku Aku telling him what to do.
"Admiring the last view you'll ever see?" came a voice from behind him. Crash spun around to find N. Trance standing across from him on the roof. "I don't know who you think you are, waltzing in here like you can overthrow Lord Cortex single-handedly, but I happen to like this retirement community, so if you think I'll help you, you're sorely mistaken."
Crash wanted to rebut this, but obviously that wasn't doable, so he motioned for Uka Uka to speak for him.
"YOUR ACTIONS WILL NOT BE FORGOTTEN AFTER I'VE ENSLAVED THIS MISERABLE PLANET, N. TRANCE! NOW BEHOLD AS MY BANDICOOT SERVANT PROCEEDS TO UTTERLY OBLITERATE YOU! BWAH HA HA HA HA!"
Crash sighed and readied his spinning muscles.
Now, I know the chronology of the Crash Bandicoot series was confusing enough already without me throwing in an alternate timeline, so listen up. This fanfic takes place soon after the events of Crash Twinsanity. Crash met N. Trance for the first time in the GBA game Crash Bandicoot 2: N-Tranced. If we assume that both games are canon, N-Tranced must be happening after Twinsanity because Crunch is a member of the Bandicoot family, and yet Uka Uka is not frozen in ice. At the end of Wrath of Cortex, Crunch joined the good guys and Uka Uka was frozen, and Uka Uka wasn't freed from the ice until Twinsanity. So basically, N-Tranced must take place sometime after the conclusion of this fanfic (Yeah, spoilers, this fanfic doesn't end with Crash getting brutally murdered. Sorry).
And what all of this ultimately means is that Crash had no earthly idea who the heck this N. Trance person was, since they'd never actually met before. Which meant he didn't know about N. Trance's retractable chain-hand.
All of a sudden, N. Trance's clock-hand shot off his arm on a chain and wrung Crash's neck. The poor bandicoot's eyes bulged like a pair of balloons as he was squeezed harder and harder.
Uka Uka flew over to Crash's shoulder to give him a helpful pep talk. "Pathetic FOOL! What kind of INCOMPETENT legendary hero ARE you? Can't you even defeat a simple EGG?" Crash's only reply was a strangled gurgle.
"Alright, mate, drop the bandicoot before we turn you sunny side up!" Before Crash could change from orange to blue, Dr. Roo, Tiny, and Dingodile jumped onto the roof. A quick blast of flamethrower made N. Trance release Crash, who fell to the ground and gratefully sucked in air.
"Looks like we arrived in the nick of time," said Dr. Roo.
"We help legendary hero fight egg-man!" said Tiny.
"No, that's a different villain."
Dr. Roo hurled some TNT. Caught off guard by Dr. Roo's ability to pull explosive crates out of nowhere, N. Trance took the brunt of the blast and was knocked off his robotic feet.
"Agh! I gotta get out of here!" Suddenly, the limbs ejected from N. Trance's mechsuit and his bottom turned into a jet – N. Trance was airborne. "Have to recharge before I can brainwash them again..."
"He's gettin' away!" yelled Dingodile.
"Legendary hero, what do we do?" Dr. Roo turned to Crash expectantly, but Crash looked blank.
"Bah! Don't bother with him!" spat Uka Uka. "That little orange rat is no more a legendary hero than Tiny is a rocket scientist."
"Tiny set high goals in life!"
"That's not true," said Dr. Roo. "Crash always bested Cortex in his own timeline." Crash nodded in agreement.
"And what makes you so sure this is the same bandicoot?" said Uka Uka. "Has he ever actually done anything to help us at all so far?"
"Well, he- err, I mean, he, uh..." Dr. Roo sputtered. Crash's ears drooped.
"Y'know, I'm still not sure he's really the legendary hero just 'cause he looks like Commander Crash," said Dingodile. "Didn't Tiny find him washed up on the beach? This bloke's probably nothin' but another one of Lord Cortex's failed experiments."
Crash tried to tell everybody that he was the legendary hero, but somehow pointing to himself and flexing his nonexistent muscles didn't seem to convey the message.
"And if this isn't the legendary hero," Uka Uka continued, floating close enough for Crash to smell his stinky breath, "then we've been wasting our time. We have no hope of defeating N. Trance, let alone Cortex!"
But before the conversation could reach its inevitable conclusion of Uka Uka suggesting they murder Crash, the entire skyscraper suddenly shook.
"What was that?" gulped Dr. Roo. Everybody slowly turned around to see a robot about half as big as the skyscraper itself staring them down. Girlish screams filled the air (Yes, even from Uka Uka).
The robot hovered above the tower. It was shaped like a mechanical, three-headed dragon and packed to the brim with dangerous-looking missiles. At the tip of each dragon head was a cockpit housing a different mad scientist: N. Tropy, Nitros Oxide, and N. Trance. N. Gin was strapped into the mech's chest, piloting the body.
"I'd been meaning to take the old Hydra-Gin out of storage," laughed Dr. N. Gin. "Everyone, fire ALL THE MISSILES!"
"Get behind us!" Dr. Roo, Dingodile, and Uka Uka fired their flamethrower, explosives, and laser-eyes at the oncoming missiles while Crash and Tiny cowered behind them. When the smoke cleared, the five of them were a pile of ash. No, wait, my mistake, they were all fine.
"Hmm... Those mutants are more resilient than I thought," said Oxide. "Okay, then, let's try this."
While Dingodile was distracted refueling his flamethrower, Oxide's hydra-head lunged at him. He would've been done for, but at the last minute, Crash dived and tackled Dingodile out of harm's way, narrowly avoiding getting his butt chomped off by steel fangs.
"You... You saved me," Dingodile breathed. Crash replied by giving him a big hug.
"Okay, everybody," Dr. Roo called out to the team, "split up and take one villain each!"
"Tiny smash!" Tiny pounced onto the head piloted by N. Trance and started pounding on the cockpit roof, but before he could break through, N. Trance gazed deep into his eyes.
"You don't want to smash," said N. Trance.
"Tiny don't want to smash."
"You want to do peaceful things like gardening and embroidery."
No, Tiny! Tiny scolded himself. Tiny need smash egg-man. Tiny liberate planet from Cortex.
But Tiny feel so sleepy! protested Tiny. One nap not hurt-
Focus, man! snapped Tiny. We can't trust eggy-person!
"You feel I am extremely trustworthy," said N. Trance. "Now you're going to jump off the Hydra-Gin and plummet to your death because I told you to."
Seems legit, thought Tiny.
At the edge of the rooftop, Dingodile was fighting Oxide's robo-head. Unfortunately, his flamethrower was running low on fuel and having little effect on the mecha.
"Tiny fly! Tiny beautiful bird!"
"What the-?" Dingodile turned his head in time to see Tiny throw himself into the open air. "TINY, NO!"
Luckily, Dingodile held out his croc-tail at the last minute, and Tiny at least had enough sense left to grab on for dear life.
"Crikey!" Dingodile nearly lost his balance, but he managed to stay on his feet until Tiny was back on solid ground.
"Aww, look at that," N. Gin said smugly. "The disgusting mutant freaks are helping each other out. How cute."
"I think it's high time we clocked these meddlesome mutants!" said N. Tropy. There was a collective groan from the others. "What? What did I say?"
Back on the rooftops, our heroes had met with little success and were currently retreated.
"I don't mean to sound overly alarmist," said Dr. Roo, gazing up at the sky, "but I do believe there's another wave of missiles coming straight for us, and I'm fresh out of TNT and Nitro."
"Yeah, and I'm fresh outta fuel, too," said Dingodile, giving the empty canister on his back a shake. "Well, guess we're all f-"
When the smoke cleared, the only hero left conscious was a cowering and whimpering Crash. But don't worry, the others were all still alive. Cartoon characters, remember? (Well, technically, they're 3D video game models, but you know what I mean.)
"We have you now!" laughed N. Trance.
"No," growled Uka Uka, materializing by Crash's shoulder. "There is one way. Tell me, Crash Bandicoot, are you prepared... to accept my power?"
This time, there really was a dramatic thunderclap.
Chapter 12: Briodict Arnold
The mad scientists looked around, baffled.
"Was that thunder?" asked N. Gin. "It's bright and sunny out. Why would there be-?" The next second, the sky was filled with storm clouds. "Oh."
Back on the skyscraper rooftop, Uka Uka overlooked the rain contently. "Yes! This is the ideal weather conditions for you to accept my power!"
Crash had to admit, Uka Uka had a point. The rain certainly added a dramatic backdrop to the battle. If there was ever an appropriate time to absorb the power of darkness, it was now. Besides, Crash wasn't too keen on being on the receiving end of the Hydra-Gin's missiles again.
In fact, Crash would've been bandicootoast by now, except that inside the mecha, the mad scientists were having a minor squabble.
"Does this really have to end in violence?" N. Gin asked his co-pilots over the mecha's radio com-link. "I'm supposed to be retired from evil, you know. Can't we write this all off as a wacky misunderstanding and invite them to play video games with us?"
"I'm reasonably certain we took that option off the table when you brought out the giant robot," said N. Tropy flatly.
"Alright, alright, I was just asking..."
N. Gin prepared to fire all his biggest, explodiest missiles. Crash would've been done for, but then he turned his head and realized that there just so happened to be three conveniently-placed Uka Uka crates nearby. Crash quickly spun them all.
"Yes... Yes!" Uka Uka attached himself to Crash's face. Epic, demonic orchestral music immediately started blaring in the background.
"You idiot!" Oxide snapped at N. Gin. "You let him get an invincibility power-up!"
"Quick!" yelled N. Gin. "Everybody do evasive maneuvers until the song finishes!"
Cold laughter emanated from the mask. It started out as a soft chuckle, then slowly grew into an outright maniacal cackle.
Back inside the mecha, N. Gin, N. Tropy, N. Trance, and Oxide were shrieking like a pack of frightened toddlers. The Uka/Crash hybrid simply stood perfectly straight and made a "come at me, bro" gesture with his hand.
The Hydra-Gin launched its biggest, most explodiest missile at Uka Crash, but he caught the weapon with one hand. Uka Crash squeezed it hard enough to detonate, but when the smoke cloud cleared, he was totally unharmed. The next instant, Uka Crash pounced into the air and started spinning. He was so high in the atmosphere that lightning struck him, but thanks to his invincibility, instead of turning Uka Crash into deep fried marsupial, it actually electrified his tornado.
The tornado slammed into the Hydra-Gin like a meteor and drilled clean through to the other side. Uka Crash landed on N. Tropy's cockpit with a resounding thud.
"Time for you to clock out," quipped Uka Uka.
The Hydra-Gin erupted in a massive fireball.
Crash did a backflip and landed back on the roof right as the music finished. Uka Uka was immediately ejected from his face. The mask turned to Crash's friends, who'd gotten all better after being knocked out earlier.
"And THAT is why I'm called THE GREAT UKA UKA!"
Crash and co. were suitably impressed, except for Dingodile, who muttered, "Why didn't you do all that earlier before we got our butts handed to us?"
"Do you want to get zapped by my laser-eyes?"
"No, great Uka Uka..."
Just then, one of the Hydra-Gin heads landed about two inches from Tiny's foot, leaving a giant crater in the roof.
"Tiny need change of thong," said Tiny.
Out of the wreckage ejected N. Trance, but his mechsuit seemed damaged. Instead of rocketing away, it plopped to the ground, causing N. Trance's egg-shaped body to go tumbling out. He was sent rolling directly towards our heroes. N. Trance tried to wriggle away, but moving when you don't have any limbs isn't as easy as it sounds. Crash snickered.
"Yeah, yeah, laugh at the guy with no arms or legs," grumbled Uka Uka. "I hope you sleep well at night, you sick freak."
By the way, in case you were worried about them, N. Gin, N. Tropy, and Oxide were all totally unharmed from that explosion. Cartoon characters, remember?
Our heroes teleported back to the Warp Room in high spirits. The capture of N. Trance had been their first major victory over the forces of evil (Freeing Uka Uka probably didn't fit this criteria).
Crash triumphantly ran to the Load/Save screen to save his progress to the memory card, causing a wave of nostalgia to wash over him. Dr. Roo and Dingodile traded smiles while Tiny proudly carried their eggy prisoner into the Brio Base. N. Trance was tied up with rope, though in retrospect that had maybe been an unnecessary precaution.
"Crash Bandicoot." Crash turned towards Uka Uka, who was hovering by his shoulder. "It would seem I was mistaken about you. While I controlled your body, I sensed within you a strength greater than anything I've ever seen in Cortex's creations. Perhaps you truly are the legendary hero." Crash shot Uka Uka a thumbs-up and a toothy grin.
"We make a suitable team," Uka Uka continued. "Once we've overthrown Cortex, you can be my second-in-command in charge of this planet."
Crash gulped. He'd have to politely decline Uka Uka's offer when the time came.
"Hey, mates," spoke up Dingodile, "not to ruin the moment, but ain't N. Brio and the Komodo Bros s'posed to be waitin' for us?"
"Yes, their absence certainly is strange," said Dr. Roo. "Where do you suppose they could be?"
Everybody gasped as Dr. N. Brio burst into the room flanked by Lab Assistants. Two of the robots were restraining Komodo Moe and Joe.
"There they are!" yelled N. Brio, pointing a dramatic finger at our heroes. "Get them!"
"BETRAYAL?" Uka Uka readied his laser-eyes. "PREPARE TO LOSE YOUR LIFE, HUMAN SCUM- Agh!" The next thing he knew, a flying disk shot from one of the Lab Assistants and projected a blue forcefield bubble around him.
"Ha! Did you really think Lord Cortex wouldn't be prepared to deal with some hunk of wood?" laughed N. Brio. "When he defeated the Evil Twins, Cortex reverse-engineered their technology and powers. You stupid masks are useless against him now."
"YOU DARE TO IMPRISON THE GREAT UKA UKA?" Uka Uka roared, slamming against the edge of the forcefield with all his might. "I AM A POWERFUL DEMONIC FORCE! I AM THE HARBINGER OF YOUR DOOM! AND THE FORCES OF DARKNESS WILL APPLAUD ME AS I STRIDE THROUGH THE GATES OF HELL CARRYING YOUR HEAD ON A PIKE!
N. Brio raised an eyebrow. "Stride?"
"Alright then, float! Float through the Gates of Hell! Must you take the fun out of everything?"
"Run, mates!" yelled Dingodile. "Back to the Warp Room!"
Our heroes scrambled for the warp portal, but unfortunately, the Lab Assistants happened to be much quicker. Crash, Dr. Roo, Tiny, Dingodile, and the Komodo Bros were shoved into the corner of the space station's main hub. N. Brio stood on the captain's deck several feet above the ground (which made him just slightly taller than everyone else).
"Why did you do it, old chap?" asked Dr. Roo, his mustache wilting. "I thought you hated Cortex for taking credit for your inventions."
"Funny thing about that," smirked N. Brio. "Turns out living a life of exile in the middle of outer space isn't all it's cracked up to be. I've spent years in this space station, and it sucks! It's cold, there isn't a Neobucks for miles, and my only company is a pair of brainless reptiles!"
Moe looked deeply hurt, while Joe muttered, "It ssstill beat working at Dingo'sss Diner."
"I wasn't lying when I said Cortex wanted to kill me," continued N. Brio, "but as soon as your little Holo-Messenger probe contacted me, I saw an opportunity. I figured Cortex and I could put aside our differences if I captured the legendary hero for him."
N. Brio motioned towards Crash, who failed to stifle a yawn. At this point, Crash considered himself an expert at sitting through evil villain monologues. If this one went on any longer, he was planning on taking a quick power nap.
"I sent you on a wild goose chase to give myself time to contact the Cortex Empire. In fact, I was kind of hoping you'd die out there, but you furry little pests have proven annoyingly resilient. While you were gone, Lord Cortex and I managed to strike up a deal. He's giving me the new vacant spot in the Evil Retirement Community in exchange for you rebels. Hot tubs and room service is going to be quite a step up from the vacuum of space, wouldn't you agree? Cortex was even considerate enough to lend me a couple Lab Assistants to aid in your capture. So what if I don't get any credit for helping him rule the world? I'll still be living like a king!"
"You let world be enslaved in exchange for material goods?" Tiny scowled. "You have very warped sense of morality!"
"Wow, that's pretty insightful of you, Tiny," said Dingodile.
"Eh, Tiny study philosophy in spare time."
N. Trance laughed. He'd been propped up against the wall opposite our protagonists. "Excellent work, N. Brio. You've made the right choice – The Evil Retirement Community is the best. By the way, I didn't hear anything about a vacancy. Whose spot are you oh crap wait."
"Sorry, N. Trance." N. Brio retrieved a ray-gun from inside his labcoat. "But you are the only other person capable of dismantling the Cortex Vortex space station, and as you've just illustrated for us, it's not that hard for a rebel group to capture you." He aimed at N. Trance's face.
"N-No! You can't kill me!" yelped N. Trance. "I thought this was rated E for Every-" Zap. Where N. Trance had one stood, now there was nothing but a gigantic pile of delicious scrambled eggs.
N. Brio blew smoke from his barrel. "That's just what he deserved for not being a Naughty Dog-era character."
A Lab Assistant stood on the Warp Room button labeled "thirteen," summoning a portal to the foreboding halls of Cortex Castle. The prisoners were marched single-file, starting with Uka Uka and followed by Tiny and Dr. Roo. But when it came time for the Komodo Bros, the Lab Assistants switched the portal to a new location.
"Why aren't Moe and I going with the othersss?" asked Joe.
"You weren't really part of the rebellion," shrugged N. Brio, "so instead of killing you, we're going to make you work at Dingo's Diner."
"Y'know, it really ain't that bad," grumbled Dingodile.
Once the others were taken care of, it was finally Crash's turn to enter the portal. He overlooked the warp vortex generated by the flying saucer-device. Crash audibly gulped.
He would've liked to hesitate a bit longer, but one of the Lab Assistants pushed him in.
Chapter 13: The Neuro-Ray Braingrogrow Eight Thousand, Patented Cortex Industries 2014, All Rights Reserved
Crash and his comrades were dragged down the twisting halls of Cortex Castle, their limbs bound by tight chains (or a forcefield bubble for anyone who happened to be limbless). The procession of Lab Assistants led by Dr. N. Brio halted its march at the castle throne room, where Lord Cortex sat inside his vast cyborg mechsuit. The helmet slid back to reveal Lord Cortex's grinning face.
"Crash, my boy!" he greeted warmly. "How wonderful to see you-" Crash gave a hopeful smile. "-in your place!" The smile vanished. "Now, down to business. Minions!" Lord Cortex clapped his hands, prompting the Lab Assistants to dig through the pockets of Crash and Dingodile's jeans, as well as hold Dr. Roo's hat upside-down to shake it. They ended up confiscating a pile of TNT, Nitro, a flamethrower, a yo-yo, and a moldy old Wumpa fruit (Crash had been saving that for later). One Lab Assistant tried to check Tiny's thong, too, but Tiny slapped his hand away, and the Assistant pulled back, blushing.
"Excellent." Lord Cortex pressed a button on his mechsuit and spoke into a two-way radio. "Dr. N. Jur, I have some prisoners for you."
"W-Who's this N. Jur bloke?" gulped Dingodile.
"Oh, no one special," said Lord Cortex. "Just my master torturer." He let loose a hearty evil laugh. The prisoners whimpered in fear.
Suddenly, N. Brio cleared his throat. "Now, Cortex, I think we both agree I held up my end of the bargain admirably. I'll be on my way to the Evil Retirement Community." He moved for the door, but his path was blocked by the Lab Assistants.
"And where do you think you're going, Nitrus?" asked Lord Cortex.
"I, uh, w-well, I d-did everything you asked!" Was it Crash's imagination, or was a bit of stutter creeping back into N. Brio's voice? "Aren't you honoring your end of the b-b-bargain?"
Lord Cortex, enslaver of the planet, looked from his evil robotic minions to the dark throne of fallen nations he sat upon. "You're joking, right?" His ray-gun arm glowed neon green.
"No! No! Wait! You c-c-can't do this to me!" N. Brio frantically struggled against the Lab Assistants. "I was your best friend, Neo! What about all those years together at the Academy of Evil?"
"Nitrus, stop, I'm tearing up, here," Lord Cortex deadpanned. "Hmm, should I set this ray-gun to 'death' or 'painful death?'"
"I'm the only reason you ever G-GOT your stupid Evolvo-Ray working in the F-FIRST PLACE!"
"Exactly!" said Lord Cortex. "I can't have word getting out to my citizens that I needed help to take over the world. It's bad for my image."
"IT DOESN'T M-M-MATTER WHAT YOUR IMAGE IS!" N. Brio flat-out screamed. "YOU'RE USING YOUR F-F-FREAKING CORTEX VORTEX TO BRAINWASH THE PLANET!"
"Oh, right." Lord Cortex pondered this for a moment. "Well, can't hurt to be thorough."
Zap. In the blink of an eye, nothing remained of N. Brio but a pile of ash and some googly cartoon eyeballs. Crash, Dr. Roo, Tiny, Dingodile, and even Uka Uka were left slackjawed in horror.
"Body count rising at alarming rate," said Tiny.
Lord Cortex smirked at him. "And once N. Jur's done interrogating you lackeys, it'll swell by three more."
Tiny blinked, his face a total blank.
"The death count will swell by three more," Lord Cortex repeated patiently, "after I no longer have need of you, Dingodile, and Ripper Roo."
Tiny's face was unchanged.
"Because I'm going to kill you."
Tiny looked from Dingodile to Dr. Roo, then slowly counted to three on his fingers. His eyes lit up. "Oh no!"
Just then, a mechanical door whirred open and another mad scientist entered the room. Crash didn't actually recognize this guy, though he kinda reminded Crash of Dr. N. Gin. He was a midget in a labcoat with greasy black hair and pale skin, and like N. Gin, half his face was covered in metal. The difference was, instead of a missile, he had an ax lodged in his noggin.
"You called, my lord?" said Dr. N. Jur in a gravelly voice.
"N. Jur, just in time!" Lord Cortex smiled. "I've captured the legendary hero's little band of rebels. Take the three lackeys and torture them for information, and put the mask with his twin. I'll deal with the bandicoot."
"As you wish, master." N. Jur overlooked Crash hungrily, sending a shiver down Crash's spine. "So, you're the hero of legend? Ha! I've squished bugs more fearsome than you!" Crash tried to put on a brave face, but his chattering teeth betrayed him.
Our hero frowned as he watched the Lab Assistants drag his friends down the hall alongside N. Jur. Funny, Crash had never seen this "N. Jur" guy in his own timeline... and hadn't N. Brio said something about a mysterious "Dr. N-something" showing up at the point where this timeline diverged from Crash's? Crash gave this some deep thought.
Ah, well, it was probably nothing! Crash was sure this random detail wasn't going to turn out to be incredibly important later on.
"Alone at last." Lord Cortex turned to the captive bandicoot. "Now, then, Crash, let's pick up where we left off right before you thought jumping out the window was a good idea. I have such a wonderful new toy to show you..."
Crash gave a toothy grin. He loved toys! Crash hoped it was a Buzz Lightyear!
Dr. Roo, Tiny, and Dingodile found themselves chained to three operating tables in a darkened room.
"The fun will start veeeeeeeeery soon," N. Jur said with a creepy grin. "I just need to get the machinery warmed up."
"Tiny? Roo?" Dingodile looked back and forth at his comrades. "Whatever happens, I want you two to know... you blokes are my best mates..." His voice cracked and dissolved into sobs.
"Yes, we've had a jolly good time together," Dr. Roo said gravely.
"Tiny love you, you love Tiny, we a happy family!" sobbed Tiny.
It was too dark to see anything, but the mutants could hear the whirring of machinery over the sound of N. Jur's wicked laughter...
The sound of howls carried into the adjacent room. Said room contained countless glass panes, behind which were a variety of captured heroes deep in cryo-sleep. Some were cartoon animals, weird alien mammalian creatures, and... whatever the heck Rayman's supposed to be, but there were also a couple regular-looking humans, such as a ruggedly handsome adventurer with stubble on his chin, a desert scarf around his neck, and a gun in his hands.
And, in the display case next to the slumbering Fake Crash, a second bubble had been added.
"Hello, brother," said Aku Aku. "It's been a long time."
"Not nearly long enough, my pathetic excuse for a sibling," spat Uka Uka.
"Brother," Aku Aku said firmly, "now is not the time to let our differences cloud our judgment."
"Why not?" snapped Uka Uka. "Cortex somehow managed to enslave the planet without me, the rebellion I foolishly put my faith in failed dismally, there hasn't been a good Crash Bandicoot game in years, and we masks will likely spend the rest of our lives imprisoned in these wretched spheres until Cortex finds a way to kill us!" (Editor's Note: Remember, this fanfic was originally written back in the dark times before the announcement of the N. Sane Trilogy.)
"All hope is not lost," said Aku Aku. "I have had faith for years, brother, waiting for the right opportunity to come along, and now, in the span of a few days, I have freed the legendary hero, and he has brought you and I together."
"Yes, you have been waiting for years," said Uka Uka, "but I have been waiting for EONS! If you think I'll EVER forgive you for imprisoning me, you're an even greater idiot than I thought! The only part of this situation that will bring me even the tiniest bit of comfort is the knowledge that this time, you will be imprisoned alongside me, rather than fluttering around your precious islands like the MINDLESS WASTE OF CARBON THAT YOU ARE!"
Aku Aku shut his painted eyes. "Uka Uka, I am sorry I had to lock you away, but you are still my brother and I love you."
"You sealed me away for EONS!"
"Because you tried to destroy the planet!"
"Sometimes I get in bad moods!"
Okay, Crash was seriously starting to think Cortex wasn't about to give him a Buzz Lightyear. Our hero had been propped up on an operating table in the middle of a room filled with beakers of bubbly chemicals, twisted machinery, and gaudy neon lights. It was in every way a stereotypical mad scientist laboratory.
"Look familiar?" smirked Lord Cortex. He was standing at the head of the room, aiming a cannon-like device at Crash's head. That... didn't bode well. "This is the very place where my Evolvo-Ray first mutated you. Aww, doesn't it bring you back?"
Crash tried to smile, but he couldn't quite bring his eyes away from the cannon-device.
"Well, technically, this is where I mutated Commander Crash. You're merely an alternate-timeline variant. You and he are alike in quite a few ways, you know, but the one big difference came when the Cortex of your timeline tried to test his Cortex Vortex on you." He twisted some knobs and pulled some levers, causing the cannon-thing to let out a disconcerting hum.
"You see, my dear orange friend, as I'm sure N. Trance figured out during your tussle with him, you are quite incapable of being brainwashed." Crash gave Lord Cortex an "I don't follow you" look. "You wouldn't believe how much time I spent trying to work out why that is." As he spoke, Lord Cortex typed something into a keyboard jutting out the machine. "And I finally realized, Crash – the problem wasn't with the Vortex. It was with you. I've studied my timeline's Crash extensively, and I've come to only one conclusion on why you can't be brainwashed. And that reason is..."
There was a drumroll, somehow, from afar.
"You. Are. STUPID," said Lord Cortex. "Really, really stupid. Seriously, your brain's mushier than a sack of moldy Wumpa fruit, and that's not even a hyperbole. Look at you. Does it hurt to be such a crippling ignoramus? You don't have enough brainpower to fuel a double-A battery! Don't you feel any shame?"
Lord Cortex waved a hand over Crash's eyes. Crash's pupils stared straight ahead, not following it.
"You can't be brainwashed because you don't have a brain to wash!" snapped Lord Cortex. "I mean, even Koala Kong could be brainwashed. Koala freaking Kong. You're so stupid, you probably didn't even understand a word I just said to you!"
Crash would've been deeply offended at this, but he was having trouble discerning the general meaning of Cortex's remark.
"Commander Crash was having the same problem," continued Lord Cortex, "and that's why I built... the Neuro-Ray Braingrogrow Eight Thousand! Patented Cortex Industries 2014, all rights reserved." He gestured proudly towards the cannon-device, which started glowing electric blue. "This beauty will make you juuust smart enough for my Cortex Vortex satellite to affect you. I know the finer details would be lost on you, so suffice to say the Neuro-Ray opens up a portal to your Brainovial Hyperbarium and dumps in some knowledge. That's totally how science works."
Lord Cortex pulled the most oversized lever yet, causing the Neuro-Ray to hum even louder. "So, Crash Bandicoot, any last words?"
There was a brief silence. Crash gave him a sour look.
"Oh, right. Forget I said that."
Without further ado, a beam of light shot from the ray and hit Crash square between the eyes. An arc of blue lightning started flowing from the machine into Crash's head.
It was less painful than Crash had feared. In fact, the Neuro-Ray really only made Crash vibrate in place, like when he'd sit on top of Coco's washing machine back home. Crash's yelp morphed from a "Whoa!" into more of a "Whoa-oa-oa-oa-oa-oa...!"
Oh well, Crash figured, guess there was no way to save the world now. Unless something overly convenient was to come out of nowhere and rescue him, of course.
Without warning, the power went out, throwing the room into total blackness.
There was the sound of banging around, confused grunts, and Lord Cortex yelling, "Oh, come on! I just mailed the bill! You'd think the ruler of the planet wouldn't have to pay for his own electricity..."
As quickly as they'd gone, the lights came back on.
"Oh thank goodness, the backup generators are on," sighed Lord Cortex. He turned to Crash, who was still strapped to the operating table. "Did it work? Quickly, what's two plus three?"
Crash thought about it for a second, then groaned in pain.
"Blast!" swore Lord Cortex. "Looks like we'll have to start over." He reached to turn the Neuro-Ray back on.
But before he could, a hovercraft burst through the wall and rammed right into Lord Cortex's mechsuit, sending him flying.
"Come with me if you want to live!" The voice from within the vehicle seemed awfully familiar to Crash. It almost sounded like Lord Cortex's voice, only a bit softer and less deep...
The hovercraft's door flew open, revealing a midget wearing a red and white labcoat with messy black hair, banana-yellow skin, and a blue "N" on his forehead. The newcomer fired a ray-gun that destroyed Crash's binds. Now Crash was free, but he was so shocked that he simply sat there, slack-jawed.
"Ugh, I'd almost forgotten what an imbecile you are." The yellow midget grabbed Crash and threw him into the hovercraft. "Oh, no need to thank me," he said, rolling his eyes. "I'm only helping you escape a lifetime of enslavement. No big deal."
Yep, with that sunny attitude, there was no mistaking him. This was the Cortex from Crash's own timeline!
Chapter 14: Cort Ex Machina
The halls of New Cortex Castle were pristine. Sleek, shiny black metal had been paved over the stone, and the walls hummed with the sounds of the latest in mad scientist technology. The floor was perfectly spotless... save for a single speck of dirt. The janitor Lab Assistant trudged its way towards the blemish, hauling a mop and a bucket. In one gruff gesture, the Lab Assistant dunked the mop in the bucket and wiped away the dirt. The Assistant proudly admired its work.
Zoom! A hovercraft sped down the hall at breakneck speed, overturning the bucket and spewing filthy water everywhere.
Inside the vehicle, Crash gave the janitor an apologetic shrug, then turned to the person in the driver's seat.
The Cortex from Crash's timeline seemed preoccupied with not sending their craft hurtling into a wall, but he managed to say, "I know the exact science of time manipulation can be confusing to the unlearned, so until we're in a less pressing situation where I can explain myself in full, suffice to say that I'm completely up to speed on your current predicament, and seeing as my alternate-timeline self couldn't possibly have foreseen my sudden appearance, I say we seize the chance to rescue my alternate-timeline minions from the clutches of Dr. N. Jur. Got all that?"
Crash nodded happily, then paused, thought about it for a minute, and switched to shaking his head.
"Oh, what am I saying?" Dr. Cortex turned to Crash and said in a slow, clear voice, "Me GOOD Cortex. Me help you fight BAD Cortex. We go save friends now."
You could see the understanding enter Crash's eyes. Finally, someone who could speak English!
The hovercraft skidded to a halt in a large room labeled "Armory." It seemed to contain countless glass displays, only instead of holding the fallen heroes themselves, these cases held the weapons of fallen heroes. There were giant swords, blue arm-mounted cannons, and even some totally useless-looking stuff like seven multicolored diamonds and a big yellow triangle made up of three little triangles.
"Good, it's here." Dr. Cortex sighed in relief as he and Crash hopped out of the hovercraft. "Seems like I know my way around alternate-me's castle." When Crash gave a confused look, Dr. Cortex sheepishly admitted, "I, uh, might have gotten overly optimistic and drawn up the blueprints for this place in our own timeline..." He hurriedly changed the subject. "Anyways, the confiscated weapons were definitely brought here. Let's grab Dingodile's and Ripper Roo's things and skedaddle. Oh, but whatever you do, don't take anything on display. They'll have anti-thievery alarms, no doubt."
Dr. Cortex went towards a nearby table full of miscellaneous weapons. The instant he was out of sight, it took about two seconds for Crash's eyes to wander towards something shiny behind a display case. "Ooh!"
"Aha!" Dr. Cortex held up a flamethrower and a couple TNT and Nitro crates (He had to be pretty careful not to set them off, though). "Excellent! Now quickly, back to the-"
He was cut off by the wails of an alarm. Dr. Cortex turned around to see Crash standing in a pile of shattered glass, holding up a shiny sci-fi gun. Crash smiled innocently.
"I hate you," said Cortex.
Seconds later, Crash and Cortex were back in the hovercraft, speeding down the halls with a small army of Lab Assistants in pursuit. In their scramble to escape, Crash had ended up in the driver's seat, meaning the hovercraft was now going about ten times as fast as before while Dr. Cortex shrieked, "LEFT! FOR GOD'S SAKE, MAN, LEFT! YOU DON'T EVEN KNOW WHICH WAY LEFT IS, DO YOU?"
Crash grinned and shook his head.
Dr. Cortex shouldn't have been so worried. Crash had plenty of experience driving all kinds of vehicles – motorcycles, go-karts, polar bears, you name it. In fact, Crash was such an expert that he decided to reassure Dr. Cortex by showing off his ability to accelerate through a turn.
"AAAAAAAAAGH YOU'RE GOING TO KILL US ALL, YOU BRAINLESS BANDICOOT! IIIIIIIIIIII WANT MY MOOOOOOOOMYYYYYY-!"
But the robots were gaining on them... and that's when Crash got a great idea! Despite Dr. Cortex's high-pitched protests, Crash released the steering wheel and stood up in his seat. Right as the hovercraft sped past a doorway, Crash grabbed Dr. Cortex's arm and dived out the vehicle. The two of them landed in another room, but the Lab Assistants didn't notice and continued after the hovercraft – right until it smashed into a wall and caught them in a massive fireball.
Crash did his trademark victory dance while Dr. Cortex took a minute to catch his breath and sob.
"Almost forgot how much I missed your constant abuse," said Dr. Cortex breathlessly. "Come on, let's find the others and get this over with. I want to get back to our own timeline as soon as possible so I can kill you."
Crash had been too busy dancing to hear this, though. He cheerfully followed Dr. Cortex through the winding castle halls. Sure, the Cortex of Crash's timeline had plotted Crash's death more times than Crash could count, which means, like, upwards of four, but in their recent team-up against the Evil Twins, Crash and Cortex had really bonded. Well, up until they defeated the Twins and Cortex immediately resumed trying to kill Crash, anyways. But Crash was sure that was a fluke.
Eventually, the two of them reached a staircase descending down into the castle dungeons. The sounds of agonized howls carried faintly through the air.
"Do you hear that, Crash?" Dr. Cortex gulped. "That's the sound of complete and utter agony. I never worked with Dr. N. Jur in our timeline, but I met him at the Academy of Evil. The guy's like something out of an eighties comic book." He shuddered. "I can only imagine the unspeakable things those poor mutants are going through..."
Crash gulped, too. His every instinct was telling him to run back home and hide under the covers, but Crash knew he couldn't do that. His friends were counting on him. Reluctantly, Crash and Cortex neared a mechanical door, which swung open. The sight before them made them gasp.
Tiny, Dingodile, and Dr. Roo were strapped to operating tables, shrieking, "STOP! STOP! IT HURTS!" and... laughing uncontrollably. Dr. N. Jur's torture machine was little more than three mechanical arms holding feathers, which tickled the captives nonstop.
"Seriously?" Dr. Cortex sounded more than a little disappointed.
"What did you expect?" shrugged N. Jur. "These games never go past, like, an E10+ rating.
"Well, there are some places on the internet where- Oh, forget it." Dr. Cortex sighed. "Just release the prisoners."
"Alright, but- Wait." N. Jur rubbed his eyes and did a double-take. "You look different, Lord Cortex. Why aren't you wearing your mechsuit? And has your skin always been that yellow?"
Dr. Cortex let out an indignant gasp. "Why, do you have something against yellow people?"
"What? No, I just-"
"Get out of my presence! You sicken me."
N. Jur slinked out of the room, head drooping.
"Well, that's probably the last we'll see of that guy," Dr. Cortex said as he powered down the tickling machine. "I'm sure he won't turn out to be incredibly important to the plot or anything."
Crash unstrapped Tiny, then Dingodile, but before he could unstrap Dr. Roo, Dingodile said, "Hold up, mate! Somethin' seems... off about Roo."
Now that he mentioned it, Crash did notice that Dr. Roo was still howling with laughter several minutes after the tickling had stopped. In fact, Roo was thrashing about so wildly that his top hat tumbled right off his head and his well-groomed blonde hair became a wild mess.
"Blast!" Dr. Cortex had to raise his voice to be heard over the kangaroo's delighted shrieks. "His fragile hold on reality must have snapped."
"No!" Dingodile ran to Roo's side. "Speak to us, Roo! Say something! Remember all those years of therapy!" The only response he received was more maniacal laughter.
"It's too late for him." Dr. Cortex solemnly placed a hand to his heart. "There's no 'Dr.' left in poor Roo. There's only 'Ripper' now." Tiny and Dingodile buried their eyes, trembling.
"He... He's really gone, then," sniffed Dingodile. "Dr. Roo was the greatest man I ever- Hey, wait a bloomin' minute!" He did a double-take and scowled at Cortex. "Who the heck are you s'posed to be? Why do ya look like a yellower Lord Cortex?"
"Lord Cortex has twin brother?" gasped Tiny.
"Don't you idiots know anything?" scoffed Dr. Cortex. "Obviously, I'm the Neo Cortex from the same timeline as your 'legendary hero,' brought to this timeline by an improbable series of-"
"Lord Cortex has twin brother who is Simpsons character?!"
"I'll explain later!" hissed Dr. Cortex. "Right now, we need to rescue the Aku Uka brothers while we have the chance!"
"Fine," said Dingodile, "but workin' with a Cortex is gonna leave a bad taste in me mouth."
Letting Ripper Roo free from his operating table seemed too risky, so instead Tiny opted to rip the table off the ground and carry it over his shoulder. Soon enough, the party of Crash, Dr. Cortex, Tiny, Dingodile, and the once-again-crazy Ripper Roo made their way towards the trophy room of captured heroes. Every mechanical door automatically opened at Dr. Cortex's approach – Apparently Lord Cortex hadn't considered the possibility of alternate-timeline versions of himself when he configured the sensors to his DNA.
The party entered the room to find the twin masks floating within the forcefield-bubble.
"Crash, my child, thank goodness you made it!" called out Aku Aku.
"CORTEX, let me out of here so I can kill you!" called out Uka Uka.
"Calm down, sunshine," said Dr. Cortex. "I'm not your Cortex. I'm from the same timeline as the 'legendary hero' here." He gestured towards Crash, who was smiling blissfully with a finger up his nose. "I want this other Cortex dead just as much as you do."
Aku Aku looked lost. "But why would you want to defeat yourself?"
"Because I'm the one who deserves to rule the world, not this other jerk!"
"Wow." A smirk crossed Uka Uka's face. "Just when I thought Cortex couldn't get any pettier."
"Look, we'll debate this later, okay?" snapped Dr. Cortex. "Let's hurry up and get out of here. I think this will work..." He cleared his throat, then put on the deepest voice he could muster: "Computer, deactivate the forcefields." On cue, the bubbles flickered out, and the glass over the display slid up into the wall.
"Excellent." Aku Aku hovered over to his proper place above Crash's shoulder. "Now release all of the imprisoned heroes."
At this, Crash's ears perked up. Releasing the other heroes was a great idea! Those guys all seemed so cool! Crash couldn't wait to meet them!
"Our combined powers should be more than a match for the other Cortex," said Aku Aku.
"You know, the successful, competent one," added Uka Uka.
Dr. Cortex gave him a sour look, then said, "Computer, release all the prisoners." However, with his pride wounded, Cortex's voice cracked like a pubescent boy's.
"Insufficiently deep voice!" screamed the castle alarms. "Intruder detected! Intruder detected!"
"Dang it, ya blighter, you've gotta make your voice sound deep!" yelled Dingodile. "Like Lex Luthor in the Superman cartoon!"
"It's too late now!" said Dr. Cortex. "Follow me! I know an escape route!"
Dr. Cortex led the team to up some stairs to what appeared to be a landing deck built into the side of the castle, and perched in the center of the chamber was an airship.
Even though it was an alternate-timeline version, the old blimp brought back memories. It was atop this thing that Crash and Cortex had battled for the very first time, followed by Crash's triumphant victory hug with Tawna as they sailed into the sunset while the credits rolled. And then there was the time Crash had tied the airship to a bus, and it'd flown around smashing a school building.
But then Crash's attention switched to a big, mechanical device in the corner of the deck. "Ooh!" He walked towards the shininess, entranced.
"Don't touch that, you mindless marsupial!" snapped Cortex, slapping him across the face. "That machine appears to be an upgraded form of my Psychetron! One wrong move and you could be sent hurtling into the Infinite Dimensions!"
"Wait! Look!" If he'd had hands, Uka Uka would've pointed to something within the Psychetron's metal slots. The shininess had come from a collection of purple gemstones embedded in the machine. "My crystals!"
Yep, Crash realized, all twenty-five Power Crystals were here, along with the Master Crystal. Y'know, the one that'd shown up once in Crash 2 before being forgotten forever.
"Leave them be, brother!" said Aku Aku, floating between Uka Uka and the crystals. "We cannot risk setting off more alarms. We must leave now!"
"Fine." Uka Uka reluctantly turned away. "But there's one possibility you small-minded buffoons have yet to consider. We could use this Psychetron to travel to another dimension, one free of Lord Cortex's control."
"No world is safe from Lord Cortex," countered Aku Aku. "Even as we speak, Commander Crash is traversing the Infinite Dimensions, corrupting each and every one of them with that accursed Vice-Versa Reverser Device."
"Err, s'cuse me, mate," spoke up Dingodile. "They're the Infinite Dimensions, ain't they? Now I ain't a math whiz, but I figure if we pick a random dimension, the odds o' Lord Cortex findin' us gotta be astronomically low."
"This lowly mutant freak raises a fair point," said Uka Uka.
"Ooh! Ooh! Does that mean we go to any dimension we want?" Tiny hopped in place in excitement, which caused Ripper Roo to start cackling again. "Tiny want dimension filled with nothing but ice cream and cookies and puppies and-"
"Perhaps you do not care for the innocent lives ruined by Lord Cortex's reign," cut in Aku Aku, scowling at his brother, "but I never took you for a coward, Uka Uka."
Uka Uka's eyes widened. "How dare you-?"
"Hate to be a buzzkill," interrupted Dr. Cortex, "but I think it would be prudent if we made up our minds right this second before-"
"Before what?" The interrupting Cortex was interrupted by another interrupting Cortex. "Before somebody locates you imbeciles?" A hulking, mechanical Cortex-shaped mechsuit stepped out of the shadows. "Before somebody gets fed up with this farce of a rebellion? Before somebody fires a disintegration ray that'll turn the lot of you into pencil shavings before you can so much as blink?" Lord Cortex held up his ray-gun arm, which glowed neon green.
The masks flew in front of the heroes while Dr. Cortex tossed everyone their weapons – Dingodile's flamethrower, Ripper Roo's TNT-and-Nitros (though Roo was a bit too chained-to-an-operating-table at the moment to use them), his own ray-gun, and even that funky-looking sci-fi gun Crash had stolen earlier.
"Or maybe..." Suddenly, Lord Cortex chuckled and lowered his arm. "...before Commander Crash finally returns from his interdimensional conquests to deal with you personally?"
Crash turned to the Psychetron. His ears drooped. The machine fluttered to life, summoning a portal. And out of the portal stepped a menacing orange figure draped in a black cape. Commander Crash flashed the room his big, slasher-grin. Our Crash replied by waving hello and making peace signs with his fingers.
Crash was sure this could all be settled nonviolently.
Chapter 15: Thinking With Plot Holes
Crash hit the ground with a resounding thud. It'd be quicker to tell you the parts of his body that didn't hurt. His caped counterpart loomed over him, performing a twisted rendition of Crash's victory dance.
"Tiny... squashed..." Crash's comrades were similarly KOed. Even the twin masks had fallen limply to the floor.
"Excellent work, my boy." Lord Cortex patted his minion on the head. Commander Crash, in turn, giggled maniacally and gave our Crash a wedgie. "Frankly, I don't know what made you self-proclaimed 'rebels' so overconfident about your odds of defeating me, but I hope it's clear by now that you never stood a chance. I confess the sudden appearance of my alternate-timeline self caught me off guard, but given he apparently can't even defeat a single braindead marsupial, I'm not incredibly concerned."
Dr. Cortex lifted his head off the floor to scowl at Lord Cortex. "Oh, come on! We're literally the same person! The only reason you didn't fail miserably is because someone conveniently showed up in your timeline to fix your mistake with the Cortex Vortex!"
"Yeah, I'll be sure to shed some tears over that into my platinum handkerchief while slave girls feed me grapes."
"You don't deserve to rule the world! You didn't earn it! It was handed to you on a silver platter!"
"I deserve to have the world handed to me on a silver platter because I'm NEO PERIWINKLE CORTEX!"
"Oh, make out already, ya megalomaniacs," deadpanned Dingodile.
"I'm wasting my breath on you idiots." Lord Cortex lifted his ray-gun arm. "I think I'll keep the alternate Crash and Cortex alive – I'd like to interrogate my alternate self on how he got here, and I could always use another bandicoot soldier. But as for the rest of you scoobies, well, sorry, but your diner was the worst. Terrible customer service."
This was bad. Even though in his own timeline, Tiny, Dingodile, and Ripper Roo had all tried to kill him several times over, they were still Crash's friends. He had to save them!
Crash fired his sci-fi gun at Lord Cortex. A beam of light shot from the barrel and sailed right over his head, hitting the side of the airship behind him. Lord Cortex and Commander Crash traded glances… then burst out laughing.
"Alright, 'legendary hero,' you tried your best," sneered Lord Cortex. "Now allow me to fire mine..."
But while Lord Cortex was busy laughing, Dr. Cortex was paying close attention to where the sci-fi gun's shot had landed. It'd left a large, swirling blue disk in the side of the airship. Dr. Cortex's eyes widened.
"Crash!" he yelled. Both Crashes turned towards him. "Fire again, and aim for our feet!"
Of course, firing a mysterious weapon at yourself violates every rule of common sense and good judgment... meaning Crash didn't have to be told twice. A second, orange portal opened beneath our heroes, and they fell inside seconds before Lord Cortex's ray-gun could vaporize them.
Crash tumbled out the blue portal and landed headfirst inside the airship. Dr. Cortex landed on top of him... followed by Tiny, then, Dingodile, then Ripper Roo, then the masks.
"Quickly!" yelled Dr. Cortex, squeezing himself out of the pile. "Fire again so they can't follow us through the portals!"
When Crash looked blank, Dr. Cortex yanked the gun from his hands and fired two shots – one on the ceiling and one on the floor below it, which erased the old portals from existence.
The rest of the party rose to their feet and took in their new surroundings. The main feature of the cockpit was a ship's wheel at the head of the vessel. Cortex ran for said wheel, hit the gas, and then the airship shot out the Cortex Castle landing deck and into the open sky above the Cortexisterrific Ocean (formerly the Pacific).
"It's a good thing I use lunar dust in all of my polishing," said Dr. Cortex, brushing bits of it off his lab coat. "It's the only surface those portals can conduct on."
"Phew!" Tiny wiped sweat from his brow. "We completely safe now!"
"Your Evilness, shall we fire the anti-aircraft missiles?" asked the digitized voice of Lord Cortex's automated defense system.
"Eh, sure, why not? Airships are cheap."
The airship's passengers were sent tumbling as the ship did evasive maneuvers – and by "evasive maneuvers," I mean it was swerving violently in a frantic effort to not get blown to smithereens by incoming missiles.
"Gee, thanks for keeping quiet," said Dr. Cortex through gritted teeth. "It sure would be hard to concentrate on not getting us killed if you were all screaming your heads off." After a minute, the airship finally slowed down. "Alright, I think we're out of range." Dr. Cortex let go of the wheel. "The ship's autopilot can take it from here. I've already set our next destination."
"Now wait a minute!" Dingodile marched towards him. "Why do you get to set our course? We don't even know who you are!"
"Ugh, fine, I suppose now's as good a time as ever to explain myself." Dr. Cortex stepped down from the pilot's seat to address the group. The Aku Uka brothers watched him intently, Dingodile scowled, Tiny faced the wrong way, Ripper Roo stayed strapped to his operating table, laughing his head off, and Crash peered curiously over the edge of the blue portal on the ground.
"I'm sure my sudden appearance is confusing to you simpletons," Dr. Cortex began, "but it has a perfectly rational explanation. As you know, Crash and I both come from an alternate timeline where my attempts at world domination have been, err... slightly less successful. During our last adventure, Crash and I defeated a pair of omnipotent mutant parrots with a completely unjustified vendetta against me. It's kind of a long story, but the point is, while we were celebrating our victory and newfound friendship at my Iceberg Laboratory, the Psychetron accidentally went off. I aimed- I mean, it happened to fire at Crash, but through some fluke or other, the Psychetron struck me instead. I was sent hurtling into- Will you cut that out?"
Crash had jumped into the portal and was left in an infinite loop of falling until Dr. Cortex pushed him away. Cortex fired the gun so that the blue portal moved next to the orange one on the ceiling. Crash's eyebrows drooped in disappointment.
"I was sent hurtling," Dr. Cortex continued, "into Crash's Brainovial Hyperbarium."
"Brainy-what?" asked Dingodile.
Dr. Cortex rolled his eyes. "Brainovial Hyperbarium. It's a little dimension everyone has inside their head where their personality comes from. There was going to be a level inside Coco's, but, y'know, Twinsanity was pretty rushed..."
"Ah, say no more."
"So you were imprisoned in the legendary hero's mind?" frowned Aku Aku. "Fascinating. A look into the psyche of such a brave soul could provide valuable insight into-"
"It was so boring!" groaned Dr. Cortex. "There's nothing in there but a bunch of copies of Crash that dance all the time! Seriously, the guy's a complete idiot. I'm not convinced he actually understands what's happening around him at any given moment."
In the background, Crash had climbed up to the airship's rafters so he could stick his head in a portal and get a good view of the back of his neck. "Ooh!"
"A lesser mind would've been driven mad, but I, of course, managed to survive for some time-"
"What did you eat?" asked Dingodile. "Where did you use the john?"
"-managed to survive for some time. Eventually, I made the discovery that if I climbed down Crash's brain into his eyeballs, I could view the outside world."
"Well, at least that gave you something to do, right?" said Aku Aku.
Dr. Cortex glared at him. "Did you know Crash sleeps twenty-three hours a day? I counted."
"Even his dreams are boring! All Crash ever thinks about is eating big piles of Wumpa fruit or spinning a bunch of chickens. It's moronic." Dr. Cortex rolled his eyes. "But then one day, Crash saw something that actually caught my interest. Lord Cortex apparently caught wind of Crash's timeline and personally dropped by with his Vice-Versa Reverser Device."
"Are we expected to know what that is?" growled Uka Uka.
"Of course not," said Dr. Cortex. "It was only mentioned once in Twinsanity and then cut from the rest of the game. I guess we destroyed it offscreen or something. I don't expect someone of your IQ to grasp the complexities, but in essence, the device sucks all the goodness out of a dimension and leaves behind the worst of all possible worlds."
His audience seemed a bit confused by this.
"Define 'good,'" said Aku Aku.
"Oh, you know, flowers, ice cream, sunshine, happiness," shrugged Dr. Cortex. "Good stuff. And it leaves behind bad stuff like mud and stubbing your toe on a rainy Monday morning."
"That makes little sense."
"Of course it makes sense, you scientifically illiterate buffoon." Dr. Cortex gave a self-satisfied little chuckle. "The device was built by the Evil Twins – It obviously harnesses Tenth Dimensional energies, and since the Tenth Dimension is a place where good and evil have reverse polarity, the energies cause any other dimension exposed to them to conform."
Dingodile locked eyes with Aku Aku, pointed to Dr. Cortex, then spun his index finger around his temple.
"Obviously, Lord Cortex was able to defeat his timeline's Evil Twins and steal their technology," said Dr. Cortex. "Crash here was brought to this timeline as a trophy, but I didn't see his siblings in the castle's hall of captured heroes. They're probably dead." He had to suppress a grin at the thought.
Crash would've been pretty upset by this, except that playing with the portals happened to be way more fun than paying attention to the boring conversation.
"Get to the point!" spat Uka Uka. "How did you escape the disgusting marsupial's brain?"
"I'm getting to that," huffed Dr. Cortex. "From my position behind Crash's eyes, I saw that you were in desperate need of my aid, but I could only watch helplessly. It was terrible."
(Right about now, you should be picturing Dr. Cortex camped out behind Crash's eyeballs, laughing his pants off. "Flavorless caffeinated beverage units? That's GENIUS!")
"But right when it seemed like my alternate self had defeated you idiots, an opportunity arose. You see, Lord Cortex tried to increase Crash's pea-sized intellect with a device that opened up a portal into his Brainovial Hyperbarium. I, of course, seized the chance to escape, causing the Neuro-Ray to short circuit and start a blackout. During the window of confusion, I snuck through the lab, grabbed a hovercraft, and then used my keen intellect and overall superiority to save all your butts. You're welcome."
"Yes, well, as much as I appreciate not being imprisoned again, I fail to see how our situation is improved by your presence," said Uka Uka.
"Now, now, my dear Uka," smirked Dr. Cortex. "Tell me, who knows the weaknesses of Neo Cortex better than Neo Cortex himself?"
"What are you getting at?" frowned Aku Aku.
"If we're going to defeat me, we'll have to take possession of something I care about and hold it hostage." Had this been a movie, the camera would've zoomed in on Cortex's face. "That's why I've set the airship's autopilot for the Academy of Evil. It'll be a bit of deja vu for Crash here, but this time, instead of recruiting Nina, we're going to kidnap her!"
There was that dramatic thunderclap again.
Back in the Cortex Castle landing deck, Lord Cortex and Commander Crash watched the airship shrink over the horizon.
"Oh dear, they've escaped," said Lord Cortex. "How mildly inconvenient."
"My lord," beeped the castle computer system. "Permission to send a team of jetpack-wearing Lab Assistants after the target?"
"Don't bother," chuckled Lord Cortex. "Let them run. With N. Brio 'gamed over,' there's no way the rebellion could be even remotely threatening anymore. Those idiots are probably just going to try something stupid like kidnapping Nina."
Commander Crash let out a maniacal laugh.
"Crash, my boy, why don't you stay here for a while?" Lord Cortex's mechanical arm patted his minion's head affectionately. "That 'legendary hero' is probably nothing, but we can never be too careful. If the other Crash shows his ridiculous face, I think it'd be appropriate if you were the one to make him regret it."
The malicious marsupial joined his master in a hearty evil laugh. In the corner of the room, a Lab Assistant flipped a switch labeled "dramatic thunder generator."
Chapter 16: The Cortex Family's Darkest Secret
The location of the Academy of Evil was a mystery. I mean, I guess it was in the ocean somewhere by Australia because it didn't take the airship long to reach it. Really, the whole concept of a school that teaches kids to be evil has some disturbing ramifications. Is there some shadowy organization that founds these schools as part of a conspiracy to churn out evil masterminds? Are the children all being psychologically broken and indoctrinated into a psychotic cult obsessed with taking over the world? Christ, that's a really unsettling implication for a kids' game...
"Ah, the old alma mater," Dr. Cortex said fondly as he gazed out the airship's window. "Sure, I may have suffered unspeakable torture here, but I still have a soft spot for-"
The school came into view. Or rather, the giant, empty expanse of bulldozed earth that had once been the school.
"No, wait, that's right, I hated this place."
"So Lord Cortex destroyed the Academy," said Uka Uka. "Good for him. But now where are we supposed to find his niece?"
"Well, if I were me – which I am – and I'd decided to bulldoze the Academy, I'd have used its remains to construct a lavish palace of villainy for my beloved niece." Dr. Cortex turned his head. "Oh, look, there it is."
Sure enough, a twisted castle spiraled above the rubble of the Academy of Evil, not unlike the castle on Cortex Island. The airship landed by the entrance gates.
"Crash and I will head inside," said Dr. Cortex as he and his bandicoot buddy climbed out. "The rest of you stay here. I have a cunning plan to impersonate our alternate counterparts, but you guys would be a dead giveaway."
"You mean we get to sit this one out?" said Dingodile. "Best news I've heard all day."
And with that, Crash and Cortex exited the airship.
"Now all we need to do is make sure the mooring ropes are- I'll do it this time." Dr. Cortex yanked the airship's ropes out of Crash's hands. Crash's ears drooped.
"Listen carefully, Crash," said Dr. Cortex. "My plan to capture Nina is foolproof. I'm simply going to act like Lord Cortex while you act like Commander Crash. Since we're completely genetically alike to our alternate timeline counterparts, whatever idiots have been left in charge of Nina's castle will be completely duped. And the best part is, all you need to do is sit still and stay quiet. Not even you could possibly screw that up." Crash nodded eagerly.
Without further ado, the duo marched into the castle. They didn't make it far before they were stopped by a grouchy-looking lady at the entrance hall.
"Good day," she said in a gravely voice. "Ms. N. Disposed is supposed to guard the door, but she couldn't be here right now. My name is Mrs. N. Credulous."
"Stand aside, woman!" ordered Dr. Cortex. "It is I, your ruler, Lord Cortex, and this is my bandicoot minion, Commander Crash!"
N. Credulous raised an eyebrow. "Is that so?" Her eyes narrowed as she leaned in to examine Crash. "I thought Commander Crash was supposed to be a fearsome warrior."
"Of course he's a fearsome warrior." Dr. Cortex cleared his throat. "Why, Crash here is the most disciplined of my elite-"
Phhpt! Dr. Cortex was cut off by a loud farting noise. He turned towards Crash, who had a hand in his armpit. Crash smiled at him.
"What on earth are you-?"
Phhpt phhpt phhpt!
Crash's and Cortex's butts smacked into the cold, damp floor of Nina's dungeon. This was followed by the sound of the cell door slamming shut. Crash shrank under the death glare Dr. Cortex gave him.
Crash didn't see how this was his fault. When you've gotta make fart sounds with your armpit, you've gotta make fart sounds with your armpit.
"No big deal, no big deal," Dr. Cortex repeated to himself. "This is only a slight setback. So long as we get an audience with Nina, I should still be able to negotiate an-"
"So," said a voice in a thick accent. "You've finally gotten the detention you deserve, you little vorm."
Dr. Cortex instinctively screamed and hid behind Crash before realizing that Madame Amberly was crammed into a different cell from them. Crash gave Cortex a look that mutely asked, "Who's the fat chick over there?"
"Well, you're hardly one to talk, Amberly!" Now that he knew she couldn't hurt him, Dr. Cortex's confidence abruptly returned. "Looks like my alternate self's finally put you in your place."
"I know who you are," spat Madame Amberly. "The Cortex from the legendary hero's timeline. I didn't think you vere real. Looks like there really is a Cortex that's even more of a failure than this timeline's."
"Failure?" scoffed Dr. Cortex. "Maybe you've been too busy eating your body weight in cheesecake to notice, but your timeline's Cortex took over, you know, the entire world."
Madame Amberly snorted. "I know Cortex better than anyvone. He could never do something like this on his own. No, Lord Cortex is a figurehead. I don't know who, but somevone more competent is pulling his strings."
"Come on, is it really that hard to believe I could take over the world all by myself?"
Crash and Amberly both nodded.
"Oh, you can both go straight to-"
Just then, one of Nina's servants entered the dungeon. "Lady Cortex wishes to see you prisoners."
Dr. Cortex nearly choked on thin air. "What the-? I didn't marry in this timeline, did I?" Crash pictured that in his head, then gagged.
A large mechsuit stomped into the dungeon and stopped before Crash and Cortex's cell. It looked a lot like Lord Cortex's suit, except the body was sleeker, the head was shaped differently, and the "N" logo was lowercase. The helmet slid back to reveal a familiar, freakishly skull-like face.
"Oh, it's just you, Nina." Dr. Cortex sighed in relief. "Phew, had me worried there for a minute.
Nina mutely scowled at him.
"I'm sure you've heard about me from your uncle," said Dr. Cortex. "You think I want to overthrow his empire. But the truth is, Nina, I have your best interests in mind. I know you're not happy being second stringer to Lord Cortex. You're an ambitious girl. You want to rule the world yourself! And the only way to do that is with my help. So whattaya say, young lady?"
Nina seemed slightly interested, but she still kept her distance.
"You can trust me, Nina," Dr. Cortex said soothingly. "Sure, you're an alternate version of her, but you're still my niece. I care about you... unlike Lord Cortex."
Nina gave him a quizzical look.
"Lord Cortex is a horrible, horrible man," continued Dr. Cortex. "Sure, he's given you a snazzy palace and a life of luxury now, but that's only to pacify you after all the horrible things he did. He shipped you off to the Academy of Evil, where your innocent little spirit was broken and corrupted with evilness! When he saw how much you loved hugging cute animals, he cut off your hands and replaced them with steel contraptions so you could never hug them again!"
Nina gazed sadly at the steel hands beneath her mechanical exoskeleton.
"I was super nice to the Nina of my timeline," said Dr. Cortex. "I totally never did any of that stuff to her. Now join me, Nina, and we can be a family. You'll be the one ruling the world, I promise."
Nina started to extend a steel hand, but then she suddenly lost her nerve and turned for the exit.
"Nina, wait!" Dr. Cortex called after her. "If you don't join me, how will you ever learn who your real father is?"
Nina froze, then slowly turned back around, utter shock on her face.
Dr. Cortex smirked. "Oh, did Lord Cortex never tell you?"
"Ugh... How much longer are they gonna be?"
Dingodile was lying on his back, staring up at the airship ceiling. The masks had wondered off somewhere in the cockpit, while Tiny was busy poking around Ripper Roo, who was still strapped to the operating table. The only sound in the entire ship was Roo's howls of hyena-like laughter.
"Poor Ripper Roo," said Tiny sadly. "His brain turned into mush by tickling." He tried to look Ripper Roo in the eyes, but there was nothing there but yellow spirals. "He so sad strapped to table. We should let him free."
"No!" snapped Dingodile. "What are you, nuts? You know how Ripper Roo can get. If we let him loose, he'll blow up the whole ship. Now stop talkin' crazy and guard him for a minute, willya, mate? I hope there's a john in 'ere somewhere. Gotta take a dingodump..." He wandered off.
Now Tiny was left alone with the howling Roo. Tiny watched the blue kangaroo thrash uselessly against his restraints. A sympathetic frown passed Tiny's face.
Somehow, the more Tiny listened to Ripper Roo's laughter, the more it started to sound like... like some kind of laughter-language...
"Heee heee hee he haw haw hee!" said Ripper Roo. (In laughter-speak, this means, "Psst! Hey! Hey, Tiny! You should totally let me out, man!")
Tiny gasped. "B-But Dingodile said-"
"Hee hee heh heh hee!" ("C'mon, man, don't be a sissy. I promise I won't hop around throwing Nitro at everyone. Cross my heart.")
"Tiny don't know..."
"Hee hee hee...?" ("What if I gave you candy?")
Tiny's eyes lit up. "Tiny loves candy!"
A minute later, Dingodile returned to the center of the airship, zipping up his fly. "Man, I sure hope that thing I found was a toilet and not a vital part of the ship's machinery... Hey, what the-?"
He returned to find Tiny struggling to undo Ripper Roo's binds.
"Tiny, what are you doin', mate?!"
"Tiny must free Ripper Roo!" yelled Tiny. "Ripper Roo very persuasive!"
"No, don't do it, Tiny!"
"TINY MUST! RIPPER ROO SPEAK TO TINY THROUGH LAUGHTER!"
"Hee hee hee haw haw!" ("Yes, Tiny, YES! My laughter compels you!")
"DON'T DO IT, MATE!"
After a bit of a tussle, Dingodile managed to wrestle Tiny to the floor.
"You can't listen to Ripper Roo!" yelled Dingodile. "He's gonna turn you as crazy as he is!"
"But... But CANDY!" protested Tiny.
"Hee hee hee heh heh heh hee hee!" said Ripper Roo. ("You may have stopped me this time, Dingodork, but I'll break free eventually, and then EVERYONE GETS A NITRO CRATE TO THE FACE! HA HA HA HA HA!")
It was at this point that Dr. Cortex, Crash, and Nina stepped out of a blue portal, which had been left behind so they could make a quick escape with the portal gun.
"I just had a great idea." Dr. Cortex fired the blue and orange portals all the way at the other end of the ship. Crash, of course, happily dashed after them. "There, that should keep him occupied for a few hours. Now, there's much we need to discuss."
The Aku Uka brothers made their way towards Dr. Cortex and his alternate-timeline niece. Nina had ditched the mechsuit, and she had no real need for a school uniform now that the Academy was a pile of rubble, so instead Nina wore an elegant black dress. Like the rest of Nina's fashion sense, it was super goth, but less "angsty teenager" goth and more "classy Victorian goth" to better fit with her palace.
"So Nina came willingly?" frowned Aku Aku. "Why would she side with us so easily?"
"Oh, that's simple enough." Dr. Cortex turned towards her. "I've promised to tell her the Cortex family's dark secret."
There would've been a dramatic thunderclap, but that joke's been run into the ground by now.
Nina faced her alternate-uncle eagerly.
Dr. Cortex took a deep breath. "This is hardest thing I've ever had to tell you, but, well, you're an alternate-timeline Nina, so... here goes nothing... You see, Nina, my brother, Allo... isn't your real father."
Nina brought a steel hand to her mouth.
Dr. Cortex bowed his head gravely. "In the early days, when N. Brio and I first found the secret trio of islands where we'd conduct our Evolvo-Ray experiments, we were accompanied by Allo and his wife, Natalya. You... You have to understand, Nina, Natalya was gorgeous. She was the only woman I'd ever met who didn't ridicule me for my mad science experiments."
A far-off look overtook Dr. Cortex's eyes. "She had big, black hair, big blue eyes, and the BIGGEST bags of ice for my head! When N. Brio's- I mean, MY hard work designing the Evolvo-Ray took a bad turn, Allo lost faith in the project and ridiculed me just like the rest of the scientific community. I felt the cold fires of envy in the deepest pits of my soul. And then, my brother told me that he wanted an heir – someone more successful than me. And... my brother thought the child in Natalya's womb was his own, but... I knew all along that it wasn't. I did genetic tests in secret to confirm it."
Dr. Cortex shut his eyes tight. "The truth is, Nina, your real father is... Papu Papu."
Chapter 17: The Best Laid Schemes of Marsupials and Men
Every last person aboard the airship let out a gasp (except Ripper Roo, who laughed gleefully, and Crash, who was too busy using the portals to sniff his own butt). Nina had an expression on her face like she'd stepped in something dead, and the smell would never, ever wash out.
"The leader of the N. Sanity tribesmen?" said an awestruck Aku Aku. "How can this be?"
"Well..." Dr. Cortex began hesitantly, "while N. Brio and I worked on the Evolvo-Ray, Nina's mother spent her time conducting research on N. Sanity Island's aboriginals. She made peace with the tribe by giving offerings of food to Papu Papu, which caused him to grow fond of her, and, well, there's going native and then there's going native, y'know what I'm saying?"
Nina didn't seem particularly amused by his levity.
"And then, right around the time you were born, your father announced he would be withdrawing his financial support for my Evolvo-Ray experiments, and the next day both your parents died in a mysterious and tragic accident," said Dr. Cortex. "And that's the whole entire untarnished one hundred percent legitimate truth that your uncle of this timeline has kept hidden from you. Honest to God."
"Wait a minute." Uka Uka's eyes narrowed. "If Nina is Papu Papu's daughter, why is her skin so pale?"
"I suppose it's just an unsolvable mystery of genetics."
"And if she's not related to you or your brother by blood," added Aku Aku, "why does she look so similar to y-?"
"UNSOLVABLE MYSTERY OF GENETICS!"
Everybody glared at Dr. Cortex. Nina's mechanical fists were trembling with barely-contained rage.
Dr. Cortex took a step back. "Err... this conversation's not going as planned..."
Suddenly, there was a zap, and Nina toppled over, paralyzed. Everybody stared at Dr. Cortex and, more specifically, the ray-gun in his hand.
"I'm an evil scientist – What did you expect?" shrugged Dr. Cortex. "Besides, she's only an alternate-timeline Nina. It's not like I actually love her."
"I suppose she will be easier to manage this way," said Uka Uka. "Alright, so we've captured the only person Lord Cortex cares about. What now?"
"Simple," said Dr. Cortex. "We bring her to Cortex Castle and negotiate her life for the Power Crystals. Once we have those, dethroning Lord Cortex should be a snap."
"So do all yer plans involve stealin' the crystals?" asked Dingodile flatly.
"Wait a minute. If your plans are regularly foiled by him-" Uka Uka pointed with his eyes towards Crash, who was busy using the portals to chew on his sneaker while still wearing it. "-what makes you think this plan won't be foiled by a man who has literally all the resources in the world at his disposal?"
"You worry too much!" laughed Dr. Cortex. "My plan is foolproof. Tell me one way it could go wrong."
Lord Cortex hummed merrily to himself as he emerged from his his mechsuit, disrobed, and slipped into his bubble bath. He was getting good and comfy when a Lab Assistant teleported into the bathroom (Don't worry, it was just a soulless robot. Nothing weird about that).
"My lord," it beeped, "our conquest of the galaxy has gone well. By reverse engineering the technology confiscated from Nitros Oxide, we've been able to reach deep space. All planets under the jurisdiction of Emperor Velo XXVII are in the process of being enslaved and mined for resources. The aliens' entire culture was built around kart racing, so their resistance quickly fell."
"Excellent, excellent," said Lord Cortex. "Any other locations from the games we've yet to enslave?"
"Well, we were considering converting Von Clutch's Motor World into a slave labor camp, but we weren't sure if Tag Team Racing was canon or not."
"What?" Lord Cortex sat up out of the water to scowl at the robot. "Crunch acted like Mr. T, and you don't know if it's canon?"
"Well, we thought-"
"Get out of my presence!" spat Lord Cortex. But before the Lab Assistant could leave, he quickly added, "Wait, while you're gone, could you phone the Moulin Cortex and have Madame N. Decent bring over another woman? I need someone to rub ice on my head."
"Yes, my lord."
"And make sure she doesn't accidentally send Mother! I'm getting really sick of that happening."
"Wait, Lord Cortex!" the Lab Assistant suddenly said. "I'm getting an incoming transmission. Your airship is returning to the landing dock. The rebels seem to have captured Lady Cortex, and they're holding her for ransom."
"Aww, but if I go deal with them, my bathwater's going to get cold!" groaned Lord Cortex. "Ugh, fine, just send Commander Crash and the Cortex Commandos to kill them. I'm gonna miss all the fun, but whatever..."
When they'd heard Dr. Cortex's plan involved flying the airship straight back to Cortex Castle's landing deck, our heroes had had some reservations. But now that they were all standing outside the ship, Dr. Cortex's ray-gun held to the paralyzed Nina's head, with an army of vicious bandicoots surrounding them on all sides, it was a little late to back out.
"Don't come any closer or we blow her brains out!" yelled Dr. Cortex. Then he double-checked his ray-gun, realized it'd been set to the smiley face with hearts is its eyes, and hurriedly switched it to the black skull setting. "Whoops, there we go. Now don't come any closer or we blow her brains out!"
"We're all gonna die," said Dingodile.
The landing deck was cram-packed. On the side of the angels we had Crash, Dr. Cortex, Aku Aku, Uka Uka, Tiny, Dingodile, the still-restrained Ripper Roo, and the captive, paralyzed Nina. On the other side, we had Commander Crash, Coco, Crunch, Tawna, and all the other evil bandicoots.
Commander Crash giggled and crept towards our heroes.
"W-Wait!" yelped Dr. Cortex. "Not one more step or I turn Lord Cortex's beloved niece into a smoldering crater! I mean it!"
Coco let out a cold laugh. "Ha! You wouldn't hurt your niece, even an alternate version of her. You're bluffing!"
"Oh yeah?" said Dr. Cortex. "If I was bluffing, would I do this?" Zap. There was a flash of green, and then nothing was left of poor Nina but a didgeridoo-playing angel. Dr. Cortex let out a hearty evil laugh.
"Good job," said Uka Uka, "except NOW WE HAVE NO LEVERAGE OVER THEM, YOU IDIOT!"
The laughter abruptly stopped. Dr. Cortex thought about this for a second, then swore under his breath.
The dictator of the planet was busy getting a manicure and having a scantily clad woman rub ice over his forehead when yet another Lab Assistant scurried into the bathroom.
"My lord," the Lab Assistant said gravely, "I regret to inform you that... the rebels murdered your niece, Lady Cortex. I'm sorry."
Lord Cortex rolled his eyes. "Well that's just great. Now I've got to grow another Nina clone!" He paused, then looked directly at you, the reader. "I'm an evil scientist – What did you expect?"
Screams filled the halls of Cortex Castle as our heroes struggled to fight off the horde of fuzzy marsupial monstrosities. Dingodile tried to roast the lot of 'em, but Coco used her kung fu skills to dodge and disable his flamethrower with a well-timed kick. Tiny, meanwhile, would've been more than a match for Crunch, except Crunch was backed by Bash and Mash, and they quickly overwhelmed him. Aku Aku and Uka Uka could provide some extra hit points, of course, but they were forced to stay back from the battle lest they be imprisoned in those mask-neutralizing bubbles again. And finally, Crash was engaged in an epic struggle with his evil counterpart. Tragically, a quick spin from Commander Crash smashed the portal gun to pieces.
Wait, what's that? You're wondering where Dr. Cortex was during all of this? Well, I know this is going to be hard to believe, but he was hiding like a little pansy coward sissy girl. While the bandicoots were distracted tackling Crash and co., Dr. Cortex stealthily made his way across the landing deck towards the Psychetron, his eyes locked on those shiny, shiny Power Crystals.
"We're not gonna make it!" Dingodile shrieked as hordes of rabid bandicoots pounced on him.
"Wait!" Tiny's eyes lit up. "Tiny have idea!" He ran to Ripper Roo's operating table, which he'd left outside the airship, and set to work clawing at Roo's restraints.
"Tiny, wait!" Dingodile tried to warn him, but it was too late. The kangaroo was freed. Ripper Roo hopped to his feet.
"You free now, Roo!" said Tiny. "You help us fight bad bandicoots!"
Ripper Roo let out an ominous laugh. "Hee hee hee hee hee..." ("Thanks for letting me out, buddy... Now let me give you a REWARD!") A TNT crate smashed into Tiny's face.
Every last mutant paused their fighting to turn and gape at Roo in horror.
"Hee hee hee hee hee hee hee!" Ripper Roo held up the most massive pile of explosive crates the world has ever seen. ("I hope you guys are hungry, because I'm about to give you an important part of a NITROTIOUS BREAKFAST!")
The next instant, the air was filled with screaming as hero and villain alike fled in terror from the hurricane of TNT and Nitro.
"HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA!" said Ripper Roo. ("HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA!")
"RUN FOR YOUR LIFE!" Tawna shrieked as she tried to sift through the flood of bandicoots. "THAT MANIAC'S GONNA KILL US ALL!"
Luckily, Crash had plenty of experience dodging TNT and Nitro. With a quick, skillfull maneuver, he tumbled out of harm's way, ending up by to the Psychetron. What luck! Crash had landed right next to his buddy, Dr. Cortex, who was busy struggling in vain to remove a crystal from the Psychetron's slots.
"Don't just stand there like the simpering mouthbreather you are!" snapped Dr. Cortex. "Possessing the crystals is integral to defeating my alternate self! Help me retrieve them!"
Crash just stood there, simpering and breathing through his mouth.
But suddenly, a stray Nitro sailed through the air and hit the Psychetron. There was a deafening explosion, then a flash of light. When the smoke cleared, the Psychetron was unharmed, but Crash and Cortex were gone.
"No!" gasped Aku Aku. "It cannot be!"
"Yes, clearly those two were invaluable members of the team," Uka Uka deadpanned. "What a loss."
Crash and Cortex held each other and shrieked – Dr. Cortex in horror and Crash in delight – as they spiraled through the Infinite Dimensions. They were inundated by such rapid shapes, sounds, and colors that they could hardly think. But luckily, before the strain of infinity could make them crazy (well, crazi-er in Crash's case), the two of them smashed their heads onto the cold, hard ground.
Dr. Cortex groaned and opened his eyes to find Crash smiling at him. "Don't look so happy, you idiot!" Dr. Cortex yelled, hopping to his feet. "Do you realize what's happened to us? We were thrown into the Infinite Dimensions, the boundless nexus of realities! Who knows where we might have ended up? We could be in a dimension of eternal torture, or a dimension of pure itching! How do we even know the rules of time and space work the same here? We'll never find our way home again! The odds of jumping into the Infinite Dimensions and encountering anything even remotely familiar are astronomically-"
"Hello, friends!" said a cheery voice from behind them. "I'm so delighted to see you here! My name is Good Cortex, and I'd like to welcome you to the Tenth Dimension."
Chapter 18: Game Over
Our orange hero, Crash, and his good friend who occasionally tried to kill him, Dr. Cortex, stood gaping in awe. They were in a landing deck strangely similar to the one they'd just left, but the battle with the bandicoots had vanished, and in its place was a mechsuit identical to Lord Cortex's, only pristine and white. The rest of Cortex Castle, too, was clean and bright, not at all dank and foreboding.
"The Tenth Dimension?" Dr. Cortex said flatly. "We seriously happened to land in the exact same dimension as last time?"
"I know! What a wonderful stroke of fate!" beamed Good Cortex. His helmet slid back to reveal a face identical to Dr. Cortex's, only Good Cortex wore a pair of spectacles and his "N" was backwards. "You have no idea how glad I am to see you. I was supposed to show up last time, but, y'know, Twinsanity was pretty rushed..."
"Ah, say no more."
Crash grinned and glanced out the landing deck towards the surrounding island. If he was being brutally honest with himself, Crash had to admit the world he'd just come from really, really sucked, but this place looked way better. Instead of a bleak dystopia, the three islands of the Tenth Dimension had been converted into a happy, futuristic utopia complete with flying cars and citizens playing in the islands' many natural parks.
"I assume you're the Lord Cortex of this dimension?" said Dr. Cortex.
"Lord? No, of course not!" Good Cortex gave a pleasant laugh. "I was recently elected president of the world, in fact. It was totally democratic."
Suddenly, a huge mass of red fur in a white cape pounced from the shadows to give Crash a bear hug. "Whoa!"
Crash wasn't thrilled at the show of affection, but Good Cortex merely laughed some more and said, "Don't mind Good Evil Crash. He's a hugger." After a bit of squirming, Crash managed to worm his way from the beast's grasp. Evil Crash flashed him a grin, showing off his collection of pointy teeth.
Dr. Cortex raised an eyebrow. "Good Evil Crash?"
"Yes, I regret to inform you the Crash of the Tenth Dimension used to be evil." Good Cortex bowed his head, his voice growing solemn. "There was once a time I considered him my greatest failure. You see, ever since I graduated from the Academy of Good, it had been my lifelong dream to create a race of super animals for the betterment of mankind. My associate Good N. Brio and I chose these islands to conduct our experiments. It's hard to believe, but before we came along, Twinsanity, Twompa, and Cortwin Islands were barren wastelands, inhospitable to life. The only inhabitants were some extremely skinny guy and his native tribe on Twinsanity Island. The Evil Twins and their cybernetic ants had a lair there, too, but we haven't seen them in a while."
Crash found himself frowning. He'd never really figured out whatever happened to the Evil Twins of his own timeline, either.
"Anyways," said Good Cortex, "Good N. Brio and I created Evil Crash with our Evolvo-Ray – an ingenious invention that we both received equal credit for – but Evil Crash's vicious, animal nature controlled him and every other mutant we evolved. That's why we built the Brio-Cortex Vortex, a machine that could convert even the most hardened criminals to the side of good. But right before we could test it, a mysterious stranger arrived to warn us that the machine would only cause Evil Crash to go on a rampage. We checked the Vortex, and he was right! There was a major mistake that would've ruined the whole project! But once that little kink was worked out, everything went smoothly, and my army of bandicoots changed the world for the better."
Good Cortex gestured to a group of bandicoots standing behind Evil Crash. "Allow me to introduce you to my reformed friends, Good Evil Coco-" He pointed to a teen bandicoot with loose black hair, a tight black shirt, and fishnets. "-Good Evil Crunch-" He pointed to a bandicoot about the size of a toothpick. "-and Good Evil Tawna." He pointed to a bandicoot dressed as a nun.
Crash smiled and waved hello to his new pals.
"Hi, cutie." Evil Coco looked him over, a devious smirk on her face. "How would you like a steamy cup of hot Coco? Y'know, technically, since we're from alternate dimensions, we ain't related..."
Crash gave her a toothy grin, mostly to mask the fact that he'd thrown up a little in his mouth.
"We're, uh, still working out a couple glitches in their morality." Good Cortex laughed anxiously.
"Hold up." You could see the spark of inspiration cross Dr. Cortex's eyes. "You have your own bandicoot army? Of course! The Tenth Dimension is exactly the same as our world, but with reverse polarity of good and evil! That means no matter how powerful Lord Cortex is, his good counterpart should always be a match for him!"
Good Cortex gasped. "I hope you're not suggesting I resort to violence! My team of bandicoots are health care professionals whose purpose could never be perverted towards-"
"Yeah yeah yeah, but they can still fight, right?"
"...Yes," Good Cortex reluctantly said.
"Great. Now allow me to lead your forces through there-" Dr. Cortex turned to the Tenth Dimension's Psychetron behind him. "-and we'll defeat my evil – uh, evil-er – counterpart once and for all!"
Good Cortex blocked his path. "I'm afraid I can't let you do that. As president of the world, it's my responsibility to be a messenger of peace for all mank-"
Zap! Good Cortex hit the floor, twitching. Every last bandicoot in the landing deck stared at Dr. Cortex and, more specifically, the ray-gun in his hand.
"Your master is, uh, sleeping," Dr. Cortex told them. "Now follow me through the Pyschetron. There's a, err, patient in need of your health care assistance. We need you to help him. With your fists."
Crash smiled at Dr. Cortex. And here he thought they'd be fighting people!
Back in the previous dimension, the landing deck had dissolved into utter chaos. Bandicoots were sent fleeing in terror, and Tiny, Dingodile, and the masks had taken to cowering behind the airship to dodge the constant barrage of TNT and Nitro crates. Ripper Roo was hopping around in a frenzy, ensuring every last person got their serving of explosives.
Just then, the Psychetron roared to life, and an army of bandicoots emerged led by Crash and Cortex.
"Now, my bandicoot minions, DESTROY THEM!" Dr. Cortex let out a maniacal laugh. Crash gave him a look. "Sorry. Force of habit."
The bandicoots pounced, the generic ones fighting amongst themselves while the main characters took on their counterparts. Evil Crunch tried to battle his brainwashed counterpart, but unfortunately, rather than a metal hand, Evil Crunch had an arm in a sling, so he was less effective than he could be. Evil Tawna, meanwhile, wagged her finger in disapproval at Tawna's skimpy clothing, but it turned out Tawna had a superior strategy that involved kicking her in the face.
The instant her eyes fell on her blonde counterpart, Evil Coco wolf-whistled. "Hello, gorgeous."
"Ugh," groaned Coco. "Why does my evil twin have to look like she stepped out of the weird part of DeviantArt?"
While their new army did all the dirty work, Crash and Cortex did the noble thing and hid behind the airship with the rest of their team.
"How's the battle going?" asked Dr. Cortex.
Tiny peeked over the edge of the ship. "Tiny think our guys winning."
Suddenly, a beam of light flew from the shadows and struck Ripper Roo. His maniacal laughter came to a halt, and when the light faded, where Ripper Roo had once stood, there was now a plain, brown, garden-variety kangaroo struggling to escape its straightjacket.
"Wait," said Dingodile, "what just-"
Aku Aku was the first to realize what was happening. "CRASH, LOOK OUT!" He barely had time to throw his protective magic around our hero before a flash of light engulfed the landing deck.
When the light faded, Crash cried out in horror. The battlefield was now littered with tiny, ratlike mammals scurrying about among piles of discarded clothes and accessories. And right next to Crash, where Tiny and Dingodile had once stood, there was now a pair of regular, quadruped animals – a perfectly commonplace duo of a thylacine and a dingo-crocodile hybrid.
"Impossible." Sheer awe had filled Dr. Cortex's face. "I didn't think the Evolvo-process was reversible!"
"Well, you learn a lot of things once you enslave all of reality," said a voice from the shadows. Out stepped Lord Cortex, a giant laser-gun mounted to his shoulder and a bath towel around his mechsuit's waist. "I was getting more than a little sick of you rebels, so I decided to dust off this old toy. You see, Crash, the Devolvo-Ray will turn you back into the pathetic little rat you were evolved from, and, once I've easily captured you, mutate you back so I can brainwash you with the Cortex Vortex, like you should've been in the first place." Lord Cortex flipped a switch on the ray from "Devolvo" to "Evolvo," then fired at one of the bandicoots, which morphed back into Commander Crash.
Crash and Cortex shrieked in terror and covered each other's eyes, refusing to open them until Commander Crash had put back on his cape, jeans, sneakers, and pink boxers with red hearts.
"Ha! I'm a regular human!" said Dr. Cortex triumphantly. "The Devolvo-Ray won't work on me."
"In that case, I'll just use my death-ray on you."
Lord Cortex's laughter could've given Ripper Roo's a run for its money. He returned the ray to "Devolvo mode," then pointed it right at our hero's face. Crash gulped audibly.
"Game over, Crash Bandicoot."
Chapter 19: A Totally Accurate Dissertation on Nuclear Weaponry
The Cortex Castle landing deck was full of bandicoots. Not wacky, orange, cartoon bandicoots, but the plain, brownish, ratlike kind. There was also a thylacine, a kangaroo, and a dingodile, all unmutated and just, y'know, hanging out being mindless animals. Of slightly more importance was our hero, Crash Bandicoot, standing alongside his best pal-slash-nemesis, Dr. Cortex. Aku Aku and Uka Uka hovered above their shoulders. And, across from them, Lord Cortex stood with Commander Crash, who thankfully had put his black pants back on so nobody had to see him in all his bifurcated glory.
Crash readied his spinning muscles. He'd been in several final boss fights before, and this definitely smelled like a final boss fight.
"Quickly, Crash, attack your counterpart! I'll take Lord Cortex!" Dr. Cortex ran off, readying his ray-gun, followed by Uka Uka.
Crash and Aku Aku turned towards Commander Crash, who flashed them a murderous grin. Crash had a feeling diplomacy wasn't on the table.
"This is it, legendary hero," said Aku Aku. "Go. I have faith in you."
The bandicoots charged, both of them spinning with all their might. The orange tornadoes collided, causing both Crashes to be thrown off each other. They'd apparently struck with equal force, canceling the attacks out. Next, Crash went for a different approach, sprinting towards Commander Crash and sliding into him, but at the last second, Commander Crash jumped into the air and belly-flopped Crash.
"Whoa!" Crash was winded. Commander Crash let out a diabolical cackle.
Elsewhere, Dr. Cortex's ray-gun blasts were having little effect on Lord Cortex's armor.
"You know, I really don't understand why we have to be enemies," said Lord Cortex coolly. "I would've been fine giving you a spot at the Evil Retirement Community."
"Of course we have to be enemies!" spat Dr. Cortex. "I'm the one who deserves to take over the world, not you!"
"Really? Between the two of us, who's failed the most times, again?"
"My failure is exactly why I deserve to rule the world! Sure, Crash always beats me, but that will make my inevitable victory over him all the sweeter!"
Crash glanced over at him, a "Wait, what?" expression on his face. Commander Crash seized the chance to spin Crash in the face.
"The only inevitable thing happening to you is your humiliating death," laughed Lord Cortex. "And you wanna know the best part, Neo? Even if I hadn't interfered in your timeline, you'd have never beaten Crash. You'd have ended up as nothing but a miserable failure, and eventually the games would've started depicting you as a non-threatening caricature of your former-self – the ultimate fate of all cliché two-dimensional villains! You can't win, you idiot! Crash will beat you every time!"
"Oh yeah? Well-" Suddenly, Dr. Cortex's eyes went wide. "Wait. Crash will beat Cortex every time... That's it!" He turned to Crash. "Crash! We have to swap enemies!"
Considering Commander Crash was currently grabbing Crash by the foot and spinning until he turned green, Crash was happy to comply. He and Aku Aku slipped away from Commander Crash and towards Lord Cortex, while Dr. Cortex and Uka Uka did the reverse.
"And what good will that do?" scoffed Lord Cortex. "Oh, well, it's your funeral." He pointed his ray-gun arm at Crash. "I'm growing tired of this. I'm not even going to bother de-evolving you. Prepare to eat a..."
Dr. Cortex switched the setting on his ray-gun and aimed at Commander Crash. "Time for a..."
In synch, they yelled: "PLASMA BLAST!"
A pair of bright green plasma bullets shot from their guns. Crash grinned and readily spun his back, while Commander Crash was caught off guard and struck down. The plasma blasts hit the alternate Crash and Cortex, causing Lord Cortex's mechsuit to seize up and Commander Crash to turn into a pile of bandicoot-shaped ash.
"Whoa!" From Commander Crash's remains, a didgeridoo-playing devil emerged and descended into the ground.
"What? Impossible!" Lord Cortex struggled to move his mechsuit, but it was no good. "How-?"
"Simple," said Dr. Cortex smugly. "My timeline's Crash knew my secret weakness – spinning my green blasts back at me. But you've never actually failed before, so you and Commander Crash probably didn't know about it."
He and Crash high-fived.
Unfortunately, the next instant, the landing deck was filled with Lord Cortex's laughter. "You little fools! My suit's already automatically repairing itself. One mere plasma blast's not nearly enough to defeat me. And guess what? Now you idiots have cost me my greatest bandicoot solider. No more fooling around. MINIONS!"
Countless Lab Assistants teleported into the room just as Lord Cortex's mechsuit returned to its feet. "Destroy them. No holding back."
Crash, Dr. Cortex, and the masks all gulped.
"What now?" asked Aku Aku.
"Don't worry, I have a plan," said Dr. Cortex. "Follow my lead." He immediately turned tail and ran screaming like a little girl. The others completely agreed with this plan.
"Nowhere to run!" Lord Cortex called after them.
"He's right!" said Uka Uka. "It's a dead end!"
Dr. Cortex peered over the landing deck's railing to the Cortex Island mountainside below. "This can't be the end!" he moaned. "There must to be some escape. But how? Think, Cortex, think!"
Crash felt this was an appropriate time to stare at Dr. Cortex's butt. He watched it sway alluringly, shaking back and forth, back and forth, while some incredibly catchy a cappella music played in the background. Crash just stood there, staring at the butt, his head bobbing in time with Dr. Cortex's cheeks. Crash narrowed his eyes and stuck out his tongue confidently. He glided across the room, looming over Dr. Cortex's butt, his hands at the ready... and then kicked Dr. Cortex over the railing. Dr. Cortex plummeted into the abyss, and Crash happily jumped after him.
The twin masks remained behind. Uka Uka traded glances with his brother. "What the unholy heck did we just watch?"
It's a little-known fact that Cortexes are perfectly aerodynamic. Maybe it's their freakishly large heads or their freakishly small bodies, but for whatever reason, they make great skateboards. It's incredibly humiliating, but it can be done. In fact, it's like some kind of... humiliating... skate. Huh, someone ought to come up with a snappy name for that.
Anyways, Crash slid down the mountainside, standing on Cortex's back while the incredibly catchy a cappella music grew faster and more epic. The next instant, a flood of jetpack-wearing Lab Assistants sped after them, followed by Lord Cortex, who'd finally gotten a good excuse to activate his mechsuit's jetpack capabilities.
Dr. Cortex made an effort to scream at Crash despite the gravel piling up on his face. "If we survive this, I'm going to KILL YOU!" His voice got a lot higher at the end there because Crash decided to hop Dr. Cortex onto a grind-rail.
"We're gaining on you!" Lord Cortex called after them. "You can't evade me forever!"
Crash grinned and steered his man-sled into a nearby building labeled "TAR STORAGE WAREHOUSE," which had been built into the steep cliffside of Cortex Island for reasons that shall forever remain a mystery. Crash skated through the front door and out the back. He emerged unharmed, but Dr. Cortex ended up covered in a thick layer of sticky stuff.
"Agh-! What the-? Was that really neces-?"
Next, Crash skated Dr. Cortex into an even bigger building labeled, "BIG AL'S FEATHER EMPORIUM." When he emerged out the other end, Crash's skateboard was looking much fluffier.
"I'm beginning to weigh the pros and cons of letting Lord Cortex disintegrate me."
Finally, Crash steered them into a building with a provocative sign (featuring the four bandicoot babes from CTR) proclaiming it: "Moulin Cortex 2.0: Bigger and Better." From within, there were feminine shrieks, followed by Dr. Cortex saying, "Ooh, hello, ladies, maybe once this is all over we can- Mother?" There was a short silence, followed by Dr. Cortex saying, "No, wait, you're not my m- Oh God! FATHER?"
Eventually, Crash and Cortex emerged from the building and continued skating down the mountainside.
"I've made up my mind," said Dr. Cortex. "Steer me towards a Nitro crate, please."
"Look, all I'm saying is we may be obscure, but we're Crash Bandicoot characters, too! We were in the PS1 games for crying out loud! We deserve cameos in this fanfic."
Penta Penguin was outside a fancy restaurant, having dinner with the Bearminator. The two of them turned their heads to watch Crash and Cortex skate down the side of the mountain and out of sight.
"W-Was that bandicoot using that evil scientist as a skateboard?" asked Penta Penguin. The Bearminator nodded.
Lord Cortex and his robotic forces emerged from the other end of Moulin Cortex.
"Ha! Even with that little detour, we still have plenty of time to catch them!" The jets increased in strength, causing Lord Cortex to rocket right towards Crash and Cortex.
Dr. Cortex managed to turn his head around as he slid. "They're gaining on us, Crash! What do we do?"
"What you do is DIE!" Suddenly, a section of Lord Cortex's mechsuit unfolded, revealing a missile launch pad. "I'm done putting up with you idiots. It's time to finish this once and for all. There's nothing on Cortex Island of any real value, and my castle is totally indestructible. That means it's time to pull out a good old NUCLEAR MISSLE!"
"Wait, what?" Dr. Cortex would've screamed in horror if he wasn't already so preoccupied screaming in agony from being used as a skateboard. "Did you hear that, Crash? He's got a nuke! We're dead, Crash! DEAD! Game over, man! Game over!"
But Crash simply grinned. He had an amazing plan. Crash jumped his Cortex-skateboard into the air, causing the two of them to land on a metal crate with a yellow up arrow painted on the side. The crate proved surprisingly springy, launching them into the clouds.
"Say your prayers, you miserable marsupial!" The nuke erupted from Lord Cortex's mechsuit, making a bee-line for our fuzzy orange hero.
Dr. Cortex shut his eyes, silently asking for forgiveness for the extensive list of terrible, terrible things he'd done. But as the nuke drew nearer and nearer to them, Crash's grin only widened. Just before collision, Crash spun himself into a miniature bandicoot tornado. The nuke was smacked away, causing its trajectory to reverse towards Lord Cortex.
"Wait," said Lord Cortex, "that doesn't make any s-!"
"Look, all I'm saying is we may be weird minor characters from the racing spin-offs, but we deserve cameos, too!" The Crash Nitro Kart aliens were having dinner at a fancy restaurant with Von Clutch, Pasadena O'Possum, Chick and Stew, Willy Wumpa Cheeks, and Yaya Panda when they spotted a mushroom cloud on the horizon.
At the table next to them, the Viscount suddenly turned to a waiter. "Check, please."
Back in the Cortex Castle landing deck, Aku Aku and Uka Uka were watching the mushroom cloud in the distance with concern.
"Do you suppose they're alright?" asked Aku Aku.
"With any luck, that blast fried all of them to a crisp."
No sooner had the words left Uka Uka's mouth than Crash and Cortex flew out the sky and landed in the deck right before the masks.
"W-We're alive!" Dr. Cortex gleefully kissed the ground while Crash gave him a big hug. "The shockwave must have thrown us clear of the explosion!" Cortex turned straight towards you, the reader, and said, "Yes, this is exactly how nuclear explosions really work."
"And what of Lord Cortex?" asked Uka Uka. "Is he...?"
Crash grinned and gave them a thumbs-up.
"He was exploded by his own nuke," said Cortex. "I'm sure there's a poetic irony in there somewhere."
"So we did it, then?" Aku Aku smiled in relief. "That monster is gone."
"So... what now?" asked Cortex.
There was a brief silence.
"Well, I suppose since we no longer have a common enemy to unite against, we should resume trying to kill each other," said Uka Uka.
"Don't speak too soon, Uka Uka." Suddenly, out of nowhere, an ominous figure teleported onto the landing deck right before the Psychetron.
"Holy cannoli!" gasped Cortex. "You're..."
"Yes," said the newcomer. "I'm the one who's been pulling Lord Cortex's strings all along. And now that you've gotten him out of the way for me, my real plan can commence!"
"Of course, it all makes sense!" said Cortex. "You were the one who appeared in this timeline, warning my alternate self about the Cortex Vortex malfunction!"
"Yes, it was I..." The shadowy figure stepped into the light. "...DR. NEFARIOUS TROPY!"
Dun dun DUUUUUUUUUUUUUN!
"Really, N. Tropy?" frowned Aku Aku. "I thought it might have been Dr. N. Jur."
N. Tropy gave him a scathing look. "N. Jur was a red herring, you fool. I mean, come on, the whole plotline here is that somebody whose name starts with 'N' time traveled to warn Cortex about Crash. Time traveling's my whole shtick. Seems pretty obvious, really."
Our heroes collectively nodded. "Yeah, yeah, good point..."
"Anyways," said N. Tropy, "time for my real plan to commence!"
Dun dun DUUUUUUUUUUUUUN!
Chapter 20: The Final Boss
Honestly, this whole situation had caught Crash really off guard. He could count the number of times the final boss had been someone besides Cortex on one hand, and Crash only had four fingers. Dr. N. Tropy didn't look quite the same as he had back at the Evil Retirement Community. His bronze, clock-incrusted armor had gotten an upgrade, making it more elaborate and mechanical. Crash gulped and scooted closer to Cortex. He was sure this was nothing he and his bestest pal couldn't handle.
"What are you doing here, Tropy?" spat Uka Uka. "Didn't we already humiliate you enough back at the Evil Retirement Community?"
"That wasn't me, you nitwit," said N. Tropy. "That was the Nefarious Tropy of your timeline. I'm from the same timeline as Crash and Cortex here. In fact, the timeline we're standing in right now was created by none other than yours truly." He turned to scowl at Crash. Crash replied with a friendly smile, but he wasn't sure N. Tropy appreciated the kindness. "I was the one who went back in time to warn the Cortex of this timeline not to allow Crash to escape the Cortex Vortex and become a hero."
"But why go to all this trouble just to let someone besides you rule the world?" asked Aku Aku.
"I've never much cared for ruling the world," shrugged N. Tropy. "Even when I first allied myself with Cortex, I was fine letting him enslave all of history while I stayed at the sidelines and kept the Time Twister operational. You see, ever since I was a lad creating controlled time paradoxes for the Academy of Evil science fair, I've always had a passion for manipulating the fabric of time. The Time Twister was my greatest creation, the fruit of years of backbreaking labor and slavish devotion." He pointed his tuning fork scepter at a certain orange hero. "And then you came along and ruined everything with your bumbling."
Crash gave him an apologetic shrug.
"It's too late for apologies, you disgusting animal!" N. Tropy snapped. "Thanks to you, I got trapped in prehistoric times AS A BABY! DO YOU REALIZE HOW HARD IT IS TO BUILD A TIME MACHINE OUT OF DINOSAUR BONES WHEN YOU'RE NOT EVEN TOILET TRAINED ANYMORE?"
"Heh, I remember that," chuckled Cortex. "Good times."
"After that, I was reduced to merely another one of Cortex's henchmen," continued N. Tropy. "After his schemes with the Elementals went south, Cortex and Uka Uka vanished for three years. I was low on both morale and resources. I thought all hope was lost until some of Cortex's old minions and I caught wind of how he'd gone turncoat and sided with the infernal bandicoot."
"That was only to beat the Evil Twins!" yelped Cortex. "It was just a one-game gimmick, I swear!"
"We stowed away on the Iceberg Lab when the Psychetron teleported it to the Tenth Dimension, then infiltrated the Evil Twins' stronghold. That treasure would've been ours if it hadn't been for that accursed purple dragon's random cameo. The other scientists were sent running with their tails between their legs, but I managed to evade the dragon and stay behind. Once you idiots somehow defeated the Twins, I stole some of their reality-warping technology and reverse engineered it into a time machine. Then it was simply a matter of going back in time and stopping Crash Bandicoot from ever existing. Of course, changing history only creates an alternate timeline without erasing the original, so once Lord Cortex enslaved everything, I directed him to send his forces across timelines with his Psychetron."
N. Tropy shot Crash a giant smirk. "How does it feel, Crash? How does it feel to have your entire life ruined, just as mine was ruined when you destroyed my Time Twister? You've got no Coco, no Crunch, no N. Sanity Island, nothing but the misery the Vice-Versa Reverser Device left behind on your homeworld and the humiliation of seeing your arch-nemesis successfully enslave the planet. How do you like them Wumpas?"
Crash didn't have the most fearsome face ever, but nonetheless he gave N. Tropy the old angry eyebrows.
"I would've been content to hide in the shadows and watch you squirm, but it turns out Cortex is an incompetent idiot no matter how many resources you give him." N. Tropy shook his head in disgust. "But now with Lord Cortex gone, I'll step forward and initiate my real plan!"
"And what plan is that?" asked Aku Aku.
"It's simple." N. Tropy turned to the Psychetron. "With all the interdimensional energies Commander Crash acquired by conquering the Infinite Dimensions coupled with my advanced knowledge of quantum mechanics, I can fuse with the Psychetron and become a god of time and space!"
"Wait, you can do that?" said Cortex.
"SCIENCE CAN DO ANYTHING!" N. Tropy let out a diabolically British evil laugh. "NOW PREPARE TO DIE, CRASH BANDICOOT! AND YOU, TOO, CORTEX!"
"W-Wait a minute!" gulped Cortex, taking a step back. "N. Tropy, buddy, you know you've always been my favorite henchman, right?" He let out an anxious chuckle, sweat dripping down his oversized forehead. "We shouldn't be fighting each other. Let's team up and destroy Crash Bandicoot together! Then we can split this godhood thing sixty-forty. I get the sixty, of course-"
"Don't kid yourself, doctor." N. Tropy raised his tuning fork high. "Why don't you salvage whatever dignity you have left and face your death like a man?"
"But I don't wanna die- I mean, err..." Cortex cleared his throat, then turned to Crash and the masks and said in a much deeper voice, "This is it, men. We have to stop N. Tropy from achieving godhood no matter the cost. This could be our greatest battle ever!"
Crash immediately turned tail and ran out the landing deck.
Cortex took a very, very deep breath and counted to ten. "Fine, fine, whatever. No big deal. I can do this myself." He aimed his ray-gun at N. Tropy with trembling hands. "Prepare to meet your-"
Zap! A quick blast of energy from N. Tropy's scepter sent Cortex flying into the back wall, knocking him unconscious.
"No! It cannot be!" gasped Aku Aku.
"Hey, N. Tropy, I don't suppose you're interested in forming an alliance, are you?" asked Uka Uka.
"Well, I was loyal to the Uka Uka of my own timeline," said N. Tropy, "but frankly, given I'm about to become all-powerful, I don't particularly feel like answering to anybody anymore."
"Eh, fair enough. Just thought I'd ask."
N. Tropy grinned as energy began pouring from the Psychetron's whirring machinery and into the clock on his chest, causing the hands to spin faster and faster. "Yes... Yes... it's working... Ooh, omnipotence feels tingly..."
Aku Aku turned to his brother, crestfallen. "If N. Tropy's not stopped soon," he said gravely, "all of reality is doomed."
"YES, YES! HA HA HA HA!" At this point, N. Tropy started glowing and levitating into the air, a surefire sign of godliness. "NOTHING CAN STOP ME NOW!"
Don't keep reading until you've put on some appropriately epic music because the next instant, the landing deck doors burst open and Crash stormed into the battlefield helming an army of heroes. Crash landed before the newly created God-Tropy and flashed him a smug grin.
"Ugh... What's going on...?" Cortex picked himself up off the floor and opened his eyes in time to see a little purple dragon staring him down.
"Lord Cortex!" Spyro turned to the rest of the army. "He's the one who locked us all in those pods!"
The army took a collective step towards him.
"No, no, wait, that wasn't me!" Cortex yelped, his voice going up in pitch.
The green-haired, pointy-eared hero with the pet orange mammal cracked his knuckles. "Man, I am real sick of madmen locking me away for years." He cocked his sci-fi gun.
"Everyone, wait!" Aku Aku placed himself between Cortex and the army. "There's a much greater evil than Dr. Cortex here!"
"Yes," said Uka Uka, "namely the all-powerful time-traveling maniac over there who's seconds away from rewriting reality in his image."
"What?" Spyro spotted N. Tropy. His reptilian eyes narrowed. "Hey, that's one of the jerks who tried to steal my gems!" He snorted some smoke in Cortex's face before charging off towards N. Tropy.
"You dolts are too late!" N. Tropy howled with laughter. "In another second, I'll have drained all the Psychetron's energies, and then I'll be powerful enough to-"
The Psychetron abruptly went dead.
"What the-?" N. Tropy's eyes shot towards the empty slots around the machine where crystals were supposed to go. "Where are the Power Crystals?"
"You mean these things?" A raccoon in a blue outfit and carrying a, uh, twisty-staff-spear-thingy stepped out of the shadows. In his hand, he was twirling a purple crystal. "No idea what they are, but they were shiny, so I impulsively stole 'em."
"What? How many heroes did Lord Cortex have in that stupid trophy room of his?" N. Tropy looked around the landing deck, doing a quick headcount.
Standing next to Spyro the Dragon was the yellow-orange feline-creature with the robot, and across from them was Crash, who was standing beside the green-haired elf guy, the tiny orange critter, and a horrified-looking ordinary human clutching a shotgun, glancing around at all the cartoon animals, and mumbling, "Oh God, Sully was right, I do need to cut back on the drugs..."
Also scattered about the room was the raccoon, that weird limbless guy with the floating hands and feet, a boomerang-wielding thylacine, a chameleon with a purple bat on his head, and countless other miscellaneous heroes of varying notability.
"Was one butt-roasting not enough?" Spyro scowled at N. Tropy. "C'mon, pal, try and steal my gems again. I'm sure it'll end real well for you."
"Throw as many heroes at me as you like, Crash Bandicoot," said N. Tropy. "Nothing can stop me now, even without the last few drops of interdimensional energy." He held out his scepter, causing a bolt of light to shoot from it and take the shape of a big box at his feet. The box solidified, forming into a metal crate with yellow exclamation points painted on the sides.
"Behold the Reality Reset Crate! Formed by the careful warping of dimensional energy through spacetime, whoever activates this crate gains the ability to bend reality to their will! All I have to do is strike the crate, and all of reality is MINE!"
"Not if I snipe you in the face first!" The green-haired, pointy-eared- Look, his name's Jak, okay? Let's not beat around the bush. Jak aimed his sci-fi gun at N. Tropy's head. He fired off a few rounds, but N. Tropy deflected it all by catching the bullets on his scepter, lightsaber-style.
"Never seen a problem that can't be solved with a bigger gun." Daxter hopped onto his shoulder and held up a laser-rifle about twice as large.
Over on the Insomniac side of the room, Ratchet flashed Clank a smirk. "Aww, look at that, he thinks his gun is big. That's cute." Ratchet proceeded to whip out a gun with roughly the mass of a baby hippo.
Ratchet's robot buddy turned to the golden dragonfly hovering by Spyro's shoulder. "Does yours have an ego the size of a small galaxy, too?"
"Uh..." N. Tropy took an anxious look over the various guns, boomerangs, and disembodied fists aimed at him. "F-Fools, your combined strength is no match for-"
"Everyone, fire at once!" yelled Aku Aku.
The air was filled with color and noise and explosions and an epic, electric-guitar-heavy soundtrack, and when the smoke cleared, N. Tropy was unconscious on the ground before an un-activated Reality Reset Crate.
Aku Aku turned to Crash, beaming. "You've done it, my child. Your plan to free these heroes has led to the defeat of your greatest foe yet. You see, Crash, you are the legendary hero not because of your physical strength, intellect, or bravery-"
"Especially not that second one," muttered Cortex.
"-but because of your heart. Yes, Crash, this battle was won by the power of teamwork and friendsh-"
"Yeah, yeah, can we cut the cheesy speeches?" Daxter interrupted, walking towards Crash (or, more specifically, Crash's knees). "Let's go ahead and loot this place so we can all go home." When his eyes fell on Crash, Daxter did a double take. Crash and Daxter stared at each other in silence for a minute.
"Nice pants," said Daxter. "Love your fashion sense."
Crash smiled and gave a thumbs-up.
"What, don't you have anything to say?" frowned Daxter.
"Crash doesn't talk," said Aku Aku.
"Ah." Daxter pondered this for a minute. "Well, don't sweat it, orange guy, I'm sure you'll suddenly start talking in one of your sequels."
Eh, Crash didn't see the appeal of talking. Well, maybe if he ever got to be on a TV show…
"Hey there, guys." As the heroes all gathered around the fallen N. Tropy, Sly moved towards Jak, Daxter, Ratchet, and Clank. "It's been a while."
"You people already know each other?" frowned Aku Aku.
"Yeah, there was this whole thing with aliens abducting us," said Ratchet.
"Not exactly our greatest adventure ever," deadpanned Daxter.
"Gee," said Spyro, trading a worried glance with Crash, "I hope we never get a lackluster crossover game…"
"At any rate, I believe I have a way for all you captured heroes to return home," said Aku Aku. "Simply place the Power Crystals in the Psychetron, then use the Reality Reset Crate to restore your homeworlds to the way they were before the Vice-Versa Reverser Device ruined them. I sense this crate will even erase all of our memories of this entire ordeal. It will be like it never happened." (Yes, okay, that's a totally cheap way for me to clear up some continuity errors. Sue me.)
"Sounds like a plan." Sly happily returned all the crystals into the machines, then smacked the crate with his staff. "There. Reality's all fixed. Time to go home." He started to waltz into the Psychetron's portal, but Aku Aku cleared his throat. "What?"
"I'm only counting twenty-four Power Crystals," said Aku Aku.
"Oh, uh... Hey, look at that!" Sly retrieved a crystal from his pants. "Whoops, I totally forgot about this one!" He laughed anxiously.
Aku Aku glared at him.
"I was just, uh... just about to return it..."
And with that, Sly made for the portal. But before he left, Jak stopped Sly and turned to address the whole group.
"Hey, you guys seem pretty cool," said Jak. "If you ever need anything, you let us know."
"Yeah, maybe we can all meet up to beat the snot out of each other!" said Daxter. "It'd be, like, a battle royale of all of us stars..."
"And me and Crash will be there, too, right?" said Spyro.
"Uh... Yeah. Yeah, of course. Why wouldn't you be?"
The other heroes laughed anxiously and hurried into the Psychetron.
"They seemed like nice enough guys." Spyro looked back at Crash and Aku Aku, smiling. "Well, it was great seeing you again, Crash, Aku Aku. I'd love to stay and chat, but everyone in the Dragon Realms is probably missing me. I'd better get going."
Spyro and Sparx were the next through the Psychetron, followed by Rayman, Ty the Tasmanian Tiger, Yooka and Laylee, and the various other heroes. Nathan Drake was about to head through, too, but he was stopped by N. Tropy.
N. Tropy was too exhausted from his beating to be much of a threat anymore, but he managed to lift his head and say, "Wait, wait, I might as well be a good sport and tell you... I've peered into the future, and... you might want to hit that Reality Reset Crate again and make a slight change to your homeworld. See, there's this rare strand of fungus that's going to mutate and-"
"Screw you, man!" Nathan screamed, tearing at his hair maniacally. "None of this is real! None of this is real! Oh Jesus, I must be on a really bad trip... I'm seeing blue people covered in clocks and giant, orange- Wait." His eyes fell on Crash's lovable mug. Then they went wide. "I know you. You're that fox!"
"You must be mistaken," spoke up Aku Aku, hovering by Crash's shoulder. "Crash here is a bandicoot. Bandicoots are small, ratlike Australian mammals, whereas foxes are-."
"No! NO!" Nathan's voice was growing increasingly frantic. "You're the fox from Elena's TV game thing! Ha! Ha ha ha ha!" His voice cracked as he laughed. "This isn't real. It's all in my imagination!" Nathan stumbled into the Psychetron portal, rambling incoherently to himself.
Crash and Aku Aku traded glances. Crash shrugged.
Now the Cortex Castle landing deck was occupied only by Crash, Cortex, Aku Aku, Uka Uka, the defeated N. Tropy, and a bunch of de-evolved animals that would hopefully be restored to being Crash's friends as soon as he hit the Reset Crate.
"You may have beaten me this time, Crash Bandicoot!" spat N. Tropy, struggling to pull himself off the floor, "but I'll have my revenge! I'll never stop until you've been utterly humiliated! I'll make you pay for what you've done to me! I'll make you-"
Crash rolled his eyes and spun N. Tropy in the head, knocking him out cold.
"Looks like your time is up, N. Tropy," said Aku Aku.
The others let out a collective groan.
"Well, Crash, we did it." Cortex waltzed over to his bestest pal and slung an arm around his shoulder. "I did all the hard work, of course, but you helped in your own special way."
Crash smiled. He couldn't believe it. Usually, Cortex would be trying to kill Crash right about now, but this time he was acting really nice!
"I suppose now all that's left is to hit that Reality Reset Crate, repair both this world and our homeworld, and go home," said Cortex brightly. "We'll dismantle the crate so it can never be used for evil, and then we'll return to N. Sanity Island, arm in arm, as the closest of friends."
Crash outstretched his arms for a hug.
"You know, it's funny, Crash, I spent so much of my life thinking what I wanted most was to rule the world..." Cortex turned away, a far-off look overtaking his eyes. "...but now that I've seen what that would lead to... now that I've had this partnership with you... I see how wrong I was. I told you at the end of our last adventure that your creation was a mistake, and, well, Crash, now I've finally learned that it was so much more than that..."
Crash... Crash had something in his eye, that was all.
Cortex took a deep breath. "And so, despite all the times I've tried to kill you, despite all the hatred I thought I held for you, Crash, I wanted to say... DIE DIE DIE DIE DIE DIE DIE DIE DIE DIE!"
A plasma blast sent Crash tumbling across the room, landing face-first on the steel ground. Ah, of course, Crash should've known – N. Tropy wasn't the final boss after all.
"Ha HA! Take that, you moronic marsupial!" Cortex let out a hearty evil laugh, aiming his ray-gun at Crash's shocked face.
"Excellent work, Cortex!" cackled Uka Uka, hovering by his shoulder. "All we have to do now is kill Crash Bandicoot and my pathetic brother once and for all, then all the Power Crystals will be ours! Then we can fill in the power vaccum left by Lord Cortex and use the Reality Reset Crate to RULE ALL OF REALITY AS GODS! BWA HA HA HA HA!"
"Crash!" Aku Aku hovered at the fallen bandicoot's side. "We can't let the crystals or Reset Crate fall into those evildoers' hands! We must defeat them! For your friends, Tiny, Dingodile, and Roo! For the enslaved people of this world! For your siblings, Coco and Crunch! For your ex, Tawna, even! Crash, GET UP!"
Slowly, painfully, Crash pulled himself to his feet and took a fighting stance, Aku Aku floating at his side. Across the room, Dr. Cortex held his ray-gun high while Uka Uka sneered at them from over his shoulder. Between them stood the Reality Reset Crate, and behind them, inside the Psychetron, rested all twenty-five Power Crystals. In the background, Cortex's awesome theme music from the PS1 games was playing.
"This time, Crash Bandicoot," laughed Cortex, his ray-gun barrel glowing neon green, "this time, I SHALL REIGN TRIUMPHANT!"
"Guess again, Cortex," said Aku Aku. "Crash is the legendary hero, and he's just proven to you that Crash will ALWAYS defeat Cortex." He turned towards our fuzzy orange hero. "Get him."
Crash didn't need to be told twice. He readied his spinning muscles...
And the next thing anyone knew, there was a blinding flurry of spinning bandicoots and evil scientists and magical masks fighting for the fate of the world over some crystals.
All was as it should be.
(You've got to picture Cortex's music playing as the credits roll.)