"Ack!" screamed Ludwig von Koopa as the thruster fired and a flame ignited in the maintenance hatch, narrowly missing his hair. "Karma, turn it off!" There was a humming sound and the thruster deactivated. Ludwig slid out of the maintenance panel of his doomship, KDS Amadeus, and sighed. "It would appear," he began wisely, "that the problem is not in the reverberating nitrocarbonizer, and that repolarizing that device was an unnecessary and harmful modification."
"Well, I thought it wise to investigate every possibility," Ludwig countered. "However, now I think we should consider reversing the Lodestone of the gravometric-"
"Oh, for heaven's sake!" Karma snapped and stormed up into the maintenance hatch. "Kooky, get your carcass up here!" she shouted after a moment.
Ludwig sighed and climbed up the steel ladder into the maintenance hatch. When he got to the hatch he was greeted by a very disgruntled Karma holding a half-melted socket wrench.
"I found this in your Jet drive," she explained.
Before Ludwig could come up with a reply he was rescued by a high-pitched voice from the floor of the hangar.
"Hey," shouted Lemmy, "are you through up there?"
"Yeah," Karma yelled, "this idiot and me are through!"
"Well," Lemmy replied, "King Dad needs to see you two in his command room right away." Having delivered his message, Lemmy went about his ballriding.
Karma and Ludwig looked at each other in disbelief. "Did he just say both of us?" Karma asked incredulously.
"I believe so," Ludwig answered, shocked. "Let's go investigate."
"Right," Karma agreed, and the two hurried away to see what King Bowser wanted.
King Bowser Koopa paced the floor of his command room impatiently. Where are they, he thought, what's taking Lemmy so long to deliver a simple message?
He stopped momentarily to look out his window into the doomship hangar and saw two people running toward the elevator to where he was. One was a fairly tall Koopa with wild blue hair that billowed behind his head as he ran, and the other, he thought with disgust, was a halfling: half purple-shelled Koopa, half Yoshi. Well, he thought, it's about time those two got here.
"So," came a rich baritone voice from behind him, "what's swingin', daddy-o?"
"Keep silent, Jazzman," Bowser snapped at Ludwig's twin, "you will be informed when your brother and his freak arrive."
"Sheesh," Jazzman murmured, "ya haven't got to be such a square."
At that moment the elevator door opened and Ludwig and Karma stepped into the command room.
"There you are," Bowser barked, "sit down."
Ludwig and Karma took their usual seats at Bowser's conference table. Ludwig sat at the end closest to Bowser's seat andKarma sat at the opposite end, right next to where Jazzman was sitting by chance.
Bowser looked to see that they were all seated, then took his seat and began. "As you all three probably know, the Mushroom Kingdom has offered severe resistance to our advances. Without our vast military power we wouldn't stand a chance against the Mario Brothers' defense." He paused to let that sink in while mumbling something about General Flutter, then continued. "Which brings me to my point. The spearhead of our military is the doomship fleet. However, we are getting to the point where there just aren't enough doomships to be everywhere they are needed. With your ship, Ludwig, in the hangar for repairs and modifications, and mine," he sneered, "well, we all know what happened to my doomship."
"Izzat the wreck off the coast of Yoshi's isle that fell outta the sky a few years back?" Jazzman asked earnestly. Karma stifled a snicker at the look on Bowser's face.
"Yes, Jazzman," Bowser growled menacingly, "now be quiet!"
Jazzman jumped, surprised at the rebuke over what seemed like a simple question.
"Anyway," Bowser continued, cooling off, "the obvious solution is to build more doomships. However, the problem is that the law states only a member of the royal family may command a doomship, and we're running low on members of the royal family. Clawdia could take one, but she doesn't want any part of the war. We can't seem to raise mine to the surface, and I'd lose a lot of face if I ordered a replacement built," Bowser paused, apparently reluctant to say what came next, "which leaves me with only one option:" he looked at Karma and Jazzman and continued, "you two."
Karma and Jazzman were both taken aback by this. "Ya mean," Karma inquired, "you're actually starting to trust us?"
"No," Bowser snapped back, "but I have no choice." He took a deep breath and was all-business again. "You have three days to prepare a design and submit it to Ludwig. After that you have two weeks, assuming it meets standards, to complete construction using whatever resources you need. The ships may be equipped with one Power-up for emergency use only. Is that clear? Thank you, you are all dismissed."
They all got up to leave, shocked at what they had just heard. "Not you Ludwig," Bowser called to his son. Ludwig turned, walked back into the command room, and stood in front of Bowser.
"Yes, father," Ludwig said formally.
Bowser looked around to make sure no one was listening, and whispered, "I want you to be aware, son, that I will be watching your actions very closely."
Ludwig furrowed his brow. "What do you mean?" he asked, puzzled.
"I mean," Bowser growled, "that every time I send you and your twin on a mission together you suddenly become prone to errors, errors that effect the outcome of the mission, such as," he took on a mockingly innocent tone of voice, "a malfunction in your targeting system. A malfunction, I might add," he roared, "that destroyed our entire invasion force and enabling the survival of the Monstro Wing (or should I say Regiment now?), squandering our advantage of surprise, and prompting Flutter to declare a full-scale war against us!"
Ludwig forced a shocked look onto his face. "Are you implying," he asked innocently, "that I knowingly and willfully sabotaged my own vessel in an attempt to eradicate our own personnel and cause a crucial mission to fail?"
Bowser narrowed his eyes until they were glowing yellow slits before answering. "I am implying that your explanation was very suspicious, and this kind of sabotage is treason. Nor would it be the first time you have committed an act of treason, and I will not let another incident go unnoticed. Is that clear, Baron?"
"Perfectly clear, father." Ludwig answered neutrally.
"Excellent. Dismissed." Bowser said curtly. Ludwig nodded his head once and walked out the door. Bowser was almost certain he heard Ludwig mumble "he's on to me" as he left the room.
The wind blew fiercely over the
sky world. Clouds blew past and the deck of the KDS Crusher rocked from
side to side as the ship swayed in the turbulent gusts. Just the way I
like it, thought Roy Koopa, watching from the bridge as one of the Rocky
Wrenches who served as his crew went tumbling over the side to his doom.
It gets rid of the weak, and only the strong survive. Roy watched in anticipation
as another Rocky tumbled from his post to the opposite side of the deck.
Just before the mole-turtle reached the edge,
however, he kicked off the railing and grabbed a solid pipe attached to the thruster system. Roy raised his eyebrows and nodded approvingly. Not bad, he thought, if only the rest were like that. He glowered behind his custom-made sunshades. Unfortunately, they're not, and if we stay up here much longer I won't have much of a crew left. "Prepare for landing," he called out over the deck, ignoring the PA system. Instantly, crewmen began scurrying to their posts, eager to put the vessel back on solid ground.
"If you don't mind my asking, sir," came the basso-profundo voice of the Sledge Brother who was Roy's Commandant of Troops, "what are we doing up here on a day like this?"
"That's a good question." Roy answered flatly, "Why are we here? Why are we here when the war is everywhere else? Even Ludwig's about to get sent on an attack run they say."
"Well sir," the Commandant spoke tentatively, "Ludwig's ship IS the best in the fleet. I mean, I'm sure you've heard stories of-"
"Yeah, yeah, yeah," Roy rolled his
eyes, "I've heard all about the almighty Flagship Amadeus and it's domination
of the pipe maze. I've heard all about Kook's spectacular strategies, flyin'
around up there in moves so showy that all the 'shrooms in Pipe Land knew
a week in advance where he was gonna hit next. I've heard all about his
daring, courageous attacks where all he did was waste tons of lead and
brass blowin' away a bunch o' brush." Roy thought of the Piranha Plant
infestation in Pipe Land and added, "And most of
that brush was probably on our payroll! I mean, c'mon, let's face it: by the time Ludwig was through, there wasn't anything left to conquer. The 'shrooms didn't surrender, they abandoned the place. It's not like a bunch of water and dead grass was any more useful to them then it is to us."
"Well," the Commandant replied uncertainly, "Lord Bowser seems to think that Ludwig was responsible for the success."
"Of course 'e does," Roy barked, "all Ludwig had to do was sling some techno-babble about everything that made his ship 'invincible', and Bowser was hooked."
"We are approaching cloud level." came the voice of the ship's helmsman, cutting Roy's tirade short.
"Brace for turbulence!" Roy bellowed over the noise of the ship, ignoring the PA system once again. "Helm," he said to the crewman at the control panel, "take 'er through." Roy braced himself for the nauseatng yet exhilirating feeling of cloud descent. As the Crusher began its passage through the low gray clouds, Roy had a sudden epiphany. "What if," he half wondered out loud and half asked his Commandant, "we didn't wait for our orders?"
The Commandant's brow furrowed as he countered, "I'm not sure I follow you."
Roy turned and looked into the Commandant's eyes. Something about the look on Roy's face said that the last question had been a rhetorical one, and Roy's mind was made up. "Prepare the supersonic engines," Roy commanded, confirming the Commandant's suspicions. "We're gonna follow Kooky whether he likes it or not."
"Okay, Ludwig, one more time," Karma sighed as she looked across Ludwig's workbench at the plan for her new doomship, "what if the thrusters were here, and this cannon was moved back in front of the cabin?"
Ludwig seemed lost in thought for a second. "That is better, but where will the rear weapons array go?"
"Right where it is, you idiot!" Karma barked. "What difference does it make if there's a Bullet Bill cannon blocking the path through?"
Ludwig raised one eyebrow. "That is a very tactically sound defense, however there is one flaw. You have to design the ship so intruders cannot board the ship but you still have a safe way through."
Karma rolled her eyes. "Kooky," she groaned, "I'm only going to be going through the defense lines when the ship is docked, and the cannons will be off," she paused, waiting for Ludwig to find something wrong with that logic. Finally, she just leaned over onto the workbench sleepily and murmured, "Well, I think I'm done."
"Yeah," Jazzman chimed in, "we've been sittin' here for twelve hours straight workin', daddy-o. I think-"
"Twelve hours," Ludwig scolded, "and you have already become exhausted? I was occupied for three days in their entirety planning the layout of Amadeus." He sighed at the disinterested look on the faces of Karma and Jazzman. "But I suppose these plans are sufficient. I will send them to Father, and I'll have three divisions of troops assigned to constructing the vessels."
"Swingin'," Jazzman said, getting up out of his seat and stretching. "Hey Kooky, I've got just one more question. Why are we doin' this? I mean, what's Bowser's big rush to put us in the command seat?"
Ludwig looked away. "I... I know why," he said under his breath, "but you wouldn't like it if I told you."
"What was that?" inquired Karma.
"I must report back to Father," Ludwig announced, dodging the subject. "I will have the builders at work by the end of the day." Ludwig then stepped out the door and quickly strode down the hall to Bowser's command room.
In Ludwig's workroom, Karma and Jazzman looked at each other, confused.
"What was that all about?" Karma wondered out loud.
Bowser looked up from the stack of papers in front of him as the door to his command room opened. "Ah, Ludwig," he greeted, "just who I needed to see. Are they ready?"
Ludwig placed the two proposed schematics on Bowser's desk. "I think you will find these to be adequate. As you see-"
Bowser waved the issue off. "Skip it, I trust your ability to decide if a doomship is airworthy. Now, what we must discuss is this: ... Uh, do sit down, Ludwig."
Ludwig pulled a chair out from under Bowser's desk and sat across the desk from him.
"I want you to take your ship," Bowser said with his hands clasped in front of him, "and lead those two on their first mission once their ships are built. Your target will be-"
"Yoshi's Island," Ludwig interrupted with a sigh, "I overheard you and Kamek engaged in discussion over it."
Bowser was taken aback. "W... well," he stammered, "I see. Then you already know that I'm going to be watching to see if you or either of them tries anything." He leaned across the desk toward Ludwig and snarled, "And If I see any of the three of you so much as breathing without direct orders, I'll have all three of you, and the crews of all three of your ships, put to death. Is that clear, Baron?"
Ludwig swallowed hard. "Perfectly clear, Father," he whispered.
Good," Bowser grinned, "now you are dismissed."
Ludwig stood up to leave.
"Oh, there is one more thing, Ludwig," Bowser said as an afterthought. "I would suggest you check your targeting system before you leave. I would hate for a systems malfunction to give me the 'false' impression that you were committing an act of rebellion."
Ludwig paused, then strode out the door, leaving Bowser to his paperwork. Bowser was about to go back to reading failure reports from remote divisions when his intercom system beeped. "This'd better be important," he growled and picked up the mouthpiece. "If this is not a report of the unconditional surrender of Mushroom Kingdom I'm hanging up!" he shouted as he lifted the mouthpiece.
"S... sorry sir," came the voice of a very confused Troopa on the other end, "but the Crusher is requesting landing clearance."
Bowser paused, wondering if he should check the intercom system for malfunctions. "Can you run that past me again?" he inquired.
"Whaddaya mean, 'refused'?" demanded Roy. "You mean they won't even let us land?"
"The Hangarmaster is saying we don't have clearance to dock here," answered the communications Lieutenant, a yellow-shelled Troopa, "and that we're supposed to be on active duty in Sky World."
"I know we are," snapped Roy, "but we..." he paused to think of a way to justify his presence, "we're here to pick up supplies and to," he paused, searching for a better excuse, "and to escort the Amadeus to its target. Tell them that."
The Lieutenant nodded and picked up the headset-and-mouthpiece connected to the off-ship radio and repeated, "Hangar, this is Crusher, We request clearance to land and take on supplies to escort Amadeus on its next mission." There was silence as he waited for a response. After a moment his eyes widened in shock, and his forehead wrinkled in confusion. "They say," he said uncertainly to Roy, "that the Amadeus already has two escort ships."
"What?!" Roy screamed, causing the windows of the bridge to rattle. "Who? The other doomships are all off on the Monstro/Koopa border. Who else could it be?"
"Hangar," the Lieutenant asked slowly, "request clarification: who are the commanders of those two escort ships?" There was a long silence before the Lieutenant's jaw gaped open in what could have been either shock, horror, or disbelief.
"What is it? What is it?!" Roy rushed.
"Th... the commanders... are..."
"K... Karma and Jazzman."
The bridge crew learned a new definition of the word 'silence' as not even a breath was drawn. Roy clenched his fists as he got over his initial shock, and narrowed his shaded eyes so tightly it seemed his eyes would pop. "Where are they going?" he demanded through gritted teeth.
The Lieutenant picked up his receiver and asked the hangarmaster that question. "Yoshi's Island," he reported. "A... and..." he added quickly, "we... we're getting a signal from Lord Bowser: Priority one, audiovisual, and on a secure channel. He wants to speak directly to you, Prince."
Roy's jaw hung open for a moment. "Uh, put 'im through to my cabin," he ordered as he ascended the short flight of steps to his private cabin.
Bowser was already waiting impatiently upon Roy's viewscreen when he got there. "And just what do you think you're doing?" he roared, "I thought you were defending the Sky World."
"Defending it from what?" Roy shot back. "Nimbusae troops? I don't think so. Who would want the place?"
"That's beside the point, and none of your concern. I am the strategist here, I will give the orders," Bowser said, ignoring Roy's complaint. "And I already have two ships to escort the Amadeus. At least I will in two weeks."
"Yes. That is how long it takes one of Ludwig's engineer battalions to construct a doomship, and he has one on each design." Bowser grinned, baring his deadly teeth. "Now as for you, I'm ordering you back to your post. You have 24 hours to gather whatever," he cleared his throat, "supplies... that you need, and get back to Sky World. Koopa Castle out!"
Bowser vanished from the viewer,
leaving Roy to stare at a blank screen. He stood dumbly for a while, doing
just that, before sighing heavily and looking out his window at the burning
torches atop the spires of Koopa
Castle. It's a grand sight, he thought as he surveyed the flaming castle, towering above the surrounding fortresses and sub-fortresses defending it. Yeah, it's grand, he thought with resolve, and if Ludwig thinks I'm gonna let him or his pep-squad destroy it, he's got another thing comin'!
The doomships were completed right on schedule, and in two weeks Bowser was sitting in his command room staring out into the hangar at the newly refurbished Amadeus and its escort vessels, Free Bird and Peacemaker. Not bad, he thought as he inspected the two new vessels from his perch, now we can have them in the air by the end of the day. He looked out his opposite window toward the front lines of the war against Flutter. And once I've eliminated those gluttonous vermin, he raged, I'll send them for YOU, old friend. He forced himself to remain calm, and looked back toward the hangar. It was then that there was a beep at the door. "Enter," Bowser commanded and Ludwig strode in. "Ah, Ludwig," Bowser greeted again, "I'm curious. Why haven't you informed your... erm... chief escorts that you will be launched today?"
Ludwig looked at Bowser from the corner of his eye. "I... was not aware we were launching today."
Bowser looked surprised. "Well, of course you are," he said dryly, "why wait when we can launch now and eliminate those pests and move on to Monstro?"
"King Dad," Ludwig interposed, "why are we attacking Yoshi's Island? We could put the ships to much better use attacking Mushroom or Monstro defense positions."
Bowser's head tilted sharply up to face Ludwig. "Because," he answered, "I want to see if those two pests you have brought into the castle are loyal to the troop. If so, they can move on to Monstro Town and earn their fame as the heroes who put down a rebellion and saved the Empire. If not..." he hesitated, "well, I have no time for disloyalists, especially not in my own home. Do you understand, son?"
Yes, thought Ludwig sullenly, for the first time in my life I am beginning to understand. "Yes, Father," he answered compliantly.
"Good," Bowser said, as if the question had been, 'have you filled the magma pits today.' "Dismissed." Bowser looked back toward the stack of papers in front of him. He had almost finished reading a paragraph describing an insurrection taking place in the Island World when he heard the "woosh" of the doors of his command room opening and closing as Ludwig stepped out.
"Yoshi's Island?!" Karma screamed in horror. "You can't be serious!"
"She's right, daddy-o," Jazzman nodded, "there's no way we're gonna attack Yoshi's Isle and that's that, scatcat."
Ludwig sighed. "Look," he said softly,
"I understand that you two have emotional reasons not to want to go through
with this mission, but the alternative is the immediate execution of ourselves
and the crews of our
There was silence for a minute before Karma shrugged and muttered, "I never liked my crew anyway."
Ludwig closed his eyes and mentally strangled Bowser. He did so not for forcing him to attack an island full of innocents, but for making him break the news of that attack to Karma and Jazzman. "If we do not carry out this attack," he said with a hint of an I'm-offering-you-an-alternative quality in his voice, "then Bowser will."
"Oh," mocked Karma, "that makes all the difference in the world. We have a choice between killing our friends or letting Bowser do it for us."
"No!" interrupted Ludwig. "You are not comprehending. If we go on this mission ourselves," he looked around to make sure no one was listening, "we can... take steps to ensure that the mission is... less than successful."
Karma and Jazzman were speechless. To sabotage a mission that was doomed to fail anyway and write it off as an equipment failure was one thing, but what Ludwig was suggesting was blatant insurrection. There would be no way they could show their faces in the castle again if they were caught.
"Are you saying," Karma asked in disbelief, "that we're going to launch today en route to Yoshi's Isle, and never come back, as in, just leave?"
"No." Ludwig replied, "I'm saying
we will launch today, en route to Yoshi's Island, and land at our destination
to establish a treaty between ourselves and the Yoshies. Then, we will
begin planning our resistance
movement against Bowser."
Jazzman grinned his one-toothed grin. "Now you're talkin' my language," he said excitedly.
"There's just one thing," Karma interrupted. "What about our troops? They're loyal to Bowser. Won't they try to..."
Ludwig held up a hand to silence her. "I have ensured that the crew compliments of all three ships consist only of troops more loyal to me than to Bowser."
Karma's jaw dropped. "It sounds almost like you've been planning this!" she exclaimed.
"Of right it should, since I have." Ludwig replied flatly.
Karma and Jazzman looked at each other, then looked back.
"So," continued Ludwig, "are we all in agreement as to what must be done?" The vote was unanimous. "Very well then, let us depart." And with that the newest rebel group in the Koopa Empire stepped into the doomship hangar to begin their first mission.
"Amadeus to hangar control," said Ludwig's Commandant over the radio system, "request clearance for departure."
"Roger, Amadeus," the hangarmaster answered, "the sky is clear for your liftoff. Good luck."
"Thank you, hangar control." The Commandant sighed and put down the headset. "Helm, disengage docking clamps and begin engine ignition."
"Disengaging docking clamps," replied the helmsman as he carried out his orders, "starting engines."
The Commandant stepped toward Ludwig inconspicuously and whispered, "Y'think this'll work?"
Ludwig took a deep breath, making
him look even larger and more intimidating standing next to the tiny Rocky
Wrench. "I don't know," he replied, "but the alternative is to comply with
Bowser. That, in my opinion,
is not an option."
The Commandant nodded. He opened his mouth to speak, but he was cut short by the voice of the ship's communication Troopa.
"Sir," called the troopa to either Ludwig or the Commandant, "the sister ships have launched and we are clear of obstacles."
"Excellent." Ludwig commented. "Helm,
set course for Yoshi's Island, Mach 6." He paused to look around at the
capitol city before finishing. It would most likely be a long time before
he returned. Finally, he swallowed hard and spoke the one word that would
launch the most devastating rebel assault that
the Koopa Kingdom had seen in decades: "Engage."
"So, we're underway?" asked the Commandant nervously.
Ludwig nodded. "Yes." He thought of a lie to reassure his Commandant. "And I have planned for every possible occurrance, so we should not fail."
The Commandant merely sighed and muttered, "Then why do I have such a bad feeling about this?"
The Commandant of the Crusher looked up excitedly from his scanning screen. "Sir," he shouted jubilantly, "we've found them! Three ships, one of them Amadeus, on a heading for Yoshi's Island at Mach 6."
Roy rapped his claws on the arm of his chair. "Plot a pursuit course," he ordered. "When Kooky makes a wrong move I want to know about it."
The Commandant saluted and passed these orders on to the Helmsman.
"Oh, and Commandant," Roy added as an afterthought, "hang back at least 20 kilometers. I don't want them to know we're following them, or they might not do anything."
The Commandant nodded and continued
relaying orders. Excellent, Roy thought to himself, now as soon as we get
in communications range I'll send a transmission to Ludwig saying that...
yeah, saying that I have reason to believe those two THINGS are planning
to foul up the mission. That'll give Ludwig a way out, there's no point
in dragging him down with Karma and Jazzman. Then, he thought with a grin,
those two are as good as bagged! Roy laughed at the sheer simplicity of
the plan. It was almost too easy. It was
... As if they had planned for Crusher to be on them.
Roy dismissed the thought as rubbish. They couldn't have known. No, they were naive and trusting of their surroundings. Well, it would soon be their undoing.
"Baron," wavered the voice of a very confused Rocky Wrench Commandant as the doomship squadron approached Yoshi's Island, "the Crusher is hailing us, and Roy says it's urgent."
Ludwig clenched his fists and pounded the arm of his chair. Confound it, he thought savagely, so close and Roy has to befoul us with his presence. "Put him on the main viewer," Ludwig ordered irately. In seconds, Roy appeared on the viewer, clearly alarmed. Apparently, his message was as urgent as he said.
"Kooky," Roy gasped, "you've got to turn back now. You need to return to the castle."
Ludwig raised an eyebrow. "Might I ask why?" he inquired.
"It's those two. They're traitors, Ludwig! They're going to try to link up with the Yoshies and start another war with King Dad."
Ludwig tried unsuccessfully to hide the shock from his face.
How, he thought, could Roy have known about that?
Good, Roy thought at the look of horror on his elder brother's face, he's falling for it. Now to offer... assistance.
"It's you they're after first, Ludwig," he continued his series of lies, "it's you they want out of the way."
Ludwig was clearly confused. "Come again," he said slowly.
"Your ship is the most powerful,"
Roy explained, cringing at the admission. "They want to take you out using
surprise and superior numbers so that you won't be able to fight them and
the Yoshies off when they start
making their move."
Third base, thought Roy as he watched every emotion from confusion to fury flash across Ludwig's face, now if he''ll just listen to one more line...
"I can help you, bro," he offered.
"They don't know I'm here. I could take them by surprise. Y'know, we take
them out before they take us out. It'll work, and we'll have put down a
rebellion." Roy waited for Ludwig's
response with bated breath.
Words cannot express Roy's shock when Ludwig shook his head and replied, "I'm sorry, brother, but I cannot let you get in our way. I will inform the other two that you have found us out and we will have to leave."
Us leave?, Roy thought. It can't be. It was true? I thought I had made that story up! And Ludwig is with them? This is an outrage!
Roy shook with fury as he began to make sense of Ludwig's words. "Well then," he rumbled, "then I'll have to get rid of this uprising myself. Cut transmission."
Ludwig had barely enough time to realize that Roy had severed contact before the deck of the Amadeus rocked under the strain of a bombardment of cannonballs from the attacking vessel. "Return fire," he yelled over the alert klaxons, "drop to subsonic and prepare for close combat. Signal the squadron that-"
Ludwig's words were cut off as the helm control station exploded, flinging sparks and flames around the bridge. As Ludwig struggled in vain to regain control he looked forward out the window to see a great mass of blue on the horizon before him. No, he corrected himself, below me! We're going to hit the water!
"What's happening?" Karma screamed over the noise of alert sirens and computerized warnings.
"Ma'am, the Amadeus is under attack," replied the burly Terra Cotta who served as Karma's Commandant. "The ship was attacked from the rear and it just went down."
"Ludwig!" Karma screamed in horror, "On... on viewer!"
The viewscreen came on in time to
display the nose of the Flagship striking the water, followed by the rest
of the massive vessel. It took a moment before the ship surfaced again,
revealing that the bridge had been
struck by a cannonball, causing all control systems to go off-line. As Karma wondered what had done this the side of the Free Bird was pummeled with cannonballs from Crusher, giving her the answer. "Return fire," she ordered.
"We can't" informed her Commandant, "they just took out the weapons array." The Commandant looked at his flickering scanner reports and added, "And Peacemaker won't be much help either, she just lost her engines and she's going down."
A brief glance out the forward window at the Crusher, turning around to make a run back at its target, told Karma who their assailant was. "Roy," she muttered. Karma knew Roy, and she knew he was just the kind of person to do something like this, attacking his own allies. Of course, Karma reminded herself, we're not his allies anymore, but how could he have known that?
"There's just one more," declared Roy victoriously. "Let's take 'er out!"
"Aye, sir," answered the Commandant. In seconds the ship's myriad of cannons were bombarding Free Bird once again. Roy grinned his bullying grin as he thought of Bowser's reaction.
"I'm sure to take Ludwig's place as the successor," Roy murmured, "and then, as soon as I put Dad out of commission..." Realizing he had said too much, Roy looked around to see if anybody had heard him. Fortunately, everybody was too occupied with the assault on the one vessel left that could have brought peace to the warring reptilian races. "Ahem... damage report:"
"She's going down," reported the Commandant, " just watch the screen."
Rightly enough, Roy looked up at the viewscreen to see Karma's ship falling from the sky with its engines ablaze. Satisfied with his victory, Roy turned his mind to other battles. "Set course," he commanded pompously, "for Yoshi's Island."
All was confusion on the bridge of the KDS Free Bird. Somehow, Roy had ambushed the squadron, crippled the Amadeus, and now the Free Bird and Peacemaker were dead in the water with no way to move or lift off until the engines were repaired. Everyone's mind was occupied trying to figure out how to get out of the mess they were in. Everyone's, that is, except Karmas.
Karma despaired as she watched Crusher streaking toward Yoshi's Island. It was over, she thought. In a few seconds Roy would open fire on the defenseless island, and It would all be over. Karma began to sob as she thought of all the old friends who were about to lose their lives senselessly. She longed to throw herself into Ludwig's arms, but she couldn't.
Karma tried to fight back sobs as she thought of Ludwig. She didn't know if he was even alive. The bridge of Amadeus had taken a direct hit, Ludwig could easily have been killed by the explosion, or buried by debris, or any number of things. And now, she had no one left. She had already lost her parents, now she had lost her Met, and she would soon lose her home. Karma couldn't fight anymore. She buried her face in her hands and began to sob uncontrollably.
Jazzman stared intently out the forward window, hoping that somehow Yoshi's Island would be miraculously saved from the wrath of the Crusher's crazed commander. There was no one between Roy and the Island now, and Roy was only a mile or two off it. He was practically in firing range.
Jazzman's heart sank as he strained
his eyes to see the main cannon of the Crusher extending. He despaired
all the more when he thought of all the mighty vessel's remaining cannons
that he couldn't see. This was it, he knew it. In a few short moments Yoshi's
Island would be reduced to a flaming cinder. He couldn't watch, he just
couldn't. He gritted his teeth and looked
"Just a few more seconds," he mourned, "just a few more seconds, just a few-"
There was a growing roar, followed by the sizzle of burning air as an energy weapon discharged, and finally a deafening BOOM! Jazzman's knees gave way as the thought of so many dead friends forced its weight upon him like a Thwomp had suddenly fallen onto his shoulders. Jazzman turned slowly back toward the forward window in time to see...
... "What?!" he wondered aloud at
the sight of Crusher, its engines ablaze, spiraling headlong toward the
wreck of Bowser's Doomship. Had it not been for his bewilderment
at the sight, Jazzman would have laughed at the irony, but as it happened
he didn't even notice. Jazzman began to go over the events of the last
few moments in his mind when realization slowly came over
him. "Of course," he whispered, grinning. "It's gotta be him!"
One glistening, solid gold eye and its koopish counterpart peered out from behind their owner's cover in the bushes Yoshi's Island. "That," the owner rumbled, "was a Koopaaaa dooooooomship. It would appearrrrrrrr that Bowserrrrrrrrrrrrrr is still onnnn the thrrronnnne, orr they would not attack an undefended Island. Therrrrrrre issssssssss noo honorrrrr in it."
"You can't be sure that it's Bowser," corrected his companion, a tiny blue Yoshi, "Remember that the Koopas have not always shared your sense of honor."
The larger speaker clenched his
fists. "That iss trrrrrue," he thundered, "and since that isss trrrrrrrue,
I must see forrrrrr myself how things arrrrrrrrre on the mainland. I must
seeeeeeee if my peopllllllllllle have
turrrrrned theirrrrrrrr backs on Bowserrrrrrrrrrrr's pathetic ideals, orrrrrrrr if they arre still mindless sheep."
The Yoshi looked up at his companion. "Then what will you do, Monstro, if they are still sheep as you say?"
Monstro narrowed his one good eye.
"Then if it happenssssss that they do rrrrrrrrremember Bowserrrrrrr and
hiss waysssss..." a great gray arm reached out of the bushes, lifted a
tree from its roots and shattered it in its mighty grip. "then I will ensurrre
that theeey rrrrrrrrememberrrrrrrrr
meeee as welllllll."
It was almost a full day before the four doomships had enough power to propel themselves through the water, at the orders of a most disgruntled Bowser, to a meeting location. When the ships had finally gathered, the four commanders assembled themselves in the conference room of the Amadeus.
"Where is he?" muttered Roy. "Bowser should be here by now."
"If it weren't for you and your brainless attack on our ships he wouldn't NEED to be here!" Karma rebuked.
"And if it weren't for you and your little rebellion, freak," Roy returned, "I wouldn'ta had ta shoot at ya! All I gotta do is tell Bowser the truth about what you were all fixing to do out here and he'll have all three of ya thrown in the magma pits." Roy grinned his toothy grin.
Ludwig was perfectly calm as he responded, "And all I have to do is inform him that you fired on three doomships instead of attempting to capture them, standard procedure when an airship falls under rebel control, and he will do the same to you."
Roy's grin faded, but before he could think of a reply the doors slid open and Bowser stormed in in a fiery rage.
"What I want to know, Roy," he snarled, "is exactly what happened out here. I sent three doomships to attack an undefended Island, and FOUR turned up crippled off that island's shore! I want some answers here!"
Roy's mind raced. He hadn't thought that Bowser would be angry at HIM for following the three ships. "I... heard a... a distress call from Amadeus. The squadron was under attack by..." he recalled the mysterious discharge that had crippled his own vessel, "a plasma cannon, and it came from Yoshi's Island."
Bowser narrowed his eyes. "A plasma cannon?" he questioned slowly. "Where did the Yoshies get the kind of magic and technology that would require?!"
He turned slowly toward Ludwig. "Baron, I want to hear your side of this story. What in Morton's name happened?"
Ludwig afforded a quick glance at
Roy, who looked back pleadingly. "He is correct," Ludwig lied, causing
Karma and Jazzman's jaws to drop to the floor in shock. "We were assaulted
by a plasma weapon of unknown origin, apparently fired from somewhere on
Yoshi's Island. All three ships in the squadron were
crippled, and we relayed an emergency distress beacon. It was to our good fortune that Roy had the foresight to follow us here in case we required assistance, because had he not, no other ship could have come to our aid. Unfortunately, the Crusher was attacked upon its arrival by the same assailant that had ambushed us."
Bowser stood still for a moment, as if trying to decide if he trusted his two sons more than his instincts. "If what you have said is true," he said after a moment, "then the Yoshies have gained considerable power."
"Then maybe it would be a good idea to have them on our side, daddy-o," chimed in Jazzman. "I mean, we don't wanna fight against that!"
Bowser glared at Jazzman, but made no reply. "I'll be returning to base shortly," he explained. "When I get there I'll send four towships to take you back. I don't want four more vessels wrecked out here." As an afterthought, he added, "Or three sons marooned in enemy territory." With that he snapped his fingers and disappeared in a flash of fire.
Roy stood, dumbfounded for a moment, and stared at Ludwig. "Why?" he asked. "Why are you helping these two? What are they to you?"
"Loyalty, dear brother," Ludwig responded tersely, "loyalty."
Roy stood speechless for a moment, then turned to go back to his ship.
"What I want to know, Ludwig," Karma asked a little angrily, "is why did you lie to protect that slimeball?"
Ludwig looked back. "Had I told the truth, he would have been executed, but we all three would have as well. Would you rather have me lie to incriminate him?"
"I'm sure he wouldn't hesitate to return THAT favor!" Karma answered.
Ludwig merely shook his head calmly and said, "No, my dear, it is not that simple. As I told Roy, it was about loyalty. It all comes down to a matter of loyalty."
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