Chapter 1: Searching

"Are you certain you want to do this, Peppy?"

Peppy Hare returned General Pepper’s gaze firmly. "Yes, r airbikes close to her own. "Find anything good?"

"Some stuff," Slippy answered. "We would have found more, if you hadn’t blown up half the cruiser."

Fox winced inwardly, thinking of Falco’s likely reaction. Sure enough, whatever the toad was planning on saying next trailed off under the avian’s glare. The trio walked together into the main part of their hideaway, where a large chamber cluttered with various things they had acquired branched off into several smaller rooms and hallways.

"I need a rest,"

HTML1DocumentEncodingwindows-1252GeneratorMicrosoft Works 4.0

Chapter 1: Searching

"Are you certain you want to do this, Peppy?"

Peppy Hare returned General Pepper’s gaze firmly. "Yes, General," he replied. "I have to do this. I truly believe that James’s son is still alive. I can sense him out there... somewhere. I humbly request permission to go search for him."

General Pepper watched the veteran’s face closely for a long moment. He knew that the old veteran’s hunches were usually good: they had helped pick out some of the best Arwing pilots they had now. Yet he knew, deep down inside, that part of the rabbits’ confidence in his chances of finding the young McCloud alive were rooted in his own desperate prayers. Peppy was the last surviving member of the original Starfox team; both his comrades had been lost in the Venomian assault on Corneria six years ago. He had been particularly close to James McCloud, his leader and closest friends. Even now, the mere mention of his lost ally’s name brought tears springing unbidden to the rabbit’s eyes.

"Very well, Peppy," the general finally said. "You may depart the base and proceed with your quest. But," he added as the veteran turned to leave, "you must remember one thing." Peppy turned back to stare at him, watching as the commander got up from his chair and slowly approached him. General Pepper put both of his heavy hands on the rabbit’s shoulders, looking down into his face.

"Peppy... be careful," he cautioned.

Peppy paused for a moment, then smiled up at the canine. Gently pulling free of his grasp, he nodded and said, "Always, General." Then, saluting once, he turned and walked out of the office, leaving the commander standing alone with his thoughts.

Peppy Hare marched briskly down the corridors, quickly making his way toward the hangars. Suddenly, a youthful voice called out his name behind him.

"Peppy! What’s happening?"

Turning, he recognized a lean, young ferret racing toward him, a wide grin on her face. Returning her smile, the veteran pilot waited politely for her to catch up to him. Within moments, she was standing at his side, beaming at him. She shoved her blue-tinted flight goggles up onto her forehead, flipped a stray strand of black-brown fur away from her flashing cobalt eyes, and said, "What’s up, Peps?"

"Hello, Sable," Peppy replied simply. Looking at the exuberant ferret, he mused briefly on how hard it was to believe that this cheerful young girl was actually one of the new Arwing pilots. And he had been the one who insisted she be recruited into the team! Still, he knew from experience that appearances could be deceiving, and that the seemingly ditzy young girl was one of the best pilots they had. "General Pepper just gave me permission to go out searching for Fox McCloud."

"Really, Peppy?" Sable asked, her eyes wide with surprise. "Wow, that’s totally cool! Can I come along?"

"That’s not a good idea," Peppy replied, wincing as he saw her smile vanish, and her shoulders sagged briefly with disappointment.

"Why not?" she demanded, her voice rising several octaves.

Peppy sighed inwardly. "Sable, listen," he said, "you can’t come along because your team needs you here. You have to stay with them and help protect Corneria. They need you more than me. Don’t worry, I can take care of myself."

"I guess so..." Sable whispered, eyes downcast. "But... you promise you’ll be careful?" she pleaded.

"Of course," and Peppy smiled reassuringly at the ferret. The sound of approaching footsteps caught their attention, and the two looked up to see a young dog and rabbit coming toward them. The dog smiled at both of them, but the female rabbit beside him seemed to barely acknowledge their presence.

"Hey, Peppy, Sable!" Bill Grey greeted the two. "Peppy, I just heard the great news! Good luck!"

"Thank you," Peppy said, but his attention was focused on the young woman behind Bill. Sensing Peppy’s gaze, she shifted slightly, avoiding his eyes. Instead, she rather pointedly glared at Sable, her pink eyes narrowing with a sort of disgust. Sable ignored the look, shrugging it off and turning to look back at Peppy.

"If you are planning on going," the female rabbit said, "you should go now, Mr. Hare."

"Jeez, Rabbi," Sable drawled under her breath, "you’re not really one for heartfelt good-byes, huh?"

"She’s right, you guys," Peppy said, starting back down toward the hangars. Over his shoulder, he called, "Bill! Take care of Sable and the others, will you? Tell Fara and the others I said goodbye, and see you soon!"

"See you soon," Sable called back.

***

Peppy crawled into the cockpit of his ship. Although the old veteran had quit flying an Arwing some time ago, he still had a personal spacecraft he used from time to get around. As he buckled into the seat and prepared for takeoff, he felt his mind drift back slightly, and he imagined a familiar voice crackling over the radio.

All aircraft report.

Pigma here, I’m not bacon yet!

This is Peppy, I’m fine.

All right then, let’s return to Great Fox.

Peppy shook his head suddenly, snapping out of his memories. Sighing, he brought his aircraft around and launched out of the base.

~That was a lifetime ago,~ he reminded himself. ~I can never have that time back!~

***

Out of the range of the base’s sensors, a massive warship lurked in waiting. Its commander, a gravel-voiced lizard with a long scar marring its left cheek smirked as the ship’s radar picked up on the tiny blip. Turning to his underlings, he rasped, "Move in. Let’s go after it. And remember," he added with a sneer, "go easy on the lasers. Andross wants him alive."

Sable Lightfoot glanced out the window at Peppy’s departing ship. Heaving a heavy sigh, she wished that she had been allowed to at least escort the veteran’s ship for a while. Sensing her disappointment, Fara Phoenix sauntered up to her friend and put a comforting hand on her shoulder.

"Don’t worry," she soothed the ferret, "Peppy can take care of himself. Come on, let’s go get a snack. I’ll buy, even."

Sable turned and smiled at the fox. "Sounds great," she answered. As they turned to head toward the cafeteria, the ferret stole one last glance toward Peppy’s ship, which was already a dot on the horizon.

Suddenly her eyes widened. Bright lights were flashing around the ship, and Sable knew in an instant it was laser fire. And it was coming from...

"Fara!" Sable shrieked. Fara turned, took one disbelieving look out the window, then followed on the ferret’s footsteps as they raced for their Arwings. The entire way, Sable kept screaming, "Red Alert! Red Alert! Venomian ship in Cornerian airspace!"

"What’s going on?" Rabbi demanded as the two darted by her.

"Peppy’s under attack from a Venomian cruiser!"

That was all it took. After a few precious seconds, four Arwings launched simultaneously from the base. Rabbi led her squadron into battle, ordering sternly, "Get ready. They’ll send fighters to deal with us."

"Roger, commander," Fara answered.

"I hear you, Rabbi," Bill replied.

"Yes, Rabbi," Sable murmured, her heart pounding too wildly to come up with anything else. Inwardly, she berated herself for not insisting on going along with Peppy. Flipping her goggles back over her eyes, she reached for her radio.

***

"AUGHHH!" Peppy screamed as a laser burned through the left wing of his spacecraft. The severed wing plummeted to the ground far below, and the rabbit struggled to keep his ship from following it down. "Damn you," he muttered at the Venomian cruiser. "I don’t need this right now!" Swerving wildly, he attempted to avoid the blasts that threatened to turn his ship into a smoking hunk of twisted metal, with only marginal success.

"Peppy! Are you okay?" Sable’s worried voice crackled over the radio. But Peppy was too busy to answer her hail. Another laser tore into his ship, slicing into the engine. As it sputtered and failed, anther blast sent Peppy reeling, and he slipped into darkness, Sable’s frantic cries still ringing in his ears...

***

"We’ve got him now," the lizard commander gloated. "Activate the tractor beam and bring our guest in."

***

"Peppy? Peppy!" Sable called, watching in horror as the ship plunged toward the unforgiving ground. Suddenly, a beam of light from the enemy spacecraft struck the falling ship, halting it in midair. As the ferret and her teammates watched in shock, the tiny ship was reeled back toward the cruiser.

"A tractor beam!" Fara cried. "They’ve captured Peppy!"

"Not if I can help it," Bill growled, racing toward the ship, Sable directly behind him.

"Here comes the enemy," Rabbi warned, seeing several squadrons of Venomian fighters emerge from the base.

"Not a problem, Rabbi," Fara called back, swooping forward to meet the enemy. Her hyper lasers flared, and instantly two of the fighters exploded. Nearby, the other Arwing pilots were also firing their lasers, weaving and rolling to avoid the return fire.

"Fara! Bogey on your six!" Sable warned. Before the fox could react, however, the ferret lashed out with her own lasers, and the Firebird crashed to Corneria’s surface. "Never mind," she amended with an impish grin, "I got it."

"Nice shot, Sable," Bill laughed, then turned his attention back to the ships before him. "Damnit," he cursed, "the cruiser’s escaping!"

Sure enough, the massive carrier was pulling away from the battle. Blasting the last of the Firebirds, Sable instantly whirled in that direction and yelled, "I’ll go after it!"

"No!" Rabbi’s stern voice exploded over the radio. "Return to base, now!"

The other pilots stared at her ship in shock. "But Rabbi..." Sable started.

"No buts," Rabbi hissed. "The enemy is trying to lure us away from the base. We cannot leave it defenseless. For any reason."

Without another word, Rabbi swung her Arwing around and headed back toward the base. Her wingmen stared after her ship, then reluctantly followed, Sable glancing helplessly toward the distant Venomian cruiser.

"Sorry," she whispered, tears filling her eyes. With a sob, she turned and jetted after her allies, her tears splashing against her goggles.

***

On the Venomian cruiser, the commander celebrated his victory. "Lord Andross will be pleased," he gloated. To his underlings, he hissed, "Take our guest to the prison chambers!"

The Venomian craft continued to glide along, just over the planet’s surface, unaware of three diminutive figures below it, watching the sky.

***

"There!" Fox McCloud lowered his binoculars and pointed to the northwestern sky. "A Venomian aircraft, flying low over the horizon."

"We can see it, Fox," the shapely young avian behind him responding. Flipping a stray blue feather away from her flashing blue-green eyes, Falco Lombardi gazed at the young fox and asked, "What do you say to relieving them of the burden of serving Andross?"

A grin spread across Fox’s face. "An excellent idea." Even as he spoke, he revved the engine of his airbike.

Falco smirked, and suddenly a cloud of dust appeared as she tool off, darting toward the carrier. Fox blinked once in surprise, then zoomed after her.

"H-h-hey, wait for me!" his other companion protested. Slippy Toad hastily brought his airbike around and followed behind. "W-w-wait, wait for m-me!"

Ignoring the frog’s faint pleas, Falco kicked her engine into overdrive. As she neared the Venomian cruiser, she carefully aimed her bazooka at its steel hull. ~Wait for the shot...now!~ Her finger squeezed the trigger, and a huge explosion rocked the ship as her shot connected. Smiling, Falco took aim again.

***

"What’s going on?" the commander demanded in a rage, glaring at his squirming soldiers.

"We don’t know!" one of the lowly underlings sniveled. "A massive explosion just damaged the front of the ship!"

"We’re under attack!" another lizard screamed.

"Who’s crazy enough to attack a Venomian cruiser?" the commander spat. As if in answer to his outburst, the ship pitched wildly again.

"Another hit! This one went off next to the containment quarters!"

"What? Check the status of the prisoner!" The order rang out through the ship. As several of the soldiers rushed to carry out his demand, the captain slumped in his seat, one hand massaging the scar on his cheek gently. This was not going as he had planned...

***

Peppy Hare stumbled wildly as the ship pitched again. "What on Corneria?" he cried. "What’s happening?" Outside his cell, he could hear several alarms blaring and the screams of panicked lizards. ~I’ve got to get out of here!~

"Somebody check the rabbit’s cell!" a guard’s voice yelled. Hearing that, an idea quickly formed in the veteran’s canny mind. Moving to the side of the door, Peppy pressed against the wall and waited. Soon, a pair of reptilian eyes appeared at the narrow slot in the metal door.

"What the heck? He isn’t here!" the guard shrieked, unable to see the rabbit crouched in the shadows. There was a rustling of keys, then the door swung wide open and the lizard raced inside, looking around wildly. Without hesitation, Peppy leaped toward the guard, hands balling into fists. Before the shocked lizard could react, his fists slammed into the lizard’s face, and the guard slumped to the ground. Quickly relieving the reptile of his laser, Peppy shot the crumpled guard once in the head, then bolted into the corridor.

"The prisoner’s escaping!" the guards outside shouted, stating the obvious. They fumbled for their blasters, but before they could take aim, Peppy fired several shots toward them. As they collapsed, the old veteran raced toward the docking area, praying to find a suitable ship to use for escape.

***

"What do you mean Peppy’s loose?" the commander shrieked at the top of his lungs. The unfortunate soldier who had brought him the news quivered. Before he could answer, however, another explosion ripped into the room. All the lizards screamed in unison as the fire swept over them. The Venomian carrier plummeted toward the ground.

***

"DAMNIT!" Peppy howled as he saw the ground below rush up to meet the cruiser. As the ship hurtled toward the unforgiving surface, the veteran forced his ‘borrowed’ ship out of the docking area, pushing its engine into overdrive as his ship rocketed free.

***

"Yes! Man, I’m good!" Falco cheered as she watched the Venomian ship crash into the rocky soil.

"Uh, nice work, Falco," Fox said as he finally pulled alongside her, "but next time, could you be a little more careful?" Seeing the azure avian glaring at him, he decided to drop the subject and instead said, as Slippy pulled up behind him, "Now let’s see if there’s anything worth salvaging."

"You two can handle that," Falco said with a wave of her hand. "I’ve already done my fair share of the work. I’m heading back to the den to change out of these rags."

"What? Hey, wait just a..." Fox stammered, but Falco had already turned and jetted away. Fox stared after her in exasperation.

"We got stuck with clean-up duty again, huh?" Slippy asked.

"Uh huh," Fox said with a groan. "Well, let’s get to work."

***

The sky had already begun to darken by the time Fox and Slippy arrived back at their base. Falco was already there, waiting near the cave’s entrance, and Fox noticed that she had changed her clothes. Her dusty traveling rags had been shed in favor of a simple, handmade, one piece red dress which hung down to her knees, loose enough to allow easy, comfortable movement, but tight enough to accent the natural curves of her body.

"Well, well, you finally made it back," she teased as they pulled through the entryway and parked theiFox said more to himself than to his friends. Nevertheless, they both turned to look at him.

"Fine," Falco said dismissively, turning away with a stretch. "I think I’ll go hop in the lake and take a bath."

"Why didn’t you get in while we were gone?" Slippy asked.

"I didn’t want you two to get back and not see me there," Falco replied, picking up a makeshift towel from a shelf. "You two get worried too easily."

As she turned and started up the corridor leading to the lake, Fox rolled his eyes. Suddenly, Falco whirled around, eyes flashing. For a moment, Fox thought she had seen, then realized that she wasn’t glaring at him.

"Oh, and Slippy?" she added, ice in her voice. "If I catch you anywhere near the lake while I’m bathing, I’ll turn your slimy hide inside out!"

"O-o-okay, okay!" Slippy stammered, his face turning a bright crimson as he hastily motioned for Falco to calm down. The falcon’s eyes flashed warningly one last time, then she turned and stalked up the corridor. Slippy turned pleading eyes to Fox. "She’ll never forgive m-m-me for that, will she?"

"Doesn’t look like it," Fox answered, allowing a little sympathy to surface in his voice. At the same time, however, he couldn’t prevent a little smile from tugging at the corners of his mouth. Slippy noticed, and his face reddened even more.

"Oh n-n-no, not you too," Slippy wailed. "L-l-look, I’ve told you before, it was an a-a-accident! I j-j-just wanted to take a quick swim that night. I-I-I didn’t realize she was taking a bath at the time, h-h-honest! You believe me, r-r-right?" His voice had steadily risen several octaves. "Right?"

Fox didn’t bother to answer, instead slipping into another chamber to rest. Behind him, Slippy continued to moan, "Oh n-n-no, why doesn’t anyone believe m-m-me? F-F-Foxxxxx...."

With a groan of exhaustion, Fox flopped down onto his makeshift bed, the tattered sheets shifting beneath him as he tried to get comfortable. Something jabbed into his side painfully, and he yanked it out and glanced at it. His annoyed expression softened as he recognized the faded picture in the beat-up wooden frame. His fingers strayed absently to the familiar figure captured in the photograph.

~Father...~

Unaware that he had whispered the thought aloud, Fox McCloud slipped into a light sleep, face half-buried under the covers, one hand still gripping the old frame.

***

Falco shrugged off her clothes and waded into the shallow lake. They were so lucky to have discovered a pond so close to their home, she thought as she immersed herself in the cool water. After all, a lady of her stunning beauty should never have to put up with filthiness... "Not that the sorry conditions I live in are exactly suitable for me, either," she muttered under her breath.

Stubbornly pushing that thought out of her mind, Falco instead focused on relaxing. She let the chilled waters flow around her body, allowing her mind to drift away, temporarily letting go of all the fears, frustrations and doubts that secretly plagued her during the day.

***

Peppy gritted his teeth as he pushed himself forward, trying to ignore the slight throbbing in his legs. The enemy craft he had ‘borrowed’ had run out of fuel, and suddenly given out on him. Now it felt like his legs planned on giving out on him too. The old veteran knew that time was running out for him: he could sense that even now, Venomian troops were searching the area for him. And if he was caught again...

~Don’t even think about that, Peppy,~ he scolded himself, even as he felt himself nearly stumble. ~Damn, I’m getting too old for this sort of thing...~

At that moment he spotted it. A small opening in a nearby hillside, half-hidden by a cluster of rocks. ~Shelter,~ Peppy thought, thanking the powers above for the natural cavern’s presence. With one last glance about to make certain no enemies were nearby, he ducked into the cave. Inside, he slumped against one of the walls with a sigh, almost collapsing.

His hand brushed up against a cool, smooth surface.

"Eh?" Confused, Peppy turned to see his hand resting touching the side of some sort of vehicle. As his eyes adjusted to the dim light, he realized that there were three of the unusual looking crafts nearby. "...What the..." he murmured, completely stunned. What on Corneria were three airbikes doing in a cave?

~Somebody’s living here.~

Fighting down the wave of fear that swept over him at that realization, Peppy tried to figure out who might be living there. "Maybe it’s the young McCloud," he whispered to himself, daring to hope.

~And maybe it’s a Venomian base. What about that possibility?~

"At any rate, I need to investigate," Peppy murmured. Keeping one hand hovering near his blaster, he slowly continued down the corridor, keeping his ears pricked and his eyes watching every shadow. He was mildly surprised when he walked into a well-lit cavern. It looked more like a living room than it did a natural cave: makeshift furniture had been placed inside, and large planks half attached to the walls served as doors to other areas. A scattering of clothing, spare parts, and various other items cluttered the floor, giving the impression of a place that had been lived in for quite some time. Peppy stood uncertainly for a moment, trying to figure out which way he should go next.

***

Slippy bent over his latest project, face still slightly red with embarrassment. He crouched down on the floor in his ‘room’, the half-finished skeletons of a dozen other projects surrounding him. He’d work on them later, he told himself; right now, he wanted to get a head start on his latest idea.

Outside the door, he could hear somebody moving around. A sudden thought occurred to Slippy: if that was Falco, then he might have time left to take a quick swim before the water got too cold from the night air. Picking his way through the clutter on his floor, he got to his door and opened it slightly, peering out.

It wasn’t Falco. A stranger was standing in the den.

Slippy froze, his rotund eyes nearly bugging out of their sockets. ~Venomian!~ his mind shrieked. ~What’ll-I-do-what’ll-I-do-what’ll-I-do?!?~ Heart pounding wildly against his ribcage, the toad cowered behind his door, keeping it open a bare sliver as he stared at the intruder.

~Oh please go away, please please please go away...~

The stranger surveyed the room, long brown ears straining to hear. Slippy wondered that the guy couldn’t hear his heart thudding: it sounded like deafening thunder in his own head. One hand hovered over a nasty-looking blaster in his belt. As the intruder’s red eyes swept over the door to where Fox was sleeping, he seemed to pause, and the frog felt his heart nearly leap into his dry throat. He nearly fainted with relief when the stranger’s gaze moved on.

Suddenly, the invader began to move. As he carefully, silently crept up a passageway and disappeared from sight, Slippy crept out of his room, mind reeling with a thousand thoughts at once. ~Falco’s up there!~ he realized with a sudden sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach. Trying not to make any noise, he made his way toward Fox’s door, thinking, ~I’ve got to get Fox!~

But his trembling hand paused as he gripped the makeshift handle. ~But what if the stranger gets to Falco before I can get Fox up?~ With that thought he made his decision. Releasing the handle, Slippy instead picked up a laser pistol sitting nearby. Gulping, he began to sneak up after the invader.

***

Peppy blinked once as he arrived at the end of the tunnel, a little startled to discover that he had wandered into an open area. Several paces away, he could hear what sounded like splashing coming from behind a large pile of rocks. Curious, he crept closer, failing to notice the clothing draped over one of the boulders. He silently peeked around the corner...

***

Falco flung back her head, sending glittering droplets of water flying in every direction. Brushing back damp feathers from her eyes, continued to splash the cool liquid over her body.

***

~Well, that was about the last thing I expected to see,~ Peppy thought. Fully aware of his face blushing a deep crimson, the embarrassed rabbit quickly averted his eyes and prepared to retrace his steps back down the corridor.

At the last moment, his sharp eyes noticed the thin red beam flashing toward him. Then his shoulder erupted in sudden pain as the laser connected, burning into his fur. Biting back the howl of pain and rage that threatened to erupt from his lungs, Peppy rolled away from the lake, grabbed for his blaster, and pointed it toward his assailant.

His eyes widened as he spotted the short, trembling toad cocking a laser gun at him. As he stared, stunned, the obviously frightened youth struggled to keep his gun level with the old veteran’s body, despite his violently shaking arms. The amphibian’s blue eyes were wide with a strange mixture of overwhelming fear and a determination not to run away.

~This child is my enemy?~ Peppy thought in disbelief. Keeping a careful eye on the young frog, he slowly lowered his gun a hair.

"D-d-don’t move!" the toad ordered in a hoarse whisper, his voice breaking as he mistook the movement as getting ready to fire.

"I’m not here to hurt you," Peppy offered quietly, catching and holding the youngster’s frightened stare with his own calm gaze.

"You l-l-liar!" the boy retorted, struggling and failing to keep his voice even. "Y-y-you’re one of Andross’s s-s-spies, aren’t you? W-w-well, I won’t let you hurt my f-f-friends!"

~Andross’s spies? Hurt my friends? So that’s it,~ Peppy mused. Turning his most friendly smile on the frog, he whispered, "Oh, don’t be silly. Do I look like a Venomian spy?"

"N-n-no... You do look kinda o-o-old for a spy..."

Trying to ignore the jab at his age, Peppy continued, "Well then..."

"But you could still be one!" Slippy finished, his laser still pointed at Peppy’s forehead.

~Damn.~ Peppy didn’t like where this conversation was headed. Carefully, he shifted his weight to get into a better position for battle. He loathed the idea of having to hurt this kid, but if the toad insisted on trying to shoot him... Even now, he could just barely hear the frog’s muttering to himself, trying to sort out his next move.

"Oh man oh man oh man, w-w-what now? I-I-I don’t know what to do with this g-g-guy. I-I-I wish I’d gotten F-F-Fox up, he’d-"

"Fox? Fox McCloud?"

"Oh n-n-no, you are an assassin! A-A-Andross sent you to k-k-kill Fox!"

"I assure you, I’m no..."

"I won’t let you h-h-hurt Fox!" Slippy cocked his laser at Peppy’s forehead and, before the rabbit could protest, pulled the trigger. Instinctively, the rabbit flung himself at his opponent, and the pistol clattered to the ground as the two went sprawling backward, hitting a shallow part of the lake at full speed.

"What the-"

Slippy and Peppy opened their eyes and looked up in perfect unison. Falco stared back at them, her dress half covering her body, her aquamarine eyes wide. For a moment, a terrible silence hung in the air. Then the stunned expression on Falco’s face became one of total outrage, and she screamed...

The next thing Peppy knew, he was hurtling down the corridor at top speed, the toad running beside him. Behind them, Falco was in hot pursuit, one hand clutching he dress around her, the other holding a laser pistol, still shrieking at the top of her lungs.

"KYAAA! Slippy, you hentai! You are so DEAD! I don’t know who your little friend is, but you are both DEAD MEAT, PAL!"

As if to emphasize this threat, a laser blast whizzed past, just barely missing Peppy’s ears. The veteran yelped and forced his legs to move faster. ~Why couldn’t that stupid frog keep his grip on the blaster?~ he thought. Well, he had more important things to worry about right now. The laser blasts kept flashing around him, each shot seeming closer than the last.

After what seemed like an eternity of running and dodging laser fire, Peppy and Slippy burst into the main den. Not knowing where to take cover, the two began to race around the room in a rough circle, Falco still on their heels. Her laser seemed to have run out of charges; but unfortunately, she hadn’t run out of anger. Grabbing whatever she could get her hands on, the falcon began to toss a volley of objects their way. Spare parts, various articles of clothing, and everything else not bolted down literally flew like guided missiles through the air.

"Ouch!" Peppy cried as a gear collided painfully with his cheek. "Now, calm d-ow!-n, my -whoop!- lady, I -whoa!- don’t mean y-oh!-you any ha-aaHHH!" The last word became a shriek as the rabbit noticed a rather large screwdriver streaking toward his face.

"SHUT UP AND HOLD STILL, GRAMPS!" Falco ordered, taking aim with another tool. Unable to even protest about her insult, Peppy continued to dodge around.

Suddenly the door to one of the rooms burst open, and a very irate looking Fox stomped out.

"What the heck is going on out-" he demanded. Before he could finish his question, however, a wrench slammed into his face, and he dropped to the floor, unconscious. Dead silence hung in the air as the others stared at his stunned figure.

"Uh..." Falco finally stammered, eyes wide, an almost guilty expression on her face. "Sorry about that, Fox... Help me get him into bed, you two."

Not wanting to tick off this girl anymore, Peppy nodded numbly and went to help Slippy lift the dazed McCloud . ~This is not how I pictured my first meeting with your son going, James...~ he sighed inwardly.

To be continued...