The Galaxy Mobile Platoon are on the run from a mounted gun turret as part of their latest training exercise - a strict regime devised by James McCloud to make them think fast, react faster, and treat their opponents ruthlessly. Ryu demonstrates by ramming the Astro Robin from behind, unseen amidst the rain of gunfire.
James's technique is derived from fighter plane combat, where cunning and reflexes are all you have to top your enemies. The group aren't at all happy with this - F-Zero shouldn't be treated like warfare! - but they only get threatened with the gun again for speaking up. Ryu, however, deduces their trainer has a military background, and is impressed with his technique.
The next day, Jody and Stewart approach Tanaka with the intention of complaining about the drill sergeant he hired, but the director gushes over him too much for them to speak up. He spent a lot of dough to get this guy and James came recommended from a reliable source, so he's keen to see some results! John talks away in high spirits, but Jody and the doctor instead ponder who could ever have recommended McCloud.
Jack and the crew share their discontent about James in the command room. Not only is his militaristic regime unfitting to the Platoon, but it causes untold amounts of damage to their machines as well; Clash has gotta fix those things, y'know! Jack has his own complaints and proceeds to make a really dreadful impersonation of McCloud... failing to notice he's standing right behind him. He beckons the crew out for more training, but Ryu's the only one willing to take him up on the offer.
The Dragon Bird and the Little Wyvern undergo more training, James refusing to give Ryu any slack... but he's not willing to give up and wants to have another go, wishing to know his attack techniques. He needs to know how to fight Dark Million.
James admires the man's gusto, and is reminded of an old comrade he once had. Ryu wants to know more about his time in the military - how could the army have let go such a skilled pilot? - but McCloud refuses to answer, instead reminding Ryu he's free to dropout if the going gets too tough for him. He doesn't plan on it - he's got faith in his skills.
Ryu invites his trainer to Falcon House to sample their famous coffee - Burt and Clank tailor the making of each cup to each customer's specific taste, y'know! James and Ryu get the same style of coffee, but while Ryu takes it with milk, James takes it black (he's sweet enough, thanks). Clank tries to read into this with psychology, but Ryu doesn't see what the big deal is. James has his fill and abruptly leaves, and even Clank can tell that guy's got a cold shoulder.
In the Galaxy Mobile Platoon base, James is busy communicating on the computer when Jody enters, prompting him to shut it off. That was a private conversation, he proclaims, and skulks away. Once he's out of sight, Jody contacts Clank to look into who he was talking to, and a quick bit of hacking reveals it to be...
Octoman and Bio Rex go over their battle strategy for the next race and gush about their contact - he really looks out for the little guy, doesn't he? - when Miss Killer appears, curious to know what they're talking about. They boast they'll defeat Ryu Suzaku for sure this time, and she smirks at the thought of it.
... Bio Rex?!
Come the next race, Ryu and James are in the stadium about to get ready, only to find Jody waiting for them...
She asks James if he'll be taking part; of course, he's a member of the Platoon now. She reveals she knows who he was contacting, and the recommendations Tanaka received about him were fabricated... so where do his ties lie with Dark Million? James fesses up - he's a mercenery, he'll train anyone who'll foot the bill, Dark Million included.
But why? To be the champion, of course! While he sics the two factions against each other, he already knows what tactics to expect and can sail past them to victory. Ryu feels used by this revelation, but James declaring this race to be his final lesson and departs, reminding him betrayal is a mere fact of life.
The Platoon stew over this in the starting grid, but at least with it out in the open they can focus on their main objective again. The racers start their engines, and once on the track Octoman and Bio Rex quickly find targets to test their newfound skills upon.
Lucy comes under attack, but she and Jack fight back using the same manoeuvres, surprising their opponents. While they're feuding the Little Wyvern breezes past them, and Miss Killer spills the beans to her lackeys; this is exactly what their trainer wants them to do. This infuriates them but only makes their resolve grow fiercer - they have to win this race for sure!
While the Platoon and Dark Million are locked in bitter combat, Ryu is stuck behind the warring crowd and James McCloud is far, far, far out in front. Acknowledging this, Jack and Lucy barge the Deep Claw and Big Fang out of the way, allowing Ryu to slip past the Moon Shadow and trigger his Spin Booster!
The Dragon Bird and Little Wyvern are neck and neck, but ultimately, James McCloud takes first place. The Platoon are a bit salty about this, but in the end they prevented Dark Million from winning, and that's all that counts. Speaking of Dark Million... where's Miss Killer?
The mercenary is cornered by her and a shower of Dark Soldiers in the parking garage, eager to repay him for his trickery and lies with a few laser blasts to the cranium. James is thankful these bums are so predictable and blows up the robots with a grenade, making his getaway...
... failing to account for a second wave of them to pop out and corner him. Just when it looks like he's done for, the Dragon Bird appears and barges the drones aside, allowing James to board and make his getaway. Octoman tries to stop them but Ryu shows him some violent driving, causing a pile up of Dark Million racers as they safely escape.
A safe distance away, James wishes to ask why Ryu risked his neck for him. "Because we drink the same kind of coffee." The mercenary reminds him he takes his black, so their tastes and ideals don't totally coincide...
... but he feels free to open up to his trainee. O'Donnell was the name of James' comrade, and the two of them joined the army together. On a search and rescue mission their transport was shot down over enemy terrain, O'Donnell carrying his friend to safety from the burning wreckage. They called for rescue, but as far as command were concerned, the battle was over; sending in another ship would break the treaty.
Despite that, McCloud and O'Donnell were still under heavy enemy fire. To give his wounded buddy an opening to flee, O'Donnell charged towards the the hail of gunfire, sacrificing himself to distract them from James' escape. Since that incident, he's refused to trust anyone.
Ryu calls him out on his BS - his squadron must've felt bad for having to abandon them, and it's not like he's above that; he abandoned the people he was meant to rescue. James tells him he could never understand his pain, but Ryu shows off his skills in the Dragon Bird, owing a lot of it to his mentor's training. He commends James for his skill, despite being a bit of a dirtbag, and hopes he reunites with O'Donnell on the other side. McCloud walks into the sunset without thanking him.
The Platoon unwind at Falcon House, complaining that Tanaka's to blame for this whole incident, while Ryu fears James will never return again; will he live the rest of his life a cold, distrustful individual? Burt tells him he popped over to the café earlier and tried a new style of coffee, so he may not know it, but he may on the road to change. Ryu ponders if he's still drinking bitter coffee, wherever he is...
In another part of the Galaxy, James watches the night lights and pours himself a delicious brew, mixing a little milk in and dedicating it to his friend, Ryu Suzaku.
Burt's F-Zero Classroom: Burt teaches us a little more about James McCloud. Originating from Corneria in the Lylat system, he has a wife and daughter bck home and he works with his two comrades, Pigma Dengar and Peppy Hare. He's 32 years old and his blood type is A.
If Burt's segment didn't nail it in, James is a big ol' reference to Nintendo's Star Fox franchise, himself styled visually and named after Fox McCloud's dead da, his machine a homage to the Arwing, and his military partner is named after Fox's rival, Wolf O'Donnell.
The eyecatch for James McCloud mistakenly claims the Little Wyvern is racer #11; it should be #10.