Chapter 7: A New Team, A New Member

"Here’s the new uniform that the General had made for you, Fox," Bill said as he tossed a tightly folded bundle over to where his friend was sitting on the couch. When the vulpine failed to respond, the canine frowned and called, "Yo, Foxy, Corneria calling Foxy, come in Foxy."

"Hmm?" Fox looked up, a little startled. His expression immediately became contrite, and he mumbled, "Sorry…"

"Thinking about what happened at the meeting?" Bill asked, leaning against the side of the couch and crossing his arms. His dark sapphire eyes searched the vulpine’s face, and after a moment, he smiled and said, "I’m right, aren’t I?"

"Yeah…" Fox admitted slowly, raising his gaze to look out the window. The late afternoon sun shone into the room, and Fox watched it slowly sink in the sky as he sighed, "I can’t believe that I’m really going through with this."

"Why?" Bill tilted back his customary sunglasses, watching his friend’s expression closely. The vulpine sighed, shrugging his shoulders slightly, and glanced over at the canine.

"I don’t know. It just seems…strange, you know? Like this is all some sort of dream." Fox gazed out at the late afternoon sky, his eyes wavering as they drunk in the sight. "I just…well, I mean…I’m going to be a real Arwing pilot…just like him, you know?"

Bill didn’t have to ask who Fox meant; he knew who the vulpine was talking about.

"I wonder if I’ll be as good a leader as he was," Fox mused, more to himself than to his friend. "I wonder how well I’ll be able to perform…out there in real life, when everything’s on the line…I wonder if I’ll ever see Andross face to face…"

His voice trailed off, and Bill had to strain to catch what he whispered next: "I wonder if I’ll let everyone down."

"…Foxy." Bill sighed the nickname, and Fox glanced over at him. The vulpine had a strange, sad smile on his face, and his soft, mint green eyes wavered as he hastily changed the subject.

"So…I guess I’m in charge of your little sister now, huh?" he stammered. "So tell me…just what have I gotten myself into? What’s she like?"

Bill smiled suddenly, and his eyes danced as he replied, "Well, the bad news is, she’s just as energetic most of the time as she was during your tests." He grinned as the vulpine groaned, then added, "But she’s really a good pilot, honest. And I’m not just saying that because she’s my adopted sister, either."

Fox’s expression must have betrayed his skepticism, because Bill frowned for a moment and said, "I’m serious Fox. She really is a great pilot. You know that test you took earlier today? Well, when she took it, she was paired up with Rabbi, just like Falco was. Rabbi’s a really great pilot, that’s why she’s in command of our Arwing unit, but Sable managed to completely blow her out of the sky. It just took her a few shots…" Bill cocked his paw like a pistol, "…blammo. Rabbi went down like a Venomian."

Now Fox was staring up at Bill, his eyes wide. Bill nodded solemnly, then grinned again as he added, "Rabbi was really ticked off after that. I don’t think she ever got over getting shot down by a rookie like that. But…Sable’s really good. Don’t be fooled by her seeming childishness: she’s a good pilot, and she likes to fight. Any Venmie she gets in her sights is as good as gone."

"Is that so…" Fox said, staring over at the canine, who grinned back at him. The vulpine looked clearly troubled by his words, so Bill hastily scrambled to reassure him.

"Don’t worry about it, Foxy," he said. "Sable may be hyper at times, but she’s really loyal, and she’ll follow orders. At least from you," he added under his breath, making certain that the vulpine wouldn’t hear the last part.

Fox picked up the bundle of clothing and unwrapped it, his eyes widening in surprise as he lifted out a flight jacket, staring at the almost silvery shade of the fabric. Glancing over at Bill, he breathed, "This looks like…"

"That was Peppy’s idea," Bill explained, seeing the confusion on Fox’s face. "He thought that you might feel a little more comfortable with this change if the uniforms were deliberately made to look similar to the ones he and your father wore when they were on the Starfox team. Was he wrong?"

"No…no, it’s fine," Fox said, rubbing one paw over the shining jacket. "Tell him…I said thank you."

"No problem," Bill replied, "Although I bet he’d rather hear it straight from you." He got to his feet and added, "Anyway, the general said that I need to help you gather your things. He’s going to move you into some more permanent quarters tonight."

* * *

"Let me see, let me see!" Katt prodded, hovering over Falco’s shoulder as the avian opened the package she had received from Amber earlier. The feline exclaimed in delight as Falco lifted out a gleaming flight jacket. "Wow, that looks great! It almost makes me wish that I had to wear a uniform! Although…I guess this wouldn’t really be a uniform, since you’re not in the military."

"I don’t think they’d give their soldiers anything quite like this," Falco commented. Still, her blue-green eyes flashed with a sort of energy, and Katt could tell that her friend was excited by everything that was happening. The avian refolded the jacket and placed it beside her, looking through what else the package contained.

"So Katt, are you disappointed that you’re not going to be on the same team as me?" the avian asked.

"Yes and no," Katt sighed. "I’m sorry that we won’t be on the same team, of course, but on the other hand, it’s best for Sable that she get as far away from Rabbi’s command as possible."

"Oh?" Falco paused and glanced over at the pink feline. "Why is that?"

Katt sighed, and Falco felt herself tense slightly as she noticed how quiet the feline had suddenly become. She got the distinct feeling that she was about to hear something bad. "Tell me," she prompted, her voice becoming gentle.

"Okay, look," Katt began, her eyes suddenly serious, "I’m going to be frank here. Rabbi and Sable do not get along. Not in the slightest. Ever since the ferret joined a few months ago, they’ve been fighting almost constantly. It’s always the same thing: Sable did something too fast, she was too slow, she acted on her own, she sat back and let something happen. Nothing the girl does is ever good enough for Rabbi, so she’s always on the poor kid’s case."

"Really?" Falco asked, arching an eyebrow as she glanced over at Katt. The feline nodded.

"Of course, Sable’s never been too thrilled with Rabbi, either," she added. "She accuses her of being heartless…of not really giving a damn about anyone or anything. She really blew up yesterday, after Peppy was captured and Rabbi instructed everyone to turn back instead of pursuing the carrier that kidnapped him. She followed orders, but was not happy about it, and Rabbi got an earful after they landed. I swear, you could hear those two from anywhere in the entire base."

Katt slammed a fist into her other paw, grimacing as she added, "I just wish that I’d been able to go with them when the alert was given. It took me off guard, and I wasn’t able to get to my Arwing in time to help them out. By the time I got to the hanger, it was too late: Peppy had already been kidnapped, and Rabbi and Sable were at each other’s throats. I wish…if I had gone with them, Sable and I would have been able to go after those Venmies and save Peppy!"

"And then Fox, Slippy and I would still be at our own little hideout and not here," Falco interjected mildly. Katt stared at the avian with wide eyes, then burst out laughing.

"You’re right, you’re right," she said with a smile. "I guess I should be happy things worked out the way they did, huh? It could have been a lot worse…anyway, we should get going. I have to help you get packed so you can move into your new room."

* * *

"What? You’re really going to become an Arwing pilot?" Beltino exclaimed, staring at his son with wide eyes. Slippy shifted nervously under his father’s intense gaze, hugging the bundle of clothes he had gotten from the cheetah to his chest. He nodded, shakily, unwilling to look directly at his father for some strange reason that he couldn’t quite name.

"Umm…y-y-yeah, t-t-that’s r-r-right," he finally managed to stammer a response, his voice shaking more than usual. He raised his gaze a little, the quickly looked back down at the floor when he saw the expression on his father’s face. It was one of total confusion, of fear…and what almost looked like…outrage?

"Hmm…I’m not sure if I approve of this…" Beltino mused, his eyes narrowing as a frown creased his face. "I would prefer having you by my side on my team, just so I could keep an eye on you… I don’t like the idea of you going out where you could get hurt, Slippy."

Slippy nodded mutely, tears springing to his eyes. He wasn’t certain how to respond to what he was being told, so he kept quiet.

"Well, I suppose it’s okay," Beltino sighed at length, shrugging to indicate his helplessness. "It’s your life, and I won’t try to stop you from doing what you want to do with it. Only…try and be careful," he added, placing his heavy hands on Slippy’s shoulders. The younger toad sniffled and gazed up into his father’s face as he continued, "Slippy…you’re the only family I have left. If anything happens to you…please promise me that you’ll be careful."

"I w-w-will, D-D-Dad," Slippy managed to choke out, then he slowly pulled away from Beltino’s unresisting arms and turned to start packing what few possessions he had brought from the cave. A torrent of emotions tore at his heart, and he tried not to glance in his father’s direction as he got ready to go.

* * *

Sable tore through her closet, sending clothing flying in the general direction of the suitcase she had hauled out onto her bed. The ferret’s heart pounded wildly, and phrases from the meeting she had just come from still echoed in her disbelieving mind.

"I believe that the best choice would be Miss Sable Lightfoot."

"Me?"

Sable kind of wished that she’d been able to come up with something a bit more confident-sounding than that, but the announcement had taken her completely off guard. Still, as surprised as she had been when she heard the news, at the same time it had sent a thrill through her. Finally, she wouldn’t have to put up with Rabbi anymore; at the very least, she wouldn’t have to take orders from her, even if their teams did end up fighting side by side. Things were definitely looking up…

To top things off, she was going to be on the new Starfox team…the Starfox team! She couldn’t believe it. Like every other citizen of Corneria, not to mention the entire Lylat System, she knew all the tales of the original squadron’s bravery. The names of the three members were etched permanently into her memory: Peppy Hare, Pigma Dengar, and James McCloud…

And I’m going to be on the same team as his son! I’m going to be working with HIS SON!

To be fair, she was no stranger with working with the offspring of greatness. Although… she hoped that her experiences with Rabbi were not a reflection of what was coming. She didn’t think that would be the case; from what she had seen of the vulpine, he and Rabbi were about as different as…well, as foxes and rabbits. Only the stereotypical qualities associated with both races appeared to be reversed in this case…

"Oh, whatever," Sable sighed, stuffing a few last things into her already bulging suitcase. She pushed it shut, and had to strain to keep it closed as she fumbled with the latch. Whoever designed these things definitely did not have the consumer in mind, she decided as the top threatened to pop open and whack her in the chin. Finally, she managed to flip the lock closed, and as she slumped down with a sigh of relief, her gaze flicked over to the package Amber had handed her earlier.

"…That’s right…they wanted us to show up wearing whatever’s in these, right?" she murmured, snatching the package up and ripping it open. For a moment, she gawked at the uniform inside, her already huge blue eyes widening slightly. A shaky smile pulled at the side of her mouth, then became a lopsided grin as she whispered, "Ooh…this is cool…this is so COOL!"

Quickly, she changed her clothes, and turned to admire herself in the mirror. Normally, she wasn’t one to fuss over her looks, but this was a special occasion. She eagerly studied herself, adjusted the goggles still perched on her forehead, then grinned, giggled, and winked at her reflection, sticking her tongue out slightly.

"I look great," she decided happily, then she happened to glance over at the digital clock on her dresser. The grin on her face faded rapidly, replaced by a look of pure horror, and she shrieked in a tone that could have been heard through the entire base, "OH FREAK, I’M GONNA BE LATE!"

She bolted for the door, nearly plowing directly through it in her haste to leave. A few seconds passed, then she suddenly dashed back into the room, yanked her suitcase off of her bed, and darted out again. The rest of her things she left behind for now: she would be able to move it later after finding out exactly where her new quarters would be…

* * *

Fox nervously tugged on the collar of his new jacket as he glanced at the wall clock, torn between impatience with his friends and a strange hope that they would take their time, at least long enough for him to adjust to what was happening. The unusual thing was, they weren’t even late: he and Bill had arrived early, and now both were standing at the appointed meeting place and waiting for the others to hurry up and arrive. The canine was currently at one of the soda machines, studying the selection.

"Hey Foxy, you want anything?" he called back. When the vulpine didn’t answer, he shrugged and inserted a few credits, making his choice with the press of a button. The machine clunked loudly as a bottle tumbled out, and Fox jerked a little at the sudden noise. However, Bill did not notice this, and he strode back to his friend’s side, leaned against the wall, and tipped back his head as he took a long swig from his drink.

"Don’t act so nervous, Foxy," he said, tipping back his sunglasses a little and winking at his friend. "If you act nervous, it’ll just make everyone else nervous too. Try to chill, okay?"

Fox smiled crookedly and nodded, then suddenly whirled around as Sable came crashing into the room at top speed. The ferret was all but tripping over her own two feet, and finally lost her grip on her heavy suitcase, which naturally happened to land on Bill’s foot. The canine suppressed a yelp of pain and managed to grin at his adopted sister, who sweated when she noticed just where her luggage had landed.

"So-sorry," she blurted, hastily lifting it off of her brother’s toes. Turning to Fox, her cheeks flushed bright red for a moment, then she gave him a lopsided grin, stuck out the tip of her tongue teasingly, and winking, saying, "Oops, my bad. This isn’t exactly the type of first impression I meant to make on my new commander."

Bill laughed aloud at that, despite the pain in his foot, and Sable’s smile grew wider. She looked around, decided that she wasn’t late after all, and with a sigh of utter relief flopped down on a bench beside Fox. The vulpine gave her an interested look out of the corner of his eye; he didn’t want to outright stare at her, but he wanted to get a better look at one of the pilots he would be commanding.

In many ways, her outfit looked similar to his; the metallic silver of her flight jacket standing out against the solid color of her shirt and pants. However, the sleeves of her jacket looked puffier and more rounded than his, while her shirt was the same bright sky blue shade of her eyes and the goggles shoved up on her forehead. Her boots were lower cut, too, looking a bit more like sneakers than his did. As he watched, she flipped a few stray locks of dark chocolate fur away from her eyes, which looked all the wider because of the mask-like pattern that surrounded them. According to the briefing he had got, she was seventeen, but she looked years younger at that moment.

The door opened again, more slowly this time, and all three occupants of the room looked up in unison as Slippy walked inside. His uniform resembled Fox’s and Sable’s, but the sleeves were much longer on his jacket, almost longer than his arms, and his shirt was a much darker blue, like navy blue. He looked vaguely troubled about something, and Fox opened his mouth to say something, only for it to fall open when Falco walked in.

"Wow, Falco, you look great in that shade of red," Bill offered at once, straightening up his back and smiling directly at the avian, who ignored his words. Folding her wings over the scarlet fabric on her chest, letting the long, shimmering silver sleeves of her flight jacket crinkle slightly, the blue falcon glanced around with one delicate eyebrow arched.

"So where’s the general?" she asked, sounding a little impatient to get started. The doors slid open, and all eyes turned at once to it as General Pepper strode in, Peppy and Amber following behind him as usual. The canine smiled as he looked at the assembled, eyes twinkling slightly as if at some inner amusement.

"Oh, good, so you all made it here," he commented, and Falco arched an eyebrow at this.

"Is there any reason for us not to have?" she asked, narrowing her piercing gaze at the commander. The general stared at her, then quickly coughed into one cupped paw and shook his head.

"No, no reason," he said, appearing to avoid looking her straight in the eyes. Falco cocked her eyebrow a little more at this, but remained silent. After a moment, General Pepper seemed to recover, and he scanned the small team assembled before him.

"Well, then, if you feel you are all ready then, I will show you to your new quarters," he said, smiling again. As he turned away, motioning for the others to follow, Peppy glanced back at them and noticed that the four members of the new Starfox team looked more than a little confused by what was happening. The rabbit smirked at some secret known only to him and a few others, although soon these young pilots would know it as well…

"I’m sure you’ll like your new quarters," he murmured under his breath, smiling slightly. "After all, not everyone gets something like this at your age…and named after you, yet…"

"Did you say something, Peppy?" Sable asked, popping up beside the rabbit. He gave her a wide-eyed stare and jumped back, startled by her sudden appearance.

"N-N-NOTHING! NOTHING AT ALL!" he blurted, face flushing. Sable just looked at him and blinked her wide blue eyes a few times, completely confused. Laughing nervously, Peppy slowly backed out of the room and dashed after General Pepper and Amber, leaving the younger pilots to stare after him.

"…What was that all about?" Fox asked, glancing over at Bill as if he expected to canine to explain Peppy’s odd behavior. Bill just shrugged slightly and sweatdropped.

"Sable just has that effect on some people," he muttered.

"I HEARD THAT!"

To be continued…