Chime of the Past
Episode #5 of SunHawk

W. Jones
 

Special Note:
This story contains a few scenes of violence and strong language.  This story is rated PG-13.  Please be
careful if you choose to read on.  It was originally supposed to be called Past Poison.  Also, I'm sorry
about the prologue of this story.  It's what happens after Dallas and Kesh return from their mission to
Corneria.  It was going to be the end of the last episode, Agendas of War, but it wasn't.  Sorry about
that.  Thanks.
 

Prologue

 The shuttle slowly pulled into the docking bay, and landed on the floor.  From here, it would be
transported back to the launch bay.  At once it touched down, out stepped Captain Dallas and Lieutenant
Kesh.  Meeting them was Maurine, who took Kesh into his arms at first contact.  Dallas received a salute
from him, which she returned just before she left the bay in a hurry for the bridge.

 She walked in quickly and saw Grant sitting in Captain's chair.  She was surprised, even though she
didn't show, when she saw Conner standing towards the front of the bridge.  Upon her entering, Grant
got to his feet.

 "Captain on the bridge!" he called out.

 "Set yellow alert," commanded Dallas.  She walked in briskly and at once sat in her chair.  There, she
tapped into her side computer terminal to see their data.  Their course was pointed towards Oberon, but
they were not moving yet.  Perfect.  "Keep current heading, increase speed to seventy percent maximum
burn velocity."

 "Increase speed to seventy percent max velocity, aye Captain."

 Dallas pushed a single key on her terminal.  "Attention all hands.  All personnel are to remain on combat
alert level two as of now.  The alert will not be lifted until stated as so by a member of the command staff
by orders from me, or from myself.  As of right now, there will be no one using off duty time to
themselves.  There will be either sleep or preparation for it or your duty time.  When you're at your
posts, give everything you have.  We just got word.  We're going into the hyena's den.  And they are all
rabid."  Kesh walked in then and took over at operations.  "Remain alert, and remain focused.  We are
finally set for an offensive.  This is Captain Dallas, out."

 She ended the on-ship PA system and turned around to the communications officer, a small gray furred
mouse, the communicator.  "Get the Corneria Green military channel online.  All of our ships in this area
are to hear this.  We can't risk using the open communications band where someone we don't want to
can hear it."

 "Yes captain."

 The Corneria Green wavelength band was a system wide communications system used only by the
Cornerian military.  Not only was the band width frequency a secret, but it also took a special decoding
algorithm to be able to read it after it was picked it up.  This enabled all the Cornerian military to
communicate secretly without fear of being read in.  Mercenary units who were loyal to Corneria were
not able to get it.  Not even Star Fox could see it.  Now, it would come in useful.

 "You're on Captain," said the communicator.

 Dallas got to her feet.  "To all ships receiving this transmission, this is Captain Allison Dallas of the
CSS SunHawk.  This is a call to arms, a call to trial, and a call to battle.  Any ships which are able to
sever themselves from what they are currently doing, or if they are doing nothing in particular, we can
surely use your help here.  The target is a big one, an important one to Venom.  I think that we, the
Cornerian military itself, have been on the defensive side for too long in this war.  Now we stand.  I'll
send the target data along with this transmission, and the coordinates of the rendezvous point should you
choose to join us.  An offensive is long past overdue, now is the time to cash in."
 
 
 

Chapter 1
Family Ties

 Did Captain Dallas's call to trial transmission have any effect?  It did indeed.  Never before has the
Cornerian Military on its own get into one large fleet without the use of mercenary units to aid it.  A total
of five warships counting SunHawk have massed into one task force.  There were still three more on the
way as well.  One of those three was the Great Fox.  Peppy's arm was officially healed, and the team
was back in full strength.  Now, they were coming back to war.

 Some of the other ships in the task force were smaller and more older assault carriers or destroyers.
Some dating back long before the war ever started, almost twenty years.  Everyone in the service knew
that these ships were due up for decommissioning as soon as the war was over.  Until now, they served
a good hefty purpose for combat escorts and the like.  None of them were suited for heavy attacks and
sieges like the one coming up unless they had strong backup with them.  In this case, the backup was the
strongest available.

 The bridge of the SunHawk.  Captain Dallas observed the small but powerful task force grow before
her.  All of them at her disposal when the time for the attack came.  The task force had gotten a lot of
data about Dark Star from Grant's mission with the KitHawk.  Dallas was not happy with the damage
the small attack craft received from that mission.  The engine system needed a complete overhaul, many
of the weapons needed to be refitted, and a lot of small structural damage repair was put into it.  The
reality warping distortion cloak was shot to hell, and it would take over a month to repair it if at all
possible.  At least it made it out in one piece, and it all paid off with what they received.

 Dallas spent the last two days studying the information down to the last period.  A total of eleven capitol
warships were seen protecting the large orbital station.  Fifteen separate fighter squadrons were around
there which included Invader I, II, and III class fighters along with Borzoi fighters.  There was also a
small amount of mines around the station perimeter.  They were barely a threat to KitHawk, they would
be nothing for its bigger mother ship or any of the others.  As for the station itself, it had over five
hundred separate turbo laser turrets, interceptor gun batteries, and high energy pulse plasma cannons.
Seven thousand high speed missiles and torpedoes with God only knew what kind of warheads.  They
had thirty eight launchers to let those weapons fly.  It was also equipped with a level seven defense
shield, which was top of the line in Venomian standards.  SunHawk had only a level five shield.

 This assault was not at all going to be easy.  Dallas remembered Fox McCloud saying that Star Wolf
would be there protecting the station.  They were not there when KitHawk observed it, which probably
meant that their time there hasn't began yet.  That may change, or it might have already changed.  There
was no way to tell now.

 Towards the back of the bridge, the mouse communications specialist, Ensign Rock, started to receive a
transmission.  "Captain, communications are coming from the Iron Bear.  They'll be entering the task
force area in about one minute."

 The Iron Bear.  Dreadnought class carrier, just like Great Fox.  Dallas knew its captain, a bear himself
and a good officer.  "Thank you, Ensign," she replied.  Still, Rock got more messages from the that
ship.

 "Sir, the Iron Bear is sending us a shuttle with someone on it.  Someone to see you."

 "Are they saying who?" asked Dallas.

 After a moment, "negative, sir.  They say that the person's identity was given only with one word by
the transport subject.  'Pubba?'"  The mouse was confused by this weird identification.

 When she heard that word, Dallas's ears perked up.  She knew what it meant perfectly, and for her, it
was unknown with to be angry or glad to hear it.  The first thought was asking herself, why now?  Why
did he have to come here now?  He couldn't wait for me to come and visit him on Titania?  Of all times,
he had to show himself now.  Dallas shuddered at the thoughts of the probable embarrassment that was
in store for her.  Nevertheless.

 "Kesh?"

 "Yes Captain?"

 "You have the bridge right now.  Tell the shuttle pilot to dock in main landing bay, and tell everyone on
board÷welcome to SunHawk."  Kesh noticed that she did not sound very enthusiastic about this.  She
watched as Dallas left the bridge, and then she went and sat in the captain's chair, a bridge officer taking
over behind her.

 Kesh studied the current layout of the task force positioning.  In a spit second, she found the best spot
for the new recruit.  "Tell the Iron Bear to position itself forty degrees port side off of our stern, mark
ten degrees down, at a distance of one hundred and fifty kilometers."  The communicator failed to get
that information.  With some frustration, Kesh put the coordinates in a data package and had it sent
through the communication.  She was not in the mood for repeating herself right now.

****

 Dallas walked into the landing bay and cleared everyone out of it.  This was a uncanny gesture on her
part, to clear out all hands except herself.  Nevertheless, she really didn't want to risk being seen with
him.  She took over the guidance and tractor beam control console herself, and safely and with some
purpose a little roughly, she brought the shuttle in and landed it.

 The back hatch to the shuttle opened up and lowered itself to a ramp.  Dallas walked to it and looked in.
There was a middle sized gray furred husky, old beyond the age it seemed like.  His eyes were a cold
steel gray, and he walked with a plain wooden cane.  Around his neck was a pendant with an old
military medallion.  A phony, Dallas knew.  Just a collectable to make him look good.  The old man
never served in any armed forces in his life.  Yet, she looked at him with respect÷and love.

 "Father," she greeted warmly.  Of course, she thought.  'Pubba' was what Allison Dallas called her
father when she was a young cub.  It was a foolish name she preferred not to remember.

 Alan Dallas looked harshly at his only daughter, and waved his cane at her.  "I sure hope you weren't
the one who brought this hunk of scrap in here, Ally," he ranted in a deep commanding voice.  "A rough
ride like that can give an old man a heart attack.  Good God almighty.  It's like riding a horse with a bad
case of ankle bite."

 "All right Dad, take it easy now.  I'm sure the ride was smooth enough," she said.  She was right, for
she looked inside and saw the pilot was still alive.  He looked back to her, obviously a little angered at
the old dog's manners.  Dallas just winked at him and gestured to leave quickly.  He did so, glad to be
rid of the senile old canine.

 Allison led her father through corridors where she knew there would be a smaller number of people.  As
they went, they both remained silent towards one another.  Alan leaned heavily on his cane as he
walked, limping as if it were a great strain to move around while holding on to his daughter's arm for
extra support.  No real big thing.  Dallas knew that he had that cane ever since he was a teenager, when
he shattered his knee bone in a skiing accident on Fortuna.  Ever since then, the old man has been living
on Titania, keeping in the blistering deserts, raising his only child there.

 "So," began Alan, looking around the halls as they went.  "This is your first command is it?  When I
heard about this, I had to see for myself.  You only spent two years in the academy, going in a sixteen
and coming out at eighteen while everyone else was graduating at an age of twenty four.  Now seven
years after you graduated you are commanding the supposed to be most powerful warship in the force."
He spat in the corner without regard to who was watching around them.  A few passing crew members
stopped and glanced at the old dog's vulgar action.

 "Was that really necessary?" asked Allison.  She looked back towards the crew members who went on
with their business.

 "When your mouth is so dry like mine is, it always is.  It doesn't matter where you are.  I'd do it in a
church if I had to.  I don't care any more.  When you get as old as I have, you won't either."

 She dropped it there.  For a long time, Dallas knew that it was almost impossible to win an argument
with her father.  She did go on conversing with him.  "So, what brings you here, Dad?  Didn't you see
that we're in the middle of something here?"

 "Why, can't I visit my daughter when I want to.  Just because you're in the military and I'm not any
more doesn't make you my boss.  It still is the other way around, I hope you know."

 "Dad you never were in the service," explained Dallas.

 "Like hell I wasn't!" he yelled at her.  He held the medallion in front of her face.  "Tell me where I got
this then!"

 "Please," she said, pushing the hand away from her face.  "I was there when you bought that from a
merchandiser selling novelties for a buck ninety five.  That thing cost you one credit and it was around
your neck from then on.  You never earned it."

 "Stop saying that!" yelled Alan, raising his cane in the air.  "I was at the Battle of Refundable.  I got
wounded!  I lost almost all of my friends at that fight and we still lost it!  And all of it was for nothing!
Because of our god damned ignorant commanders, we lost that fight and damned near lost the war!"

 "Dad, I÷"  She dropped it, refusing to get into anything else with him.  The battle he talked about was
a battle fought in the war over a century ago on Corneria.  Alan Dallas was forty five years old.  It was
obvious that he was confused, which the people walking by saw.

 "You what?"

 "Nothing.  Nothing at all.  Come on.  Let's go to my cabin and you can take a load off there."

 "Oh, no, no, no.  I want to meet the crew.  All of it too."

 "Not now," insisted Allison.  "You've had a long trip, and it's time for a rest.  You can meet the crew
later, none of them are going anywhere, I promise."  Disappointed, father Dallas walked on through the
corridors.

 No other talk was made between them as they went on.  It did take a long while for them to make it to
her cabin.  When they did get there, Alan Dallas was mumbling to himself as Allison guided him to a
nearby sofa.  He was talking about his plantation on Titania, more gibberish since no farm or ranch
could ever be made on a sand box like that.  All he did was work at a water filtration factory and spend
the rest of his day reading books at his home.  She let him go on talking about it though, for these were
one of the few times where he remained calm.  As soon as the old husky sat on the couch, he fell
asleep.  Allison slowly laid him back onto it and then covered him up with a blanket.

 "Oh, Dad you should not have come here.  You know I would have came and visited you on Titania.
Hell, I was talking about it.  You really are too impatient.  To stubborn.  That's why I love you."  She
gently kissed her fathers temple and let him sleep.  Quietly, she moved out of the cabin, shutting down
the lights as she left.

 As soon as she left, Alan opened his eyes.  He felt the spot where she kissed him, and felt a tear form in
his eye.  "Oh, Ally, how am I going to tell you?  How am I?  How?"  The old husky went to sleep.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Chapter 2
Old Comrades

 "No, that is totally uncalled for!" yelled Grant, moving down the hall fast enough below jogging.

 "No, it is not!" protested Maurine.  "All of the crew's personal belongings should be tossed up, rinsed
through, and ransacked until I have found what I am looking for.  You and I both know that while this
piece of trash walks this ship a free sap then he has the potential to do some more damage then he
already has.  We know he must be a little nervous because he doesn't have control over Kesh any more,
which means that he must have a default or back up plan to revert to.  With what's coming up, he has the
perfect motive to pull it off.  He's probably crazy enough, and he probably has the means to do it too."

 "Well, you're a telepath aren't you?" questioned Grant, hurrying more to get away from Maurine.  The
jackal easily kept up with him.  "Shouldn't you be able to pick up something like that?"

 "Believe me, I've tried.  I've scanned the surface thoughts of every person on this ship to find anything
that might suggest they have hostile intentions in mind.  I've found less the jack spit.  Unless I deep scan
these people, I probably have no chance to find them through telepathic means.  I'm not about to risk
tearing half the crew's minds in half just to find one man."

 "Then I'm sorry, Robert.  I can't help you with this.  Under the military jurisdictional guide for
officers, subtitle Rules of Conduct to Crew and Personnel, paragraph Sierra, under no circumstances is
it viable to intrude on the private life of any crew member or passenger unless a threat to ship and people
has been firmly established.  A suspicion of a traitor is not covered in that category.  You get solid proof
that there actually is one on board this ship along with proof that his plans might be fatal to the ship or to
its crew, then I may authorize a search like that.  Until then, the answer is no, and that is final."

 Maurine shook his head angrily.  "You have to know that those things are probably true now anyway.
Someone might blow this ship up from the inside as we sit her while we're sucking our thumbs and
you're going to lecture me on rules of conduct?"

 "That's right," retorted Grant as he stepped into an elevator.  "Sorry Robert, but you'll have to bring me
proof first.  In the meantime, I'm going to pretend I don't know that this bastard is going to try
something against us, and I'm going to wait for you to bring me that data.  And one more thing, Robert.
I'm having a feeling that you are making this case too personal."

 "What do you mean?" asked Maurine angrily.

 The lion stepped out of the elevator and used his tail to keep it from closing.  "Look, everyone on board
knows that you and Kesh have something going between you.  Since this person tried to turn her against
us, I'm afraid that you are being a little too biased in your search here.  Take it a little easier.  If there is a
traitor, find him.  If not, take Kesh out to dinner or something.  You've kept this ship safe enough,
you've earned it."  He got in the elevator and let the door close.

 Maurine glared hard at the door for a while and then turned around.  He mouthed the words "son of a
bitch" as he went.

****

 Dallas walked alone for a small while through the corridors.  A message came to her while she was
doing this from Kesh.  The Iron Bear had positioned itself in the task force, and a new ship, the Red
Wing, was already moving in and would be there in seven hours.  Seven ships now and more on the
way.  Every moment she looked, Allison got a little more confident about this mission.  That was about
true before fifteen minutes ago, before her father came on board.

 With this new fact, Dallas had only one more face to turn to.  An old friend.  She found Sparky Herrick
talking to some other engineers about the power systems for the main thrusters, trying to increase their
speed and efficiency for the upcoming battle.  That was done quickly.

 "Good evening Captain," greeted Sparky, seeing Dallas walk up to him.  "Anything in particular that I
can do for you?"

 "You can try and guess who just arrived not fifteen minutes ago," replied Allison.  She saw that Sparky
stopped in his heals, looking at her strange.  How was he supposed to know such a thing as that?  "Go
ahead," she challenged.  "Take a guess."

 Sparky thought for a moment, and then looked at her with his shoulders shrugged.

 "Father."

 "What?" said Sparky rather loudly.  "Al's here?  Where?"

 "My quarters, sleeping.  Come on, let's talk in private."  Dallas lead him to a corridor with relatively
limited personnel travel.  Two crew members were present which Dallas dismissed on sight.  When she
and Sparky were alone, she began to talk.  "He's getting worse."

 Sparky sighed in response.  "It was bound to happen.  How bad is it now?"

 "Bad.  He was rude around the crew while I took him to my quarters.  He's become more stubborn, if
that's at all possible.  He÷he kept insisting that he was part of some battle in the Tempest Wars from a
hundred years ago.  He said that's where he got his medallion for valor.  I'm starting to worry."

 "What medallion?" asked Sparky.

 "That fake badge of honor thing he bought on Corneria twenty years ago.  He's been wearing it all of
this time like it was his symbol of bravery and valor.  But its fake, and he always knew it was.  He just
wore it because it made him look more authorizing.  That's how he wooed my mother.  With a bright
shining lie that would have cracked her heart if she ever found it was so."

 "Oh, that thing."  Sparky thought for a moment, and then looked at Dallas.  "I never knew that."

 "What?"

 "That Al used the story behind that overweight piece of metal to help him marry your mother.  It was
too bad she died before I me you and your father.  I would have liked to met her."

 "I barely knew her myself," returned Dallas.  "From what I do know, she was no angel.  In fact she
was the farthest thing from being an Angel.  But she did make my dad happy, and he did for her too.
He never needed to lie to her to be able to gain her love."  Dallas leaned against the wall and sighed,
suddenly depressed.  "Old family ties.  It's like walking back over a path of fiery rocks right after your
old burns have healed.  If they ever did heal.  Reopen the stitch before the wound closes, the blood will
fall."

 "So when can I see him?" asked Sparky after a time.

 "Soon.  We'll let him sleep now, and then we'll go pay him a visit.  After that I might introduce him to
the rest of the crew.  It means a lot to him to see people who work under his daughter.  But I will not
take him anywhere unless he behaves himself.  Maybe rest will help subside his ailment for a little
while.  On the other hand÷I doubt it."

 She turned around and started to leave, but the turned back to Sparky.  She wanted to say something to
him, but she could not find the wind to do it.  She left, and Sparky returned to his engine room.

****

 It was not that many times that Maurine walked into the bridge.  Most of the time, he was too busy
scouring the ship for trouble makers and criminals, trying to keep the ship safe.  But he did wander into
the bridge from time to time just to see what there was.  Always, his first gaze went towards Kesh, who
was currently sitting in the command chair, but his first destination was to the tactical console.

 Here, Maurine saw the layout of the current six warships of the task force.  All of their guests were
operating as an escort screen around SunHawk, which was the command ship for this task force.  As if
they needed an escort.  This ship could destroy four Venomian carriers on its own with minimal
damage.  It didn't need an escort.

 It would need help for this attack on the Venom space station.  Maurine saw the stuff they had there first
hand, and all of it looked ugly.  Whatever that station's purpose was, it was really important to
Andross.  Why else would you place eleven warships to guard it along with a whole throng of fighters.
Couple all that with mines and probably enough weapon turrets on the station itself to make seven
separate warships.

 No, it wasn't just for looks or a gathering for an attack against Corneria or anyone else.  There were no
large outposts or bases near here which would require this big of an attack.  In fact, Maurine doubted if
the good guys had anything that big anymore that was on the rim of Cornerian territory.  Maybe towards
Corneria itself or maybe even around Katina or Fortuna, but that's it.  They were hiding something
there.  Something big.

 "Can I help you, Chief?"  Maurine turned around and looked into the pretty blue eyes.  Kesh was sitting
in the chair looking at him warmly.  She seemed so much like a queen while sitting in that chair.  Queen
of beauty.  He smiled as she looked at him deeper.

 "No, thank you lieutenant.  I'll be going now.  Thank you."  Maurine started for the door.  As he went,
he sent a focused telepathic message to Kesh.  A request, and a place to meet.  She slightly nodded her
head to him, and he left.  When he was gone, Kesh returned her focus to the screen, and smiled.

****

 Allison and Sparky entered her cabin about three hours later.  The light was turned on, but no one was
inside.  Allison looked around the room, seeing nothing in there.

 "Dad?" she called.  "Dad!"

 "What?" returned Alan from a back room.  "Blast it!  Don't you have a refrigerator in this stinking place
of yours, Ally?  Where do eat?"

 "I eat in the mess hall, will you come out here please?"

 "The mess hall?  Grotesque.  It's like eating out of a seventy day old trash can.  Diner at a land fill."

 "The food here is fine, and besides its the only place we have here to eat.  You'll have to make due if
you're going to stay here at all.  Come on out here, someone's here to say hi."

 "Who?"

 Allison sighed in frustration.  "Come out here and find out," she said with some heat.

 The old husky limped out into the front part of the room and looked up.  "Hey!" he said when he saw
Sparky.  "Web!  I'll be damned."

 "Hello old bean," greeted Sparky.  "It's been a long time."

 "Yes, it has.  Far too long."  The two old creatures shook hands and gave themselves a hug between
friends.  They have known one another for over forty years, ever since childhood.  More like brothers
then merely friends they were.  "When did you get posted here? or are you?"

 "Oh, I'm posted here all right," replied Sparky.  "Chief engineer.  I guess they couldn't find anyone
else in the service with the correct qualifications.  There are÷a few things on this ship which they think
that only I can take care of."  Sparky knew that the gravity core was confidential.  Even to family who
were clearly loyal to Corneria.  "Anyway, they gave me an opportunity to serve with Ally here.  She's
made one hell of a captain here so far."  Allison only smiled at the remark.  "So Al, what brings you
here?"

 The smile disappeared from Alan's smile and went to a small frown.  The old husky limped over to a
couch and sat.  "The main reason I would like to talk about to my daughter alone.  But that can come
later.  I did come here to meet some old friends, and maybe meet her crew.  I'll say this now though.  I
am moving back to Corneria.  I've met with the doctor a week ago, and he says that my days of living
on a sand dune are over.  Titania is too harsh for a weak old man like me.  So, even though I don't want
to, I'll take his word for it.  But I also wanted to take the opportunity to spend time with family and
friends.  Those few which I have left."

 "We can understand that," said Sparky.  "Listen Web.  I have the perfect plan.  Next time we pull into
port at Corneria, we'll all go out to dinner, the three of us like old times.  What do you say?  Ally?"  The
both of them gave a special look towards Allison, who stood blushing because of old memories.

 "Hey, I was seven years old then.  It's eighteen years since then, which means I am an official mature
adult.  Its not like either of you ever threw tantrums when you were children.  Anyway, I was thinking
that if we are going to go out on a dinner party like that, maybe a fourth member would be in order."

 "A fourth?" asked Alan.  "Someone I know?"

 "No.  But I do know you will like him.  He saved my life two times already, and saved this ship from
destruction or capture just as many times."

 "Conner?" asked Sparky.  He was a bit reluctant about that.

 Allison nodded.  "I figured that we could owe him something like that.  Just a thought though.
Besides, I promised him that I would show him some of our÷never mind."  She realized she was
spoiling who Conner was to her father.  She didn't know how Alan Dallas would react if he found out
that Conner was an alien.  Maybe she would tell him after they met and got to know each other better.

 For the meantime, "I was hoping that you and I could have dinner sometime tonight.  Just the two of
us," Alan said to his daughter.  "In here would be great.  That is, if you do not mind."

 "No, not at all.  I÷"

 Allison was cut off from her speech by a siren and a PA announcement system.  "Combat alert!
Combat alert!"  It was Grant's voice.  "Man all battle stations.  Enemy fighter squadron has entered our
area.  All pilots to your posts."

 At once, Sparky ran out of the room to the engine room, not bothering to say goodbye to Alan before he
left.  Allison put her hand on his arm before she left.  "Come with me," she said.

 "Where are we going?"

 "To the bridge.  Safest place I know where you can be is where I can see you.  Come on, let's go."

****

 A small squadron of Invader III class jets were now at full afterburner as they made their way to the task
force perimeter.  These pilots were not making any kind of attack or trying to provoke anyone.  They
were spy birds.  Sent in to get intelligence on the group of enemy ships threatening their home base.
They were staying away from the bigger capitol ships and the less dense area of fighters at this time.
Just to go in and see what was there.  Unfortunately, no one who was watching them realized that at the
time.

 Allison entered the bridge and guided her father to a seat next to Kesh.  The vixen was working
frantically to try and analyze the enemies flight patterns to try and figure out what they were thinking.
She did not notice the old dog sit next to her.

 "How many?" asked Allison, replacing Grant in the command chair.

 "Six," he answered, taking over at tactical.  "They are burning fuel like mad to get in here.  I'd say that
they are planning to make a speed strafe and run tactic, but they aren't vectoring on any of our ships."

 "Keep and eye on them," commanded Dallas.  "That could change real fast.  Bring the triple A talons
online."

 "Already are."

 "Good.  Good.  What's the closest fighter group to them?"

 "Squad Zero T, Green class fighters from the Titania."  He checked the tactical readout again.  "The
Invaders are about seven thousand kilometers from the perimeter.  ETA will be in two minutes.  Shall I
have our fighters intercept those fleas?"

 "Negative, just direct them to keep themselves between our ships and the Invaders.  Do not engage them
unless they make a definite provocation."  There is something missing here, and Dallas knew it.  "Keep
those fighters on the enemy.  All other ships are to stand their ground.  Kesh?"

 "Aye Captain."

 "Perform a deep scan of the area.  Look for anything that might be hiding out there."

 Kesh performed her task, setting the sensor sweeps for high range and narrow band.  With great
interest, Alan watched her as she set the parameters.  Only he seemed more interested in her rather then
what she was doing.  Kesh pretended not to notice and concentrated on her observations.  Within a
minute, a beeping sound came from her console.

 "Confirmed," she said.  "A squadron of thirty plus or minus one or two enemy jets have been detected,
Invader III and Borzoi class alike.  Bearing is one-two-five mark five.  It seems as they were trying to
get the drop on us."

 "Have the detected our scans?" asked Dallas.

 "Negative.  I am very sure that they would be scattering if we did.  They are remaining in formation."

 Dallas nodded, grinning in glee.  "What are the other six fighters doing now?" she asked.

 "Currently they are just sitting in front of our fighters.  As if they are waiting to be attacked by our
forces.  I don't get it."

 "I do," said Alan.  Allison turned around and looked at her father, as did everyone else.  "It's quite
obvious that this is just a pitiful excuse to decoy your forces.  As soon as you go after those six fighters
before you, the other thirty two will launch an attack.  And why not do that along with an intelligence
mission, I ask?"

 Allison looked to Grant, who was nodding his head in agreement with Alan.  This was an attempt to
decoy them for a larger attack, where they already saw where it was coming from.  It was not a very
well thought out attempt at an attack.  A smart commander would have had the six decoys make an attack
to provoke them into fighting.  Then again, by staying outside and making a very inviting target, they
could draw out their support and leave these bigger milk cows unprotected.

 "Well let's not give them a chance.  Send a single fighter out along the perimeter to where the larger
squad of enemy fighters is holding.  Just close enough to make them think that they were spotted, but
not close enough to make them think that their plans were discovered.  With hopes, they'll scatter and
abandon and maybe try again later.  Then, we'll take care of them."

 Grant himself sent the orders to one of their own fighters.

****

 Operating out towards the rim of the task force, a young female black cat slowly scanned the area for
anything.  She had received the mission from her squad commander to scan the perimeter for signs of
enemy action.  He told her it would be a good builder for reputation and for experience, especially if she
went solo.  Now, she was out here scanning÷nothing.  There was absolutely zilch out here to make this
assignment not a waste of time.  Rep builder?  What a crock.  Getting more depressed with every
second, the cat slowly started to contemplate skipping one or two NAV points to make this go quicker.

 A small signal appeared on her scope, some sort of detection on radar.  They looked small, but there
were a lot of them, whatever they were.  One thing that cat noticed was the many radio transmissions
being broadcast by them.  She analyzed those signals and ID'ed them at once.  Venomian.

 Overcome with glee, she kicked her thruster into full burn and kept around the edge of the perimeter,
making it look as if she was performing her normal routine scan.  Only now she was skipping every
other NAV point and cutting the times of her scans in half.  Soon, the cat was drawing near to the
position of the fighters, or whatever they might be.  She could not detect the fighters themselves yet,
which was good.  If they detected her scanning waves, they would know that they had been discovered.
She probably would not know if they were moving or not, unless she had telemetry on them from
SunHawk.

 "Flare Seven to SunHawk.  I have arrived at NAV Epsilon and am beginning my final perimeter
sweep."

 A crackle from her comm system and then, "Acknowledged Flare Seven, please remain at station until
we give word for your return approval.  Continue scan."

 "Roger SunHawk, proceeding with scan."  The cat opened her sensor systems and started to deep
sweep the whole area.  She increased the frequency to her scans to their top level to try and see the group
of fighters out there.  Sure enough, after two or three sweeps of the area, she spotted about four of them
just sitting like the dumb bastards they were.  Only these bastards didn't sit for very long.

 The Invaders and the Borzois spotted her scans, and they started to move strait towards her.  The cat
knew she was in trouble when s fourth, a fifth, a sixth, and then a seventh, eighth, and ninth fighter
appeared on her passive sensor system.  All of them rocketing hard towards here position.  A whole
contingent of advanced Invader III's and Borzoi fighters whose numbers were now growing beyond
twelve.  This was what she wanted.  Her first real engagement against an enemy force.

 "Flare Seven to SunHawk.  Enemy fighters have detected my scans and our now moving to engage
me.  I'm moving to intercept them."  She set her weapon systems to launch her only nova bomb at one
of the fighters as soon as she got visual confirmation on them.  Her dual hyper lasers were fully
charged.  She considered herself ready for her first engagement.

****

 "Flare Seven?  That's Vigdis out there," said Kite McCane who joined them on the bridge.  "I know
her.  She's with the Lunar Flare Squadron.  Fresh out of the Academy.  She shouldn't be going up
against those fighters on her own Captain.  She's far too inexperienced to be pulling something like
that.  Hell, she never should have been sent out there alone in the first place."

 Dallas listened to this and in a hurry went to the communication system.  "SunHawk to Flare Seven.
This is Captain Dallas.  You will break off from the enemy fighter group immediately and report back to
base.  On the double quick.  That is an order and you will follow it.  SunHawk out."

****

 Vigdis the cat caught that transmission from SunHawk and took it in as a great disappoint-ment.  It was
not an order that couldn't be bent though.  Bending it was not a difficult task either.

 "Attention SunHawk, failed to pick up last transmission.  Please re÷"  She cut off her own word of
reply with some crackles and whistling sound to fake a bad radio transmitter.  She then deactivated the
radio and gripped the control stick with a white knuckle hold.  "It's my time now," she said to herself.

****

 Dallas gripped the microphone tightly, really pissed that this just happened.  She knew a fake defect in a
transmitter when it was mimicked by a person's voice.  She'd done it before, once upon a time.  She
slammed the microphone back on its hook and whirled around.  Someone was going to get their head
smashed for this screw up.  She took Kite by the arm as she began to leave the bridge.

 "You're coming with me," she said with death like vigor.

 "Where are you going?" asked Alan, getting up to his daughter.

 "I have to go out there and save that girl's life before she kills herself, or worse."  She touched a
communication key on her bracelet.  "Chief Maurine, please report to the bridge at once."  She clicked it
off and looked at the rest of the crew coldly.  "As soon as he gets here, have him escort my father here
back to my quarters.  And then tell him to find and hold the commander of Lunar Flare squadron for a
meeting with me when I get back."  She and Kite left the bridge.  Everyone looked at Alan Dallas in
surprise at what he was.

 "Did you raise her like that?" asked Grant.

 Alan nodded to the large lion.  "I did.  I did indeed."
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Chapter 3
Dog Fight

 This was bad.  Real bad.  Vigdis had launched the nova bomb towards one of the enemy fighters in an
attempt to knock out many at once.  The targeted fighter shot a large barrage of laser fire at the oncoming
nova bomb and was able to intercept it in time.  However, that fighter, and Invader III, was caught on a
head on collision course with Vigdis's Arwing.  Neither of them pulled out in time.  The Invader's nose
tore into the Arwing's wing, throwing it out of control as it took fragments of the wing with it.  The
Venomian fighter exploded a few seconds later.  Vigdis's fighter was tossed out of control which put her
in a horrible position against the remaining fighters.  A total of sixteen were beginning to swarm her.

 "Flare Seven to SunHawk!   Flare Seven to SunHawk!  I've been caught in a melee and need assistance
immediately!  Please send reinforcements!"

 "Flare Seven this is Shadow Leader."  It was Captain Dallas's voice.  "Keep calm, Vigdis.  Help is on
the way.  Hold tight kiddo, and keep moving so they can't lock on.  Just keep moving and you'll be
fine.  We'll be there in no time.  Just hold on and stay alive.  That is an order."

 "Yes sir," replied the frightened cat.  She kicked her engines up to full and gripped the stick with the
arm with no pain.  The other seemed broken.

 Vigdis moved and waved as best she could to keep out of an enemy weapons lock.  The Venomian
fighters took pot shots at her, trying to get a random hit here and there.  Her Arwing may be minus one
wing, but it still had some shield strength.  Thank God.  Yet, even with this, and even with knowing
that Shadow Squadron was on route with Captain Dallas leading them, Vigdis was convinced she was
going to die.

****

 The seven orange Arwings of Shadow squadron were expelled from the huge retractable launch bay two
at a time.  The fighters formed up in a sort of messed up triangle formation and started to move towards
the battle scene.

 "All right Shadows, form up behind me and kick your engines to full burn.  Cut the laser and shield
recharge rate to zero for maximum velocity and return them once you engage.  Shadow Two, Kite,
you're my wingman."

 "Aye Captain."  Kite was the original second commander of Shadow squad.  The commander was still
down in sickbay, so now Dallas was taking over.  Kite wondered how good of a pilot she was.

 "All Shadows, maximum burn!" yelled Dallas into her helmet headset.  "Floor it!"

 The Arwing booster rockets flared brightly out from all seven of them, and they were all thrown
forward with a hard kick.  Dallas, not having been in the Arwing cockpit for over a year, remembered
out she missed the high G flight and the vibrations in the ship as she used her boosters.  But now was
not the time for recollections.  Now was the time to save lives.  ETA to the battle scene was just over a
minute.  Would they be there in that amount of time though?  Since that depended in Vigdis's life, Dallas
hoped so.  She tried to find a way to put more power into her boosters.

****

 She flew the busted up Arwing through a storm of laser fire rather expertly.  Yet still, her shields were
almost gone, and she hasn't even touched any of them yet.  Another hard rock from a laser hit.  Vigdis
gritted her teeth seeing that only one more hit would take her shields away from her.  Her lasers were
almost gone as well.

 "Shadow Squadron!  Hurry up God damn it!  Please hurry!  I'm engaged with Fifteen fighters!  Repeat:
Fifteen!  I'm in deep shpit!"

 She yanked hard on the stick and pushed it to the side, rolling over to avoid being hit by another laser
volley.  She twisted strait downward and then came out, almost losing control because of her crippled
wing.  Two Invaders crossed paths to try to get at her flanks, almost hitting each other in the process as
they moved in for their kill.  Vigdis flew in a tight loop and back towards one of the fighters, firing her
remaining green nose backup laser as she went.  The small powered weapon did hit the Invader III, but
it didn't do much to damage it much less destroy.  Yet it did distract the pilot to swerve away from her,
as did the other one when they almost collided for the second time.  She breathed a sigh of relief for a
split second long period of safety.

 Three more Invaders and a single Borzoi were heading strait down at her from above, trying to shatter
her canopy with their laser fire.  She moved through the tempest of laser fire, catching one shot on the
wing nub.  She escaped here, but was now faced with more fighters deciding to try a game of chicken
with her.  If they wanted it, they got it.  Vigdis hit her afterburner and headed strait for their center,
charging her laser cannon for a homing shot.  A few seconds later, she got a solid lock on a fighter and
let the energy ball fly when she entered the formation of fighters.  Vigdis pulled the Arwing strait up,
spitting the Formation of two other fighters cleanly.  She looked back to see what damage she did.  The
energy sphere failed to make its mark, and was now flying harmlessly into space.

 "Son of a bitch," she swore to herself.  This was starting to get old, and in a hurry.

 "All right Shadows," said Dallas, coming into view from above the fray.  "Recharge your laser systems
and shields to their nominal level.  Pick a target and hit 'em hard.  No survivors."

 "Copy Shadow leader," replied Kite.  He began to charge his laser cannon, which accumulated into a
twinkling sphere at his nose, ready to be fired.  A red square highlighted one of the fighters which were
on Vigdis's tail.  He released the trigger, and the energy sphere was launched.  The nano sized computer
chip inside the hurling ball of energy guided it towards its target.  The shot struck the enemy fighter hard
on the canopy.  It broke apart from the impact.  Four fighters around it were struck by the blast and they
too were destroyed.  A four hit bonus.  Kite loved nothing more then to keep track of enemy kills.  It
was too bad he lost track three years ago.

 Unlike Kite, who preferred to fight with homing spheres and missiles, Captain Dallas always found
herself fighting better with normal laser fire, especially if it was dual hyper weapons.  She found a single
Borzoi operating alone, aimed her nose at it, and opened fire.  The bright blue bolts from the hyper
lasers found one of the wings of the Borzoi, snipping it of like a dead leaf.  The fighter was disabled and
began to spin out of control.  Dallas brought the targeting reticule to bear on it again and shot it out of
space.  The fighter broke into a bunch of separate pieces.  She moved on to a more thick amount of flees
and Borzoi fighters.

 At once at seeing the new Arwings, the other fifteen Venomian fighters rocketed in and engaged the
Cornerians.  The biggest dogfight melee any of them except Dallas or Kite have ever seen erupted before
their eyes.  One of the pilots tore through the Venomian line, breaking them like a twig.  Two fighters
went down as he rushed through.

 Two pilots eliminated the last two Invaders bearing down on Vigdis and then took up a defense escort
around her.  One of the Invaders tried to get the drop on them, but was cut short by the laser fire from
another plane.

 Two Invaders and a single Borzoi, the last one of this batch, caught in behind Dallas.  She finished off a
damaged fighter before her and then looked back.  The fighters were all back there, taking little pot shots
at her while trying to lock on.  She pushed her stick forward hard, throwing herself into a hard dive.
She twisted in a one eighty roll and then pulled back up into a strait clean vertical U turn and found the
thrust flames of her one time pursuers.  Dallas aimed carefully and picked off all three of them with
perfectly placed laser shots.  The last hit and runner Borzoi was no longer in one piece.

 "I got a problem here," said a Pilot identified as Shadow Five.  "My engine's starting to go out."  This
pilot got himself caught in a horrendous cross fire and took hits to his fuselage.  He sustained small
damage, but at the time it was not threatening.  Now÷

 "Get out of there Five!" yelled Kite, looking down towards the slowing orange Arwing.  Two Invaders
were pulling in behind the dying ship.  "Damn it, Five, get the hell out of there!  You've got a bogey
coming up behind ya!  Vamoose while you still can."

 "I can't!" yelled the youngster pilot.  "My controls aren't responding."  He looked behind him and saw
two, no, three fighters slowly edge their way around to his tail side.  In less then a minute, he'd be
catching laser fire with his spine.  He gritted his teeth in a nervous feeling.

 Kite broke off from his current chase and headed to where Five was at.  "Hold on!" he said.  "I'm on
my way."  Kite hit his boosters and raged hard towards where Five was being threatened.  He was
starting to think that it would be too late before he got there.

 The pilot glanced behind him again.  There were now four fighters right on his tail, charging up their
lasers for a big practice strike against a sitting stump.  His lock warning light sounded, telling him that
they now had a tracer tow on him.  He knew he was dead.

 "Getting a lock," said a female voice.  "I got tow!"  A orange Arwing with a broken wing launched a
tracer sphere which solidly connected with the Invaders behind him.  They all burst apart on impact.
Five took a breath in relief of survival and then looked at the fighter of Vigdis.

 "Thanks," he said.

 "Don't mention it," Vigdis finally replied, sounding a little exasperated.

 Kite's fighter approached the area and he saw the debris fields of the four Invaders right behind the dead
Orange Arwing.  His lower bill dropped in shock.  "Vigdis?  You did that?"

 "Yes sir."

 Kite would have grinned if he could in excitement.  "Nicely done for a Flare Squadron puke," he
teased.  "But still, congratulations on your first enemy kill.  Your number is now four."

 That was what Kite loved about Arwing fighters.  You could take out more then one enemy at once with
those tracer spheres.

 The Cornerian pilots, Shadow Squadron of the SunHawk may have been drastically out-numbered in a
eight to thirty two dogfight.  However, the Venomians were far more outclassed then the Cornerians
were outnumbered.  Captain Dallas and another pilot were chasing down the last Invader.  Dallas pulled
ahead of her current wingman, and aimed her lasers at the enemy.  The lasers flew and the nicked the
Invader in the fuselage, right on its fuel tank.

 The fighter exploded into a great ball of fire, ignited by a solid fuel component meeting the heat of
Dallas's hyper laser.  Dallas looked at the growing fire, watching it expand and grow brighter.  And then
it died, and then there was nothing.  Not even debris.  Dallas clutched her chest at the heart, suddenly
without breath.  Anxiety taking her now.  Dallas could not remember the last time she felt like this.  No,
that was not true.  She did remember.

 The last hours of the Illuminauti÷

 Dallas tried to force the terrible thoughts out of her head.  But they were surfacing much more stronger
now.  A burning face, followed by more.

 "Shadow Squadron, come in please.  This is Star Fox.  Come in please."  Dallas did not answer the hail
at first.  She could only stare at the still smoldering ruins of the eradicated Venomian squadron.  After
the second hailing attempt, she blinked a few times and woke up from her trance.

 "R÷roger, Fox.  This is Captain Dallas.  It seems you arrived just a little too late.  We've already taken
care of the trash."

 "I can see that," answered Fox.  He and the rest of Star Fox team were coming into view just at that
moment.  He surveyed the aftermath of the dogfight, and whistled in admiration.  "You Shadow Squad
boys know how to clean out the trash."

 "Let's save talk for when we're back aboard the ship," retorted Dallas.  Fox could notice the cold and
irritable sound in her talk.  "Shadow Squad, report back to base immediately and take your five under
tow.  I'll escort Ms. Vigdis and back home.  Mr. McCloud, thanks for showing up two days early.
Maybe by seeing you here, the Venomians won't try and provoke us anymore."

 "Don't mention it, Captain.  My team and I'll be on Great Fox if you need us for anything.  Good
fighting by the way Captain.  I saw your piloting skills while we were coming in.  Impressive."  Dallas
did not answer him.  She only looked on as the four Arwing fighters of Star Fox bolted back towards
their mother ship.

 The two of them, Dallas and Vigdis, trotted home him slowly.  Just enough time for Dallas to give the
young rookie pilot the largest reprimand in her career to date.  The cat was nearly brought to the edge of
tears.

****

 No one heard the conversation of heat between Dallas and Vigdis.  If they did, they would have
considered it Dallas's hottest moment to date.  However, that was pale in comparison to what happened
between her and the Flare Squadron commander.  Fox McCloud and Peppy Hare had come on board to
offer thanks for her support in this attack against Dark Star.  As soon as they reached the area of her
office door, they stepped back from her loud screaming, and listened to however was being chewed out
from a distance.

 "So why don't you tell me just what it was you were thinking by sending an in experienced pilot out
onto the edge of the task force perimeter on her own with no back up?" Fox heard Dallas say.

 He heard another voice, but it was so low that he could recognize nothing.  He turned to Peppy, who
could hear everything clearly.  However, he didn't have time to tell Fox what he had said.

 "Aww, so you're telling me that you sent out Ms. Vigdis on a solo mission to scan hostile space just so
she could create a name for herself.  Was that before or after you realized that she could actually face an
enemy force out there on her own?"  Dallas's voice was accumulating more heat.  "Was that before or
after you realized that she could actually face an enemy force out there on her own, you imbecile?"  Fox
and Peppy were never aware that he ever answered he was being so quiet.  "Well guess what
Mister÷Ash?"  She erupted. "You just placed one of your own god damned pilots in grievous hazard!
Quite personally, I don't think you gave a rat's right foot what the other pilots thought of her!  I have
know idea what your motives for doing something this reckless and foolish were!  Can you tell me
that?"

 Again, Fox could not hear the other person.

 "I can't hear you, damn it!  Speak up!"  Nothing.  "Answer me or by God all mighty all make personal
sureness that your next and final posting will be as a security guard for the Meteo prison facilities."

 "I don't know sir," said someone loudly.

 A brief pause.  "I didn't think you would.  Now, I want you to go back to your quarters and think about
what you've done!  In the meantime, you are, as of now and probably for a long while from now,
disbanded from lead of Flare Squadron and off active duty.  You will be confined to your quarters.
Think about his hard Mister!  We don't screw with the lives of our pilots just to fulfill our own
selfishness!  Do you understand?  Do you understand!"

 "Yes sir!"

 "Now get the hell out of my office!"

 A second long moment of silence, and then Fox and Peppy both swallowed when the saw a burly pit
bull walk out of the office, a small tear in the corner of his eye and a look of pure loathing on his face.
Their gaze followed him as he walked past them down the hall.  The dog saw them watching him, and
turned to them with a deep and threatening growl.

 "What the hell are you staring at?" asked the pit bull at Fox.  Fox knew better then to get in a fight with
someone who was probably three times his strength.  At least when there was no point to it anyway.  He
held up his arms to show that he meant no harm.  The dog continued on about his business.  What was
left of it anyway.

 Fox and Peppy both entered the office of the youngest ship Captain in the force.  She sat at her table,
running fingers through sweat filled locks of hair.  She didn't notice the two enter her office and stand
across from her.

 "Problems?" asked Fox.

 Startled by the unexpected voice, Dallas looked up suddenly at Fox and Peppy.  She breathed a sigh of
relief when she saw the two of them instead of someone else.  Slowly, she stood up to greet them.  "A
ton of them," she finally answered.  "All of them are from tension and anxiety of this attack.  Almost
every time the military itself confronted Andross in this war, we sustained heavy losses.  Super warship
or no, this crew is dangling on the edge of a very fine fencing foil.  The slightest breeze might push them
off."

 Dallas turned towards them and looked at Peppy.  "I take it that your arm is better," she said.

 Peppy's arm, which was busted in the defense of the SunHawk when the Venomians tried to attack and
destroy it before it could rise.  He was old enough to be a brother to his father.  The old hare looked
down at the arm, rubbed it a bit, then nodded.  "It tenses up now and then, but it'll be fine.  As long as I
am here, that is all that matters."  Peppy looked up and saw Fox and Dallas looking at one another.  He
wasn't sure if they even heard him talk, they were so locked into each other's eyes.  Peppy cleared his
throat loudly to get Fox's attention.  It didn't work.  He walked over and tapped Fox on the shoulder
roughly.

 Fox took his eyes away from Dallas and looked at Peppy.  He nodded towards the door that it was time
to go.  From the way they were looking at one another, it would have been the right time.  Fox nodded
to his old friend.

 "We'll be going now," said Fox as he got to his feet.  "Thank you for doing this for us."  Fox took a
glance out the window and towards the fleet.  "You know.  It feels a little good that Corneria is no
longer going to rely solely on us to win this war.  I feel÷a little lighter today."  Dallas smiled at him
warmly.  Again their greenest of eyes met and locked for a long while.

 Allison stretched out her arm to offer a handshake.  Remembering what happened last time, Fox was
almost reluctant to except it, but he immediately took hold of her paw and shook it.  The two held each
other's hands tightly, never taking their eyes from each other.  Peppy, getting a little nervous at watching
this, and seeing what was in Fox's mind through telepathy, walked forward and grabbed Fox's arm.

 "C'mon," he said.  "We have work to do back on Great Fox."

 Fox and Allison released each other's paws.  But their touch was maintained as Fox stepped away from
her.  Right down to the their very finger tips.  They never took their eyes off of one another until Fox
was outside of her office.  Before he left, Allison mouthed the words, "see you soon," to him.  He
nodded, and they both left.

 When both, Fox and Peppy, were a good distance away from her office, Peppy turned to Fox.  "Fox, I
couldn't help but notice, but you're scheduled to be married probably in the next few months and you
seemed a little÷distracted in there around her.  Plus, she is seven years older then you.  It's not a good
match."

 Fox nodded.  "You're probably right.  But that doesn't mean we can't be friends."

 "No, it doesn't.  Just make sure you are just friends, and only that.  I'm not trying to run your life Fox,
you know that.  But you and Fara have been together ever since the war began.  Do you have any idea
how much it would have hurt her if she saw that display in there?"

 Again, Fox nodded.  "I'll keep that in mind.  Nonetheless, Allison Dallas saved my life.  I feel I owe
her my friendship.  I know we saved her life too, and the life of this ship with its crew.  That is why
they owe it to us to help finish this station.  Think of it Peppy.  We send Dark Star strait to hell, we can
take out that weapons base on MacBeth.  Then, Venom is practically ours."

 "That is if we get there," retorted Peppy.  "And a big if it is."

 "Well then we had better take the time to make sure we do get there.  We can start by making sure that
we are there and ready for this attack.  Come on.  Let's go see if we can put more power into our
Arwings."

 The two of them made their way back to the launch bay where their Arwings, painted in blue, were laid
side by side of each other. Slippy and Falco were also touring the SunHawk for the first time.  Fox
would get a hold of them later.  The four Arwings were all surrounded by a bunch of orange ones. The
SunHawk fighter squadrons.  Beside one of them, a tall mallard was sticking his hands inside one of the
fighter's engine systems, trying to fix or modify it.  Both Fox and Peppy recognized an old friend
immediately.

 "I always knew you would be flying for something big if you wouldn't come with us," said Fox.  Kite
McCane took his attention away from his Arwing and looked down at Fox and Peppy.  He jumped
down to meet them.

 "Well," said Kite after he landed on the floor.  "When you are a second in command for a fighter squad
that is posted on a new super warship, then I guess you can call it big.  I've seen a lot of action so far.
Some hard hitting dogfights while defending this ship, taking the KitHawk through the Oberon
underworld.  The engagement we just had.  It has been fun for just a couple of months time.  How have
you all been doing?"

 "We're living," answered Peppy.  "That's all that matters.  You probably heard that we have been out of
action for the past two weeks.  All of us are dying to get back in the fray."

 Kite nodded to them.  "It'll be good flying with guys again.  It's been three years.  When I heard that
you were the leader of the new Star Fox team, I wanted to come in and see for myself.  No doubts now
that you were as good as your father was in combat."

 Slowly, Fox nodded.  He remembered now.  Kite McCane was the youngest member of the original
Star Fox team led by James McCloud all that time ago.  Seven years, and Kite was twenty years old
then.  However, Kite left the team a year before Pigma betrayed them to Andross.  He just had enough
of Pigma's bad attitude, so he walked away to find something greater.  However, he always held deep
respect for James and Peppy.  When Kite heard about Pigma's treason, he went into a rage just the
same.  James McCloud had been a father to him too.  He did consider it when Fox came to him and
asked to be a member of his new team along with all the rest.  Him, Peppy, Falco, and even Slippy,
who Kite despised, but chose to keep it hidden.  He stayed in with the military, and slowly climbed the
ranks to lieutenant.

 "Yes, it will be good to be together again.  You really should have came with us, Kite," said Fox as he
turned towards his Arwing.  "You probably would have been more at home."  Kite said nothing.  He
merely returned to his Arwing after paying his good byes to the two of them.  Kite may have been
happier and more at home if he joined Star Fox.  However, he felt he belonged here, in the Cornerian
military itself.  He was not going anywhere.

 Across the bay, Falco and Slippy both entered the launch bay together.  They appeared just in time to
see Kite and Fox walk away from one another and go about their business.  Across from the bay, Fox
told the two of them to get a move on so they could depart quickly.  Kite looked up to see both Falco, a
fellow avian just like him, and Slippy race across to the floor to their Arwings.  He knew them, but
neither of them had ever seen him.  Falco did recognize a brother avian though.  He stopped, looked at
Kite for a few seconds, and then gave him a salute of the avian.  Kite returned it.

 A few minutes later, the four Arwings of Star Fox were ejected from the massive SunHawk and began
to head back to their own mother ship.  On their way, all of them made conversation.

 "Who was that, Fox?" asked Slippy, looking back at the immense warship.

 "It's Kite McCane," answered Peppy.  "He used to fly with me and James a while back, and Pigma
too.  He left before that little fat puke turned on us on Venom.  It was a pity he left.  He's a damn good
pilot."

 Falco grinned.  "Of course he is," he said.  "He is an avian after all."  He stopped for a moment and
then remembered.  "Fox, I saw him."

 "Who?" asked Fox, wondering what Falco was talking about.

 "You remember that wolf that kicked the hell out of Star Wolf.  He's on SunHawk.  Me and Slip tried
to talk to him, but he left before he could.  In truth, he doesn't look all that tough.  More like a religious
monk then an actual warrior."

 "Looks can be deceiving," retorted Peppy.  He began to move his ship to fly into Great Fox's docking
bay.  "Just a harmless looking old lady doesn't mean you will come away from a confrontation with her
without a scratch of some sort.  We know that he's powerful, whoever he is."

 "Yes," said Fox, very quietly.  "Whoever he is.  Maybe we should take the opportunity to try and find
out."  Fox knew something that was certain about the wolf from seeing the video of his attack on Star
Wolf.  He was not native.  He was not from the Lylat system.  It was obvious that he was too physically
powerful to be a natural Lylatian resident.  Fox knew a lot of people who could do that to Star Wolf
without a scratch on him.  However, they were all at least eight feet tall and arms as big as tree trunks.
None of them wolves.  Whoever this person was, they would have to meet him and soon.  They had to
make sure that he remained on their side.

 Quickly, the four fighters pulled into the Great Fox's docking bay, where Fara Phoenix was patiently
waiting for her fiancee.  She had something to talk to him about.

****

 Twenty hundred hours.  Kesh stretched her sore back muscles, stiff after twenty strait hours of duty
work on the bridge and other places as well.  She was tired, and wanted to sleep.  If permitted, she
would have fallen to slumber right here in the elevator.  She did remember Maurine's invitation for her.
She almost told herself that it could wait.  However, she was too curious and too eager to see him off
duty to just walk away.  She followed the instructions he mentally gave her to where to meet him.

 The arboretum was a little more lifeless then usual.  Probably because the wind synthesizers were off
line.  Maybe because much of the foliage was wilting a little.  However, it still brought some peace.
Kesh walked slowly down the path way towards where Maurine told her to be.  A small grass null
beyond a synthetic brook.  Just another way to add life to the scenery.  Kesh crossed the water way over
the specially carved marble stepping stones and found her way through the short path.  She found
Maurine, sitting impatiently on a stone bench.  He looked up at her when she emerged from the path.

 "There you are," he said as he quickly stood up.  The two romantic interests ran forward and embraced
one another for a short time, and then Maurine just held her hands.  "I was wondering if you would
show up."

 "I will never miss these times for us," she whispered to him.  She gently placed her hand on his cheek
and smiled at him.  "However, I have a feeling that you did not summon me here just for the chance to
be alone.  You have a favor?  Do you not?"

 Slowly Maurine nodded to her.  This would be a difficult thing to go through with the woman he loved,
but it was necessary, nonetheless.  She turned her back towards him and stepped away, a little
disappointed that this was more then what she really wanted.  However, she did except his hands on her
shoulders.  "Are you sure you don't remember your contacts?" he asked.

 Angrily, Kesh broke free from his grip and glared hatefully at him.  "I knew it.  You got me here just to
help solve your stupid case.  I do not give a damn anymore Robert.  Whoever that person is, he can do
me no more harm.  I would care less if he either gets captured or he disappears to the rim and is never
seen again.  If he gets captured, terrific.  If he escapes, good riddins.  I do not care anymore."  She
turned away from him.  In response, he took her by the arm and jerked her back, a little roughly, forcing
her to look at him.

 "You know what?" he said.  "I do care.  I care because I love you.  Before you there was no one.  All
of my family were killed when I was just a pup.  I grew up in a total of nine separate foster homes,
always a rebel.  I got money to live by collecting dirt on people using my telepathic abilities.  That was
until I joined the force, and I started thinking that a better life would be one of a soldier, a hero.  All of
this time, I have been alone.  Until I saw you, I had no real goals for myself.  I love you Kesh.  I
promised myself that I would never let anyone I love get hurt.  I do care.  So please help me."

 "Well I can not," she snapped.  "All of the information on my contacts was placed on an unconscious
levels.  Inaccessible by any means.  Any means accept÷a deep telepathic scan."  She looked up at him,
already knowing what he was pondering.

 He nodded slightly.  "I knew you would get on.  With your digital mind, you can keep yourself
together through a deep scan.  Please help me, and I can find this person and bust him wide open like a
rotten melon."  Maurine lifted her chin, putting her eyes on his again.  "Please."

 She waited for a bit, contemplating this.  After a while, she shook her head.  "You do not even know if
this person is still on board the ship.  But I will go through with this, because you ask for it."  The two
took hold of each other, and held for a long time.  Maurine could feel her love for him, its aura
hammering at his telepathic mind like a heavy bomber.  She pulled her into him tighter.

 "Thank you," he whispered.

 Kesh stepped away from him, and looked up into his eyes.  This was what she wanted.  Him.  Maurine
reached up and brushed a small part of that golden river of hair out of her eyes, getting a smile from her.
Slowly, their faces approached, and they locked into a deep and powerful kiss.  Maurine held her tightly
as they kissed, absorbing all of her passion.  While they kissed, Maurine used the physical touch to scan
her mind without her knowing.  It took a little time, but he saw it.  It was only a glimpse, but it was
enough.  A chimpanzee, small and scrawny and frail looking.  But it was done.  For Kesh, it was just
her largest moment of searing passion with the one she loved, as it was for Maurine.

 The kiss ended, and she looked up at Maurine, never knowing what he had done.  All she knew was
love.  And fatigue.  Kesh's eyes began to flutter, and she started to slouch.  Maurine caught her just
before she fell, already fallen into sleep.  He put a influence of slumber into her mind, and it took effect
at once.  She know slept in his arms, no disturbance.

 Gently, Maurine carried her and placed her on a stone bench.  She stirred slightly, the breeze running
lightly across her fur.  Maurine again brushed her hair out of her eyes, looking down at her lovingly.
No.  He was planning to leave her hear and go hunt for and collect this person he saw.  A chimp.  A
primate.  No surprise.  But he could not leave her here.  Maurine scooped her up again and started to
carry her out of the arboretum.  The traitor would not be leaving anytime soon.

****

 It was always dark in space, that was true.  That was probably why it was so easy to get lost in
scheduling while in space.  Dallas had no clue on what time it was.  She did have a feeling that it was
late, and she was getting tired.  They had gone over these data charts for five hours without break in the
slightest.  Herself, Fox McCloud, and all the other commanders of the ships currently present.

 She looked up at one of the other commanders, a tall toucan who was standing over the charts of the
enemy position, trying to make any observations that he missed.  Dallas slightly shook her head.  "One
more time Commodore Telvanix.  Just for the records."  The colorful bird in a highly decorated uniform
gazed towards Allison Dallas.  She wore no medals as he did.  She was too young.  Too young for other
things as well.

 The toucan cleared his throat and looked down at the charts which showed the positions of the
Venomian ships around Dark Star.  "As you can see here, again, that the blockade of the enemy ships
around the station is in the shape of check mark.  They know we are here.  They are keeping the running
length of the mark towards us.  They are keeping the station enclosed in with them and the Oberon
surface, enclosing it on all sides from our attack.  A distance of a hundred kilometers is between each
ship, and they are keeping their heavier ships as close to the station as possible.  As much as a thousand
fighters are on patrol around the area at all times.  About five hundred thousand kilometers out from the
enemy ship blockade is a field of turbo laser and lock on devastater mines.  They are taking no chances
with either fighters or ships breaking through to get to that station.  Getting to it is going to be hell."

 Dallas listened to this, and rubbed her snout.  Her eyes went to Fox.  "You said Star Wolf would also
be there protecting that station, didn't you?"

 Fox nodded and so did Dallas.  "We know they are not their yet, but that may be changed considering
this information is over five days old.  But, once they are there, the difficulty will increase in great
amounts."  She shook her head now.

 Fox reared his head.  "If they are there, then perhaps we can make a move that would take advantage of
their presence."

 "What do you mean?" asked Dallas.

 "We might be able to take advantage of Wolf's ego and vendetta against me to get something in there.  If
we, myself and my crew along with maybe a few others attack one of these ships away from the station,
then we'll probably get Star Wolf into coming after us blindly.  Knowing how much all Venomians hate
us, they might send a few of their heavy hitting warships after us as well.  This would open a window
for all of our ships to put an unwelcome knock onto their front door."

 "That still doesn't solve the problems with the mines," said Telvanix.  "Once one of our fighters put
themselves within five hundred meters of that field, the turbo laser mines will open fire.  Once one of
our ships enters the field, its going to have a big metal sphere with a thousand ton payload rip it a new
hole.  If we go in there blindly, then we will lose too many of our forces to make much of a difference,
Star Wolf or no Star Wolf.  They outnumber us two to one, and they have the advantage of looking
down on his from a steep rocky hill.  Right now, I am looking down on this idea for attacking Dark Star
with a very grim expression."

 Dallas looked over the area which designated the mine field.  A narrow strip of red which drew a rim
arounn alien world.  I'm sure that you have an idea how powerful he is from what he did to Wolf and
his cohorts.  But that's only the start of what I've seen from him.  I'll introduce him to you.  Just please,
be careful if you try and praise him on it.  He seemed ashamed when we tried to congratulate him
ourselves."

 Fox nodded.  "I'll remember that.  Thanks.  I'll tell Fara about your job for her when I get back to Great
Fox.  I'm pretty sure that she'll be thrilled to hear about it."  If only he would stop worrying about it
though.  Why should he be?  Fara was an excellent pilot, and an accomplished fighter.  She could do
this.

 Before he left, Fox took one last look at Captain Dallas.  He smiled as he said, "you know, if I weren't
already engaged, I'd probably ask you out to dinner right now."  He left her alone.

 Dallas looked at the door for a long while after he left.  "Thanks," she said, actually meaning it.  "Now
if only."
 
 
 
 

Chapter 4
Murder

 "What?" yelled Dallas.  "When?"

 "We all think it happened a few days ago.  At the most four.  They found him a few hours ago in his
apartment building."  Dallas stared with horror at the face on her viewer.  Behind her, her father was
looking rather shocked at hearing this.  Benton Durango, one of the richest men in Corneria?  Dead?

 On the screen was a member of the Cornerian Police force and a friend to Dallas.  He was not taking
this information very well either.

 "How?" asked Dallas with great difficulty.

 "I'd÷I'd rather not talk about how," said the gecko on her screen.

 "Damn it!  Tell me!" screamed Dallas, ready to punch the video screen

 The lizard swallowed before he started to talk to her.  "They found him in his penthouse.  What was left
of him anyway.  I saw it myself Ally.  I've seen butcher shops that were more welcome then this."

 "Go on."

 "They say that he was cut up terribly with a hard steel weapon, probably a dagger of exceptional
strength.  There were bones that were cut in half instead of broken.  The found him crucified to his
bedroom wall, above his bed, all of his internal organs were removed and piled on the bed.  Only his
heart remained inside.  But with a large spike driven through it.  They also found some÷"

 "Stop!"  said Dallas.  "No more."  She stepped back from the screen and sat down.  Durango was her
friend.  To hear the violence of his death was too much for her.  "Did the police find any reason why this
was done?" she asked finally.

 "Yeah.  Someone withdrew about five hundred billion credits from his personal bank account.  They
placed the time of death before this withdraw took place.  They were smart too whoever they were in
circumventing security details.  We knew this when we found that one of his eyes were removed as well
as his right thumb."

 "Please!  No more on what happened to him.  Do they have any leads?"

 The lizard shook his head in grief.  "Not one.  Not a single one.  Well, we do have one.  We know that
you and one other were in to see Durango on the night that he died.  That's all that we know.  I'm sorry
Ally.  But our chief has got your name and that other person's name on a list for suspects."

 Kesh.  Why would she do this?  She didn't and Dallas knew it.  "Well keep looking.  Find whoever did
this because the person who did is not on this ship."

 "Ally we know from General Pepper that this person you were with, Kesh Serene her name is, was
forced into an attempted betrayal towards you and your crew.  And she has the smarts to pull all of this
off with that computer brain of hers.  That puts her at the rank of number one suspect in our views right
now and we÷  What?"

 As he spoke, Dallas was thinking about a fact she recollected from that night.  She was in a hurry to get
back, so it was difficult.  She did remember.  "You may have a third person," she explained.

 "What?"

 Dallas touched her communicator.  "Lieutenant Kesh, this is Captain Dallas."  It was Kesh's off duty
time, so she was probably asleep.  At first there was no answer so Dallas tried again.  This time
someone replied.

 "This is Kesh.  What is it Captain?" said a tired voice.

 "Report to my quarters immediately.  It is urgent."  She cut her comm-unit and looked at the gecko.
"Kesh told me that there was another woman at the penthouse just before the two of us left.  According
to her, they were alone in his bedroom which is where they stayed before they left.  Whoever it is, I bet
that was the perpetrator here."

 "Did it ever occur to you that she probably lied about the third person just to give her an alibi?" asked
the lizard.

 "I did, but I doubt it.  She's not a murderer John.  And she is definitely not a raving psychopath which
our real culprit clearly is."  A chime sounded and Dallas welcomed Kesh in.  The vixen was droopy eyed
and looked like she could fall asleep right there.  She yawned deeply and scratched at her wrinkled
uniform.

 "Kesh, do you remember at Durango's?  The girl who he was seeing?"

 Kesh nodded.  "Yes I do.  She was a collie, about five foot nine, longest brownish hair I have ever
seen.  It almost went down to her tail.  Her tail was just as long too.  Her eyes were weird though.  One
was colored a white milky blue while the other was dark brown.  It was very odd.  She was lovely
though, and Durango did enjoy seeing her."

 Dallas's eyes perked up when she heard the word 'collie' and her eyes widened in terror when she
heard about the duel colored eyes.  It lasted only for a second.  She remembered what Conner had said
about this, and she tried to remain objective.  Kesh did notice her sudden and quick tenthe richest men in
Corneria?  Dead?

 On the screen was a member of the Cornerian Police force and a friend to Dallas.  He was not taking
this information very well either.

 "How?" asked Dallas with great difficulty.

 "I'd÷I'd rather not talk about how," said the gecko on her screen.

 "Damn it!  Tell me!" screamed Dallas, ready to punch the video screen

 The lizard swallowed before he started to talk to her.  "They found him in his penthouse.  What was left
of him anyway.  I saw it myself Ally.  I've seen butcher shops that were more welcome then this."

 "Go on."

 "They say that he was cut up terribly with a hard steel weapon, probably a dagger of exceptional
strength.  There were bones that were cut in half instead of broken.  The found him crucified to his
bedroom wall, above his bed, all of his internal organs were removed and piled on the bed.  Only his
heart remained inside.  But with a large spike driven through it.  They also found some÷"

 "Stop!"  said Dallas.  "No more."  She stepped back from the screen and sat down.  Durango was her
friend.  To hear the violence of his death was too much for her.  "Did the police find any reason why this
was done?" she asked finally.

 "Yeah.  Someone withdrew about five hundred billion credits from his personal bank account.  They
placed the time of death before this withdraw took place.  They were smart too whoever they were in
circumventing security details.  We knew this when we found that one of his eyes were removed as well
as his right thumb."

 "Please!  No more on what happened to him.  Do they have any leads?"

 The lizard shook his head in grief.  "Not one.  Not a single one.  Well, we do have one.  We know that
you and one other were in to see Durango on the night that he died.  That's all that we know.  I'm sorry
Ally.  But our chief has got your name and that other person's name on a list for suspects."

 Kesh.  Why would she do this?  She didn't and Dallas knew it.  "Well keep looking.  Find whoever did
this because the person who did is not on this ship."

 "Ally we know from General Pepper that this person you were with, Kesh Serene her name is, was
forced into an attempted betrayal towards you and your crew.  And she has the smarts to pull all of this
off with that computer brain of hers.  That puts her at the rank of number one suspect in our views right
now and we÷  What?"

 As he spoke, Dallas was thinking about a fact she recollected from that night.  She was in a hurry to get
back, so it was difficult.  She did remember.  "You may have a third person," she explained.

 "What?"

 Dallas touched her communicator.  "Lieutenant Kesh, this is Captain Dallas."  It was Kesh's off duty
time, so she was probably asleep.  At first there was no answer so Dallas tried again.  This time
someone replied.

 "This is Kesh.  What is it Captain?" said a tired voice.

 "Report to my quarters immediately.  It is urgent."  She cut her comm-unit and looked at the gecko.
"Kesh told me that there was another woman at the penthouse just before the two of us left.  According
to her, they were alone in his bedroom which is where they stayed before they left.  Whoever it is, I bet
that was the perpetrator here."

 "Did it ever occur to you that she probably lied about the third person just to give her an alibi?" asked
the lizard.

 "I did, but I doubt it.  She's not a murderer John.  And she is definitely not a raving psychopath which
our real culprit clearly is."  A chime sounded and Dallas welcomed Kesh in.  The vixen was droopy eyed
and looked like she could fall asleep right there.  She yawned deeply and scratched at her wrinkled
uniform.

 "Kesh, do you remember at Durango's?  The girl who he was seeing?"

 Kesh nodded.  "Yes I do.  She was a collie, about five foot nine, longest brownish hair I have ever
seen.  It almost went down to her tail.  Her tail was just as long too.  Her eyes were weird though.  One
was colored a white milky blue while the other was dark brown.  It was very odd.  She was lovely
though, and Durango did enjoy seeing her."

 Dallas's eyes perked up when she heard the word 'collie' and her eyes widened in terror when she
heard about the duel colored eyes.  It lasted only for a second.  She remembered what Conner had said
about this, and she tried to remain objective.  Kesh did notice her sudden and quick tension though but
said nothing of it.

 "Thank you Lieutenant.  You may go back to sleep now."  Kesh smiled and saluted, and then left.
Dallas turned back to the screen.  "Did you hear that?" she asked anxiously.

 "I did.  You may be right Captain.  Your friend was not at all tense about your question, which means
she probably knew nothing about what happened.  All put the description she gave us into guest list as
an unknown.  However, both of you will remain on the list just in case."

 "I understand," said Dallas.  She contemplated telling him about the probable prime suspect, but she
remembered what Conner said.  This out in the open could have nasty repercussions on all of Lylat.  She
knew better then to not take his word for it.  "Thank you for telling me about this John.  It's always
better to hear about this sort of thing from someone like you rather then a news anchor.  Thank you."
The lizard smiled at her and terminated his link.  The screen flicked off, and the room darkened.

 A lamp light flashed on.  "So, who is it?" asked Alan Dallas.

 "What do you mean?"

 "Who's the person who killed Durango?  When your lieutenant described her to you, you almost
cracked your bladder.  You know something, and you did not tell Johnny?  Why not?  The last time I
checked, that was a little thing called 'obstruction of justice,' and it's illegal as hell.  If they find out,
you're screwed."

 Allison shook her head violently, almost hysterically.  "Screwed, Dad?  I'm already there.  But I think
that the consequences of telling him about what I know would have been worse than keeping it secret."

 "Bull!" spat Alan.  "Since when does letting an obvious psychotic run loose become safer then helping
to put her down?  Don't you even care that Benton is dead?"

 "Don't ever say that!" exploded Allison.  "You don't know!  How could you?  All you ever cared about
is that run down shack on a sand dune and that little piece of phony jewelry you wear around your
neck."  She stopped, growled hatefully towards her father, he sat calmly and coolly on the sofa while his
daughter calmed down.  Finally, Allison let out a deep breath and calmed herself down.  "I'm sorry.
That was uncalled for.  But the reason I cannot tell anyone what I know is something that you can't
understand.  And I can't explain it to you because I don't understand it either and I promised a friend that
I wouldn't say anything about it to anyone.  Not even you."

 Alan sat there for a moment, looking at Allison.  He then cracked a smile and chuckled lightly.  "Ally,
Ally, Ally.  You were strong enough to tell me everything that happened at the Illuminauti, and this is
stopping you.  By the way, I take it that you have told no one else besides me about that?"

 Slowly, Allison nodded her head, and Alan shook his.  "How are you expecting to appropriately
command an entire crew when you can't even face your own past?  How do you figure to defeat
Andross and his boot kissing swine if you can't even conquer your own demons."

 "And why should a crew follow a mass murderer?" snapped Allison in retort.

 "It's war, Ally.  Terrible things happen in war.  Hold a gun to someone's head and they'll pull the lever
on the torture rack to get out of it.  It's all extreme conditions, and you were angry because you lost a
friend.  I know a dozen people who never would have picked up any regrets for doing what you did."

 "Yeah, and all of them fight for Andross."  Allison stepped away from her father and walked to the
window.  Outside, in the distance and barely visible was two of the ships in the task force.  One of them
was Great Fox.  That much was certain.  The other, she was not sure.  Neither of these things was on
her mind now.  She was thinking back.

 A chime at the door sounded, and Allison turned her head slightly towards it, and welcomed them in.
The door opened, and Conner Seacore walked in.  Allison smiled at the presence of her friend, and she
made a decision.  First÷  "Dad.  This is Conner Seacore.  He's the one who I told you about, who
saved my life.  Conner, this is my father, Alan"

 Alan Dallas stood up and walked towards the organic shadow.  "You saved my little girl's life, I owe
you a great deal of gratitude Mr. Seacore.  She means worlds to me."

 "The pleasure is all mine," he said quietly.  "Your daughter is my friend, sir.  I have pledged my self to
serve her as best I can."  Hearing this hurt Dallas more, since she knew what was coming later.

 "Dad, if you'll excuse us, I would like to talk to Conner alone right now."  Conner looked at Alan,
confused and surprised.  Alan himself only shrugged and left the room, off to explore the ship on his
own.  Allison shut her eyes in hurt, not at all wanting to do this.  But her father was right.  It was time to
face the music.

 "Is something wrong, Ally?" asked Conner, stepping towards her.

 "Sit down," she said, and Conner did so with some reluctance.  Allison went on.

 "What I'm about to tell you will probably bring great changes to your opinion about me.  If I heard
someone I liked tell me what I'm about to tell you, I'd start forming new impression too.  But I've kept
this bottled up too long.  So÷

 "Eleven months ago I was stationed on a ship known as the CSS Illuminauti, which was at the time one
of our more advanced cruiser destroyers before this thing came along.  We were posted to help protect
the base on Katina from an attack by Andross' forces.  When the fleet came, we were outnumbered
about two to one, but we fought on."  Dallas stopped, hearing her own voice from that time.

 Fighter squadrons Breen Falcon and Canine Veck, engage enemy targets at will.  All guns, all forward
batteries, fire at will!  I say again, open fire!

 "The battle raged on for almost an hour.  Ships, both ours and Venomian, all of them were having their
hulls busted open like tin fruit cans, fire pouring out of their hulls.  Fighter squadrons from both sides
were torn apart and cast away like they were worn out old toys."

 Breen Falcon 3, you're in too close to each other!  Break off damn it!

 "After a two full hours it seemed as though we had the enemy fleet on the run, and that we might have
actually won this battle and saved Katina in one piece.  All but a few of their ships were in total fitness,
as were ours.  It seemed as a stalemate for the time being, but Star Fox were now into the fray to give us
a hand, while their reinforcements were all still away.  Our crew started to celebrate prematurely, and
none of us saw the enemy EMP warheads impact on our ship.  It impacted, and the entire ship was
disabled with one swift stroke."

 Propulsion: dead.  Weapon systems: dead.  Communications: destroyed.  Engine core; ready to explode
unless we shut it down now.

 "An enemy breaching pod took advantage or our ship's silent death, and boarded us.  We took up arms
against their forces, trying to get our last licks in before we all went down ourselves.  We did get lucky
at the start, and an unknown explosion eliminated all but a small handful of the enemy troops.  This
troops on their own were dangerous enough, and they were able to keep us pinned down for a long
while on our own ship.  My old commander, Commodore Silverman and I were surprised by a squad of
enemy infantry.  He was wounded and I was almost killed.  Silverman ordered my to go off and he
would keep them busy long enough for me to make it out.  I refused, and he threatened to kill me if I
didn't comply."  She remembered.

 Go, or I will shoot you myself.

 "I ended up going and he turned around and attacked the enemy forces on his own.  He managed to kill
one before he himself got hit again.  When that happened, the enemy advanced, and he was cut down
like a broken tree from the laser fire.  All I could do was watch as the Venomians stormed and ripped
into him, and I watched my Captain die.  After he fell, a Venomian turtle walked to his body and shot it
before kicking him.  After that happened, I didn't care anymore.

 "I lead the enemy troops to an unused cargo bay.  I lead them into a trap.  And I would make them pay
for what they have done.  A total of twenty one troopers were herded into that cargo room, and we
closed the doors behind them, trapping them inside of it.  Myself and our ships second security chief
were in the cargo bay's control room looking down on the enemy.  All of them were almost in a panic
when they found there was no way out of that room.  But the entire room went in to total chaos once
their÷once I started to carry out their execution."  Allison could feel the loathing from Conner build up
inside him against her, at one time friendship.  If it was not loathing, then it had to be disgust.  What
kind of ethical person would he be if he did not.  Allison went on.

 "At first I thought about spacing the bodies by opening the entire door.  I knew that the explosive
decompression would throw them out too far to see what happened.  I was so filled with hate and rage
that I actually wanted to see the effects of their pain would look like.  So, I input the command to start up
a sanitation system which would eradicate unwanted infectious organisms in our cargo bay with use of
high heat fire blasts.  Instead of infectious organisms, I turned it on the enemy foot soldiers."

 "After I was done putting in the command, all I had to do was to push a single red button on the wall
and it would start.  Before I did though, my current security leader tried to protest against my actions.
He told that they were murderous and genocide, an unnecessary move to do.  I looked at him like he was
crazy, wondering if he even cared that are captain was murdered in genocide by the soldiers below us.  I
turned away from him and I literally punched that button.

 Attention.  Attention.  Cargo bay sanitation flare emitters have been activated.  All personnel in Cargo
Bay 17-A must evacuate immediately.

 "When they heard the computer warning about what was happening, all of them started to turn on each
other to get to that door.  Not one of them was not without panic.  Either that or despair.  There we
waited for ninety seconds for those ignition flares to ignite.  I did nothing but watch.  The security guard
left, angry, threatening to protest this to our superiors.  I didn't care though.  Right now, I was taking
what I thought to be justice into my own hands."

 Allison stopped and shut her eyes, knowing what was to come would be difficult.  "When I was
training in the academy to be a soldier, I never expected I would ever see a person burning in zero
gravity.  Now, it haunts my dreams every night.  They were like wraiths, angels with wings crafted and
forged by pieces of Inferno's Light.  The float strait up, their bodies writhing around in agony as the
flames eat through them.  It almost looked like the flames were their clothing, clothing that killed them.
All I did was stand there and watch as they all went on to burn while suspended in midair.  And I did not
leave until the first man stopped burning, until all of what was left of him was nothing but ash.

 "After it was over, I opened the bay doors and decompressed the entire room.  The bodies were taken
out, and the flames were extinguished, and I left, not looking back.  The saddest thing is that I never put
any kind of ill feelings into what I have done.  I just went on, saying to myself that they deserved
whatever I gave them and that I can live with it.  I kept repeating this in my mind over and over and over
again.  For two whole ours, I went on without believing that what I have done actually was genocide.
But after a while, I went back and thought about it, and from that moment on, my sleep has been
haunted to the very brink of being pushed over the edge and into the abyss.  The same abyss which
swallowed Pandora."  She placed her hand on her face.  "Oh God, what have I become?"

 Conner got to his feet and slowly walked forward to Allison.  He could see now that she was crying,
upset.  She felt a hand on her shoulder, and she looked up in surprise a wolf's caring complexity.  He
smiled at her.  "No," she said.  "You are wrong.  Just as your father stated wisely, certain situations
develop abnormal reactions.  I like you all the same as before, and I think you are a highly respectable
person.  You have taken lives, but everyone does when they are involved in a killing war.  What you did
was also out of vengeance, which mixed with a need to survive can bring out the darkest sides of
people.  It is true that the nature of your actions were evil, but they were not your fault.  In the right
situations, I might have done them.  In the long run, Ally, I still respect you, and I still hold you dear as
a friend."

 Allison smiled up at him, feeling better that someone understood her.  Something that even she did not
do.  For a long while, the two stood looking at each other, and then he turned away.  "I'll be going
now," he said.  "I have been asked to help train with your new KitHawk pilot should she choose to
accept your invitation to do it."

 Dallas nodded to him, now looking out the window again.  "Thank you for giving me someone to talk
to.  There are only a few in the universe who know about that from me.  Now you're one of them."

 "Thank you for being truthful towards me," returned Conner.  "That is what friendship means.  Being
truthful.  Ran Tarreck Karr, Allison Dallas."  Before Allison could get a meaning on the phrase she just
heard, Conner was opening the door to leave.  Before he could leave, he ran strait into the face of Fox
McCloud and the rest of Star Fox, including Fara Phoenix all together.  All of them gasped when the
saw him.

 "It's him!" bawled Slippy, pointing at the black wolf.  "That's the one on the video!"  Angered, Dallas
was starting to storm out of her quarters to give that annoying toad a piece of her mind.  She was
stopped though when she saw the look in Conner's eyes as he looked at Fox.  The look of someone
who just found a long lost brother.  Conner said one word.

 "Zairian?"

****

 He was not sure how Fara would react to this request.  She was a tremendous pilot, and an
accomplished warrior in the air.  If she would be at the helm of the KitHawk, whatever it was, then they
might have a chance at winning the task of breaking the mine field.  It was a shot in the dark, but it was
better then nothing.  A few minutes after his return to the Great Fox, Fox found out exactly what Fara's
reaction was.

 "Me?" she asked.  "Why does she want me?  There must be hundreds of pilots in this fleet or the next.
Why on Corneria would she choose me?"

 "Maybe it's because I mentioned what a great pilot you were, and put the idea into her head.  Besides,
your Arwing won't be refitted for another month.  So I don't know where you were going when you
said you wanted in this fight with no ship to use.  Now, I've got you a ship, and it's supposed to be as
smooth as a silk river."

 Fara shook her head.  "What am I going to do on it.  You said that it's not a fighter.  I can't fly a capitol
ship and neither can anyone else in here.  That's why you constructed ROB."

 "Granted, but this is no ordinary capitol ship.  I've looked into a few specks on this thing.  It moves
more like a fighter then anything else.  Some sort of small but heavy attack vessel.  It looks pretty
impressive too if you ask me."

 Fara stood there thinking for a moment.  This was what she wanted.  A chance to get in this fight
herself alongside Fox and his friends.  But this is not what Fara had in mind.  Not to have it offered to
her by Captain Dallas, whom Fara has convinced herself that she is pursuing Fox.  She wondered if this
was a ploy to put Fara in the danger zone just to take her out of the picture.  No, that was impossible.
She knew Allison Dallas as a respecting person and a woman of honor and professional state of mind.
To think that she would place Fara in a death trap just for the sake of lust was outrageous.  Plus, it was
Fox who volunteered Fara in the first place.  She just didn't want to do this...

 "I'll do it," said Fara reluctantly.  She sighed and turned back towards Fox.  "I suppose there will be
some training in how to fly this new craft.  What is it called again?  The KitHawk?  That's a strange
sounding name for a ship."

 "Maybe it is," retorted Fox.  "But it's still a good idea.  C'mon, I'll take you over there so you can get
started."  He and Fara left the Great Fox hand in hand with the others behind them.  Fara wanted to meet
Captain Dallas herself anyway.

****

 "Zairian?" repeated Fox, looking at the black wolf in confusion.  This was the being who confronted
Star Wolf, Fox had seen the video numerous times.  But he had never seen him in person prior to this
moment.  Fox shook his head.  "'Frade not, pal."

 "Wait a minute," intruded Dallas as she turned to Conner.  "You know him?"

 He was so certain, but Conner stepped back in disappointment.  "Forgive me," he said to Fox.  "I have
mistook you for another I know.  A remarkable resemblance it is that you bear to this person who I
know.  Only he is rather old.  Sorry.  No, I don't know him."

 "Hey, no problem.  I've gotten a lot of surprises when people see me, but being mistaken for someone
else has never happened before.  This person, Zairian.  He's important to you in some way isn't he?"

 Conner nodded.  "Like a godfather to me.  And a messiah.  I would die for him, if he were still
around."  They all looked at him, somewhat confused by what he was talking about.  Especially Fox and
Fara behind him.

 "Hey, who cares if he knows someone who looks like Fox," raved Slippy.  "We have some congrats to
hand over to him.  Like throwing Wolf into a wall and knocking Andrew's head into a...Owe!"  Fox
brought his foot down hard on Slippy's foot, heading Dallas's warning on what not to say to him.  Too
late.

 Conner sighed in disgust and turned from them, not wanting to look at people who would take any kind
of violence in as pleasure.  Fox ran in front of him before he left.  "I'm sorry, he just doesn't realize that
you don't hold it.  All he can see is someone who put two bit slime in their place.  The basic curse of
civil war."

 "The kind where you hold the most loathing for your opponent.  I understand that.  But I don't agree
with it.  I have mistaken you for the Zairian.  What is your name really?"

 "I'm Fox.  Fox McCloud, leader of the Star Fox team.  Introductions are just what the doctor ordered."
He walked over and placed in arm around Fara.  "This is my wife, well soon will be anyway.  Fara
Phoenix."

 "You are Fara Phoenix?" asked Conner.

 "That's right."

 "We'll be going on KitHawk together.  Maybe we should take the time to acquaint more socially.  I
have found it wiser to know who it is who I am fight alongside with.  If that is all right with you."

 "Of...of course."  Fox could sense the nervousness in her voice.  He didn't blame her either.  Who
wouldn't be?  Fox just went on with the introductions of his friends to Conner.  When he was finished,
Conner introduced himself.

 "I will have to tell you more about myself some other time," said Conner.  "Now, I must rest.  Forgive
my rudeness but I have been without sleep for three days.  Now, if you will excuse me, we can
reconvene at the hour of dawning."

 "That would be morning wouldn't it?" asked Falco.  Conner just nodded to him as he moved on,
yawning as he went.  As he moved towards Dallas, he stopped before her and bowed slightly.  She
bowed her head in return.  When he was gone, all eyes went to Captain Dallas.  "What's the deal with
him?" asked Falco again.

 "There is no deal with him," she replied.  "He's just a foreigner who happens to take rights of chivalry
for granted.  He may look dark and moody on the outside, bit I know no one else who has a soul as
bright as his."

 "And he can obviously become very dangerous.  That video took that element of doubt out about him,"
stated Peppy.  "Yet, your right.  I could feel nothing but a bright light in his mind, and a soft and caring
heart."  Peppy, being a telepath himself, the aura of Conner's thoughts were like a melody to him.  The
old hare turned around and looked at Allison.  "He cares for you."

 "Does it take a telepath to figure that out.  He saved my life twice now.  I doubt I'll ever be able to repay
him to.  Now, can I ask what your business is?"

 Before they could answer, another person emerged from another corridor and walked towards them.
Maurine, with a document in his paws, walked to Captain Dallas and handed it to her.  "The KitHawk is
up and running now Captain.  She won't have her stealth ability for, at the very least, two months.
Other then that, she's working as good as ever."

 "Have it ready for a training launch tomorrow morning.  What's this?" she asked, holding up the file.

 "Our mystery man," he said.  The way he was looking at her, Dallas knew that he had found something
on their current traitorous virus running on the ship.  She looked towards Star Fox, who were patiently
waiting to talk to her.

 "I'm sorry Fox.  But something important has come up.  Would you mind meeting again tomorrow."

 "Actually, all I wanted to do was introduce you to Fara."

 "Oh.  Well, hello Ms. Phoenix.  You are...a lucky woman.  I would be lying when I say I did not hold
envy."

 Yeah, I bet, thought Fara.  "Thank you.  Do you want me here at any particular time tomorrow?"

 "O six hundred would be perfect.  The KitHawk does fly more like a fighter, but its atmosphere and
controls are a few things to get used to.  I want to give you lots of time to prepare for this."

 "Good enough.  I'll be here at five thirty.  You want perfection.  I think I might give you what you want
just this once."  Fara turned in a hurry and moved down the hall, seeming all hot inside.  The other
members of Star Fox looked after her in awe and confusion.  She was angry at something, and Fox and
Peppy both knew at who.

 Fox swallowed in nervousness, knowing what would soon becoming.  He looked at Dallas and
shrugged his shoulders, and he too walked down the hall after Fara.  The other three paid their
respecting good-byes to Captain Dallas before they too started down the hall.  Allison was left staring
down the hall, a little pissed at what just happened between her and Fara.  After a half minute of
steaming, Allison turned to Maurine.

 "Give me thirty minutes, and then you and I are going to head hunt for this jerk off ourselves.  You and
me.  Got it?"

 "With pleasure I do, Cap'n," replied Maurine.  "Thirty minutes and I'll be on the bridge."

 "No, come back here," ordered Dallas.  "Do not bring any other security guards with you when you
come.  We'll go it alone.  I don't want our man to be spooked into doing something panicky and stupid
where he might hurt someone.  So we won't use the PA system and we won't use trackers.  We'll find
him the old fashioned way.  And have security teams posted at every possible way off of this ship so not
even a fart on the air gets off this ship without us knowing about it."

 "Will do Skipper."
 
 
 

Chapter 5
Man Hunt

 A Venomian tavern posted in a station orbiting Venom was filled with life and action.  People drinking
and having a good time during this time off from fighting, half naked women dancing on the stage,
gambling and card playing going on everywhere at every table.  It's what every parent feared, and what
every battle weary pilot or ground pounder wished for.

 Star Wolf sat at the bar, a few of them bored with the situation.  Andrew and Pigma were locked on to
the dancers, both of them looking to a squirrel.  Wolf O'Donnell watched the dancers for a small time,
himself taking interest in a younger lady wolf who also looked upon him with the same glint of interest
in her eyes that Wolf had in his one.  When that lady wolf went off stage, Wolf made a note to meet her
before she left.

 Beside him, his friend and comrade in flight, Leon Powolski, sat glumly at the bar, never having
touched the shot glass full of vodka sitting in front of him.  On his forehead was a small scar, a battle
wound when the fought the black wolf.  This was why he was so down.  He did not take well to
wounds to his person.

 "Cheer up Leon," said Wolf as he took a swig of his beer.  "Things will turn for the better.  We'll find
that rogue, and we'll take care of him good enough to leave a decent message."

 The chameleon made no response.  He took hold of his glass and raised it to drink, and then set it back
down.  He raised his hand and rubbed his scar, an illusion pain surfacing there.

 "Aww, forget about that," insisted Wolf.  "It'll disappear in time on its own.  Everyone gets a scar once
in a while.  I...hello."  A big toothy grin appeared on Wolf's maw.  Leon looked at him, seeing that he
was interested in something new.

 "What?" he asked.

 The vile fiend nudged Leon in the side and gestured toward the door.  "Check out the candy that just
flew in.  That is a body."  Leon looked to the door to see a tall collie walk through the door and into the
tavern.  She was big busted, a deathly powerful figure, a long bushy tail and hair that reached down to
that tail.  She wore a bikini top which looked a little too tight.  All the better for Wolf and Leon.  Over
that she wore a gray day jacket.  She looked strong too.  A lot stronger then those dancing tramps
onstage.  A few of the men saw her, stopped, and gawked at her for a while.  They then lost interest and
went back to their business.  A few of them stayed locked onto her though, including Wolf and Leon.

 "Look at her eyes," said Leon.  Wolf stared hard at the sexy creature's eyes, and was taken by
surprise.  One eye was a gorgeous dark brown, the other was a pale bluish white.  Maybe it was glass
like his was.

 The collie caught sight of Wolf and Leon, and gave a cool smile as she walked towards them.  Wolf and
Leon were now considering themselves lucky.  The both stood strait up and tried to look presentable.

 "What can I do for you Ms...?"

 "Names are not important," said the collie.  "I am here on business.  You two look like you know a lot
about everything allied to Andross.  Ten thousand credits to the one who answers my question first."

 "I was hoping for something more...attractive," hissed Leon.  The collie only smiled at him for a
second, and then shook her head.

 "Sorry, but business, unfortunately, must proceed before pleasure does.  Some other time perhaps.
Now, fifteen thousand."

 "What would you like to know?" asked Wolf.

 "I am searching for a non military group of mercenaries who are not loyal to Andross entirely, but are
enemies to Corneria as well.  Someone who are willing to sell out their deepest desires and their most
profane loyalties for a small sum of money.  They must also be willing to probably commit certain acts
of genocide for their money.  Do either of you know anyone like this?"

 "Sure do miss," answered Wolf.  He pointed to a door across the tavern.  "Through there you'll find a
group of five creatures.  To find the right ones, just look for a bull that's about eight and a half feet tall
that smells like a three day used jock strap.  He's part of a mercenary group known as the Blood Stone
Raiders."

 "Wicked group those Blood Stone Raiders," said Leon.  "Not the best pilots around, but they can
manage.  They have their own ship though, and it hauls good enough.  I hope you have a lot of money if
you intend to work with them though.  If you don't, you may want to forget about it.  Their last
employer failed to pay up, and they found his bone jaws nailed to a steam pipe soon after."

 The collie grinned evilly.  "Perfect.  Thank you gentlemen.  Now give me your addresses so I can send
you your fees.  Seventy-five hundred a piece.  I promised fifteen grand, and you'll get it."

 Wolf and Leon both gave her their addresses, and the collie began to move away.  Leon wanted to, but
he made no motion to ask her out on a date or to get her number or anything.  He just watched her move
away, looking at her tail as it swished around as she walked.  "I think I'm in love Wolf."  The one eye
only grinned.

 The collie got about half way to her destination before a badger got in front of her.  He was about a half
foot shorter then her, but fat enough to be almost three times her width and drunk enough to melt rocks
with his breath.  The grotesque creature reached up and took hold of a lock of her hair.

 "Hey sweetheart," said the badger in a drunken slur.  "Would you mind if I would bought you a drink?
I get them free here you know."

 "Yes," hissed the collie.  She tried to fan the vile breath away from her nose.  "I can tell.  Listen, chum,
why don't you just take your hands off of me and go back to your drunken stupor.  I have business to
attend to."

 "Yeah, yer right baby.  You do have business to attend to.  It's best kind of business.  With me you
see.  I can take you places sugar.  Places you've never dreamed of."

 "Sorry, but I've already been inside of a booze bottle.  Excuse me."  She pushed his hand away from
her and stepped aside to try and go around.  The badger grabbed her shoulder and stepped in front of her
again.  Behind her, Leon was getting angry at watching this.

 "There's no need to be rude.  I'm being friendly aren't I?"

 The collie glanced at the hand which was squeezing her shoulder, and then back to him.  "You have..."
She looked up, contemplating for a moment.  "...seven seconds the remove your hand from me and let
me pass.  The results of not doing what I say will be...painful, to say the least.  Touch any other part of
me, you forfeit that time.  One."

 "Oh, come on baby.  I can give you a lot of pleasure if you come with me."

 "I'll probably suffocate in fat if I get in your bed.  Two."

 The badger smiled wickedly at her, and moved his hand closer to her.

 "Do that and you'll regret it.  I promise.  Now move fat boy, before I deprive you of your life.  Three."

 The hand crept closer.

 "Don't do it.  I guarantee that your last minutes will be a big long hurt if you do."

 She never got to four.  The badger placed his paw on her hip.  The collie, like lightning, unsheathed a
large dagger and swung it.  Leon saw what happened to her and began to rush forward to help, but he
stopped when he saw the silver thunderbolt.  The badger screamed horribly, and blood was gushing
from a gash in his upper arm.  Pandora reached down with her knife and slashed up inside his thigh,
slicing with tremendous strength through the flab, slicing the artery cleanly.  That wound also started to
bleed like crazy/

 He grew afraid as he looked into two glowing eyes.  One white, the other orange.  He grew more afraid
when she hoisted him into the air with only one arm.  This shocked Leon.  That badger had to be almost
two hundred and fifty pounds.  Probably more. "Told ya," she said to him.

 In Leon's utter astonishment, Pandora tossed the dying husk aside, and it crashed into a card table
where four people sat, at least twenty feet away from her.

 A fox bouncer saw this happening and rushed the collie.  In response, she threw a glinting metal object
at him, which caught him hard in the throat.  The impact tossed him off his feet and down to the floor
where he died slowly.  A throwing star in his throat.

 Everyone decided that it was best to leave the collie alone from here on out.  People leaped out of her
way practically as she made her way to the door.  When she was gone, both Leon and Wolf were left
spell bound.  Leon went back to his seat, and gulped down the entire shot of his drink in one motion.

 "A little too dangerous to your own person to pursue romance with a person like that.  Don't you
agree?" asked Wolf.

 "On the contrary," retorted Leon.  "Danger is the spice that makes love worth pursuing.  A creature that
strong, able to lift a badger that probably weighs almost three hundred pounds, slice him in exactly the
right places so he'll bleed to death in a few minutes, and then throw him twenty feet with one arm.
Imagine what she must be like in bed."  He shook his head, and ordered another drink.  "But you're
right.  Too dangerous for us at this time.  Maybe when the war is over."

 "If she is still alive when the war is over.  If she survives the Blood Stone Raiders."

 "Something tells me that the Raiders will have to watch out for her.  Well Wolf, how about one more
and then we get the hell out of this burg and head out for Dark Star, shall we."  Leon raised his shot of
whiskey to Wolf, who raised his own mug of beer and tinked them together.

 "Sounds like a plan to me."  The two of them finished off their drinks, and then they went and got
Pigma and Andrew.  The Star Wolf team left the bar and headed out to finish a new battle ground.

****

 It was no wonder that Pandora Freelancer was a little pissed off right now.  That fat piece of scum
touched her.  And he paid for it with his life.  She walked down a spiraling flight of stairs into caves.
They were down here?  Yes.  She could sense sentient life down here.  It helped to be a Shyer in
searching for employees which belonged to a lesser race, and to defend yourself against fondling slime.

 Pandora reached the bottom of the stairs and at once was caught by the dank foulness of the caves.  No
matter.  She was used to it.  She lived in similar conditions when hiding away from authorities of the
peoples she brought pain to in her time.  This was no different.  She moved in the direction of where she
could sense the life, and soon came found a door with a fire light emanating from it.  A aroma of food
came to her nostrils which made her smile.  She had not eaten for a few days, and she was growing
rather hungry.  Pandora zipped her jacket up to prevent what happened in the tavern.

 She pushed to door open, which spun in death silence.  No creaking as she expected.  Not one of them
heard her come in.  The first thing Pandora noticed was the huge mound laying on a hay bed that was
made from a rock surface.  It was a creature of some sort, covered by a bed sheet over his head, body,
arms.  It failed to hide his legs and feet, which were hoofed.  Where his head lay were two pointed
projections which held the sheet firmly in the air.  Loud snoring could be heard from the creature.

 The next person Pandora noticed was a gray furred rat with a pair of head phones over his ears.  He
seemed to be enjoying his music.  His eyes were closed and seemed to be in a trance from what he was
listening to.  If he opened his eyes, he would have seen Pandora.

 She turned her head to a couple laying on a couch making out with one another.  One was a female
jaguar, the other was a medium sized bear.  And finally, Pandora saw a German Shepherd sitting at a
desk, not caring what was going on around him at this time.

 This was what those two told me about? Pandora thought to herself.  A band of rogues and ruffians.
Yet she knew that looks never brought a person's true air.  She was living proof of that statement.
Pandora smiled to herself and walked over to an authentic looking and beautiful vase sitting neatly on a
small table.  It looked priceless, cleanly reflecting her face back to her.  What a pity.  She tipped the vase
and it fell to the floor with a loud crash.

 The dog sitting at the desk turned at once to the noise, and saw that his property was destroyed.  His
eyes went to the collie, who was looking at him like she cared not about what she had just downed.
With a growl, the Shepherd got out of his chair and started to move towards Pandora.  The couple
making out on the couch heard this and broke away from each other.  They got up to face the intruder.
The rat was even taken by the sound, and he pulled off the headphones and just looked at Pandora with
no expression.  Only the one under the sheet remained unmoved by the noise.

 "Taurence," called the Shepherd.  He picked a pillow off a chair and threw it hard at the creature under
the sheet.  "Wake up!" he yelled.  The pillow hit the shrouded being in the head, and he sat up in a flash.

 "What?  Where?" said a deep god like voice.  A massive hand grabbed the sheet and pulled down off its
own head.  The sheet was caught on the horns and was torn as it was pulled.  The creature's face was
revealed as a bull.  The bull sighed in frustration, the torn sheet hanging on his horns like a tattered
curtain.  He gently lifted the cloth off his head and tossed the ruined sheet to a corner.

 The bull was a tower, and a diesel train powered by a jet engine.  He was well over three feet taller then
Pandora, and probably seven times her total mass.  This thing's arms were as big as younger red
woods.  His fists were as big as her chest and his horns were just as gigantic and glinted like metal.  The
bull got to his hooves and looked coldly at Pandora.

 Slowly, the Shepherd walked up and faced Pandora.  He looked down at the shattered vase and then to
Pandora again.  "I lost two good friends when I stole that," he said to her.  "I hope you have the money
to pay for it."

 "Oh, you'll get money.  That is if you heed my call to business."

 "You seek our employment.  That's fair enough.  But you're still going to have to pay for that vase.  It
was rather important to me."

 "If you work for me, then you'll be able to by a hundred vases just like that one."

 The dog's ears perked up with some keen interest.  "I'm listening."

 "One million up front right now for each and every one of you if you choose to sign on.  After your job
with me is done, you'll have enough wealth to forge your own futures.  Andross will probably ask you
to help finance his projects.  Interested?"

 "Actually yes."  The shepherd dog scratched his chin.  He looked to the other four, who all nodded in
agreement to him for this job.  His eyes went back to Pandora, who was staring at him coolly.  "All right
sweetheart.  You got yourself a deal.  Now we can introduce ourselves.  We are the Blood Stone
Raiders.  Catchy name, isn't it?  I am the leader of our group, and my name is Ravaan Carnovage.
That," he said, pointing to the mammoth bull, "is Taurence Black.  He is my second in command.  He
can beat the living hell out of any person in this system using only his little finger."

 "Can he?" said Pandora in surprise.  Could that boast be held up?

 "This ratty looking fellow here is Ash Finnis, and there is not a computer system in these worlds that he
could not hack into."

 "He's also a major geek," snickered the jaguar.  The rat looked at her coldly because of her remark.
Only the bear that was barring his way kept him seated.

 "The smart one who just spook is Emil Matriarch.  She's an ex Cornerian marine/pilot, and was once a
member of their specter program.  She's a kick ass martial artist and a good pilot as well.  And her
boyfriend there we just call Boris.  We don't know his real name and neither does he."

 "Boris is good enough for me," said the bear.

 "He's a bomb man.  He can make something explosive out of a box of liquid detergent and use detonate
it using a thumb tack.  And he's always on the look out for new kinds of bombs to unleash on our
targets.  That's all of us then.  Now, how about you tell us who you are and what you need us to do."

 "I am Pandora Freelancer.  There are many things I will acquire you to do.  Since you are signing on,
we will be together for a long while.  The first thing I must know is are any of you afraid to commit
certain acts which would bring shame to any white hat just by thinking about it?  Are you afraid to be
involved in genocide actions?"

 "We'll do anything if it means getting rich," said Taurence.  "We've killed by the hundreds before.
What difference does it make."

 "The lives we will take will probably range in the millions.  Maybe even in the billions.  Are you sure
you want to stay on?"

 "Hey, we said we would put ourselves into it, and we have.  Don't worry about where our conscience
lies.  As far as I go, I left mine twenty eight years behind me.  Pay me enough money and I'll put a
homeless girl child in a torture rack.  Anything else?"

 "Yes, but that can come later.  I would like to see your ship considering that I'll have to modify it a little
to complete my task.  That is if you have nothing against that."

 "It'll cost you," said Ravaan.  "The amount depends on what you want to do with our ship.  From the
raid we had on the Cornerian colony of Friage Prime on Zoness, Andross was pleased enough to give us
our own trio of fighters.  The new Shredder class fighters.  Only three of us can fly.  By the way.  You
seem to be dishing out a lot of cash for this.  Are you keeping any of it for yourself?"  It was here that
Ravaan realized how attractive the dual eyed collie was.  He was showing concern for her fortune.

 Pandora grinned evilly at the German Shepherd.  Her eyes flared with light, which made the five of
them jump back in awe and fear.  "Believe me.  When I complete my task, I'll be able to transmute the
rivers of blood we create into infinite amounts of power."  She grinned more deeply, and the five of
them could feel her insanity.  Ravaan liked it.

****

 As stated, a planetary atmosphere is not the only place that can hold a storm, and Fara Phoenix was
practically thundering.  She did not heed to the calls of Fox calling after her, calling her to stop or slow
down for him to catch her.  In fact, Fara picked up more speed as she moved through the corridors
towards the SunHawk launch bay.  She was beginning to feel her tears surface.

 Having had enough, Fox broke out into a whispering sprint.  He passed Fara quickly and throw his
body to bar her way.  Fara, unable to stop in time, ran into him.  Fox caught her and held her by the
shoulders.

 "Why are you doing this?" he asked angrily.

 Fara tore herself from his grip and glared at him hatefully.  "You have a lot of nerve asking me that,"
she hissed.  "Either that or you're more stupid then I thought you were.  I thought I knew you.  I guess I
don't any more."

 "What?  Is this about Allison?"

 "Allison?  What are you calling her by her first name now for any specific reasons?"

 "I would say.  I consider her a friend now.  She and I only saved each other's fur within the same
twenty minutes.  I saved her ship from being bombed back a thousand years, and she saved my life from
being incinerated by a Venomian destroyer.  I owe a lot to her, and the only thing I can give to her is
friendship.  Actually, since the fact she saved my butt is true, you should be a little nicer to her."  He
paused for a moment, caught by Fara's icy stare at him.  A stare of total anger, and her eyes narrowed.
Fox's jaw dropped.  "You think I'm in love with her.  Don't you?"

 Fara stood there, looking at him for a moment.  After some time, she slightly shook her head.  "No,"
she said quietly.  "But I know she's in love with you, and I'm angry because you don't seem to be
resisting it."  Fara turned from him in disgust and walked down the hall.  Fox saw her wipe a tear from
her eye.

 "I'm sorry," he said to her.  No response.  Fara kept walking, towards the launch bay, tears beginning
to flow more readily.  Fox lowered his head and sighed.  He had done no wrong, but he felt like a
traitor.  He started down the hall and did not try to catch up with Fara.  They would talk later.

****

 What could you do in thirty minutes while you were waiting for your captain to get herself ready to find
one man?  For one thing, Maurine put him security teams at each and every way off the ship.  There was
not a single shuttle bay, fighter bay, or launch bay that was not being patrolled by security guards.  All
of them airlocks were being guard dogged.  Maurine himself waited and observed this unfold while he
waited for his time to come.

 A half and hour after she gave the orders, Dallas exited her quarters dressed in civilian wear, and a
phaser pistol jacket holster over her shoulders.  The shirt she was wearing, tight around her showing a
knock out figure, forced Maurine to just glance down.  He'd seen it before when they were battling
Pandora.  Not as impressive as Kesh's body, but it was still a head turner.  Possibly a potential neck
breaker.  Dallas through on a leather jacket and looked at Maurine.

 "Let's go," she said.  "Stay a good distance away from me so we don't draw attention.  Also, get a free
security guard to find my father and bring him back here, and then post that guard to guard my quarters
with him in them."

 "Already done," said Maurine as he relayed the orders to one of his team.  "Captain, I already did get
one guard to look for you dad.  But they don't have a very good idea on where to look right now.  I
really doubt that we'll find him before we find this son of a bitch."

 A little worried, Dallas nodded her head.  What she was about to say would make her feel terrible, but it
was truth for her position.  "We can't worry about my father now.  He can take care of himself.  We
have to find this slime and put him down hard.  That is our number one priority."  Maurine nodded to
her.

 Dallas knew that this was going to be difficult.  She could not do it for very long because she was going
to have to sleep soon for tomorrow morning.  But this was something that could not wait.  A positive ID
on their traitor was just something to tempting to just let go.

 The two of them made their way to the general residing area for the crew, where Dallas thought their
target might be.

 "Do you know who exactly it is we're dealing with?" asked Maurine.

 "Yes.  Are you sure that this is actually are man though?"

 "Positive.  I saw his face when I looked into Kesh's mind.  He was speaking in pro Andross
propaganda.  I think we have our man, but who is he?"

 Dallas pulled her medium but high powered phaser out of her belt and checked it, making sure that her
settings were where she wanted them.  "His name is Cravix Boig.  One of the engineers around the
conventional thruster systems.  I found out that he put in for a job around the gravity core when he was
first assigned here seven days before we left Papetoon.  However, a class D rating on his report kept
him out of the loop.  He was lucky enough to get on this ship in the first place."

 "Well, that's a logical motive.  And I did see his face.  No surprise that we're dealing with another
primate here.  All of them are flocking to the bigger ape."

 "We'll make him sorry that he did."

 After a minute, Dallas and Maurine entered the general residing area for the crew.  A large bar room
complex known as The Solar Rave which the crew put together themselves.  Everyone who served on
board or who was a guest aboard was welcome to attend during their off duty hours.  All around, Dallas
could see people flocking to card tables, to the front bar for a drink, or just chatting with one another.
Not many people were dancing on the floor provided for it right now.  Old days dance music was
playing overhead.  If this Boig character was off duty right now, he'd probably be here.

 Dallas surveyed the rest of the ship.  She saw Grant and Sparky enjoying company with some other
senior officers and a small glass of synthetic whiskey along with it.  Away from them was Dr. Q'Ronnie
who was fraternizing with a female Dalmatian that looked just like he did.  This was all of her command
staff present besides herself and Maurine.  The jackal was beginning to move away to search on his
own.  Before he left, Dallas took hold of his arm.

 "If you see anything, radio in."  She placed a ear piece communicator into his palm, which he quickly
slipped on.  Dallas put one on too.  "Coming in clear?" she said into it.

 "Loud and clear," replied Maurine.  He was a good distance away, and his voice would have never
carried over the background noises.  They were working.

 "A'right Chief, get to an elevated position and keep a look out.  Try to make yourself look like you're
just doing your rounds or keeping the peace.  If you spot Boig, relay his position to me."

 "Roger."

 Dallas removed her glasses and tucked them into a pocket, trying to increase her looks.  She had to
blend in with the crowd here as best she could.  Looking official wouldn't do that right now.  One thing
that was preferred not to enter the Solar Rave was a creature in uniform.  Dallas entered the larger
crowd, pushing her way through, smiling to people and doing what she could to enjoy herself.  She saw
that the table where Grant and Sparky were sitting had an vacant chair.  The best place to wait while she
was waiting for Maurine.

 "Hey, Cap'n," greeted Grant as Dallas approached their table.  "I didn't expect that you would ever
come in here.  Take a load off."  Dallas sat down across from them and smiled at one of the people who
sat at the table.  He, a Doberman, smiled back to her.  He never heard Grant refer to her as Captain.
When Dallas looked the other way, the dog looked her over quickly.

 "Any kind of trouble here Commander?" asked Dallas.

 "None at all.  I told you that you wouldn't have to put that warning on this place.  No blood here, just
fun and free time to waste."  True, everyone was behaving themselves for the time being.  Dallas gave
the authorization to Maurine to shut this thing down if even one fight, one arrest, or even one argument
surfaced.  She was good with her word.  Maurine made rounds himself through here every day and
night, keeping the peace and making an ass in the views of those trying to enjoy themselves.

 Maurine looked out over the crowd, keeping a hawk's eye and his mind reading mind panned into the
crowd, trying to pick out anything unusual.  Anything that did not belong.  He scanned each primate
organism's mind, waiting for them.  A person always repeats their own name in their thoughts from time
to time.  It's just a fact of life, or a fact of arrogance in mortal souls.  All Maurine had to do was to run
across the name of Boig, and that would be that.

 A small movement towards the door attracted Maurine's attention.  And then a person yelling escalated
from it.  He saw a body fly, and two armed security guards, both packing heavy phaser rifles and full
body armor walked in.  No, those were not security guards.  They were marines.  Ground pounders.
Lading them was a tall

 "What the hell," said Maurine to himself.  He remembered that he ordered that no troops were allowed
in here of any kind unless they left their gear at home.  Captain Dallas herself also had her hand in it.
"Captain, we have a problem."

 "What is it?"

 "Front door.  New arrivals."

 Dallas turned in her seat, Grant and Sparky looking confused.  At once, Dallas saw the armed troopers
at the tavern door.  She stared at them coldly, got to her feet, and began to head towards them.  "I'll take
care of it," she assured.  "You keep looking for Boig."

 Dallas walked quickly to the guards.  She saw that their leader had a look of total confusion in his eyes.
She paid it no mind.  "Either you boys never learned how to read in or before boot camp or you prefer to
piss on the rules but there are no weapons allowed in here save for security on duty."  Swallow your
own words Dallas, she thought.  You are packing as well.  Dallas pulled her coat a little tighter.

 "Captain we received ward that there was a possible skirmish that would arise here which would require
armed guards to help eliminate."

 "I would have heard about that," said Dallas.  "There is no problem here.  So why don't you go back to
your bunks, get into some normal clothing and then come back and have a good..."

 "Captain," said Maurine frantically.  "I've got him."

 Dallas turned around and faced the bar, looking into the crowd.  "Where?"

 "At the bar, sitting on a stool.  Five to the left of the real big one towards the middle."  Dallas followed
it to a small creature sitting in a stool, drinking a beer and enjoying a beer.

 It was him.  Dallas knew it, right down into her heart.  This was there man.  A small chimpanzee,
probably no more then nineteen or even less, that looked like he could be broken with a small breeze.
He seemed to have a good air around him.  The people standing or sitting around him seemed to enjoy
his company.  Dallas began to walk towards the primate, trying to remain neutral in her movements.  But
her eyes were locked onto him.

 The chimp turned his head, showing eyes that were as green as hers, but seemed twice as cold and
death threatening.  The ape looked hellishly at Dallas for a moment, setting the hairs on her back on end.
Behind and to the right of her, Maurine was setting himself for a clean shot to the chimp.  This was Boig
all right, and despite the good will towards the people, it didn't take a telepath to feel his evil thoughts.
You just had to know the truth.

 Slowly, Dallas took a step towards Boig.  The ape made no motion in response save one.  He glanced
to the sitting next to him, almost between Dallas and Boig themselves.  Dallas followed her gaze to her
father.  Boig looked back towards her and cracked a manipulative grin.

 "No."

 The apes hand went inside his jacket.

 "No!"  She rushed.  Boig unsheathed a metal object and grabbed Alan Dallas around the neck, yanking
him back off his stool.  He presented the confused and angered old husky as a human shield towards
Dallas.  She yanked out her phaser and pointed it at them, trying to get to the chimp.  He was trying to
keep only his eyes uncovered from her behind Alan's body.

 "Get back!" he screamed out, over and over again at them people.  A roared at and almost bit a female
officer as she got too close.  All of them stepped away from him.

 Across the room, Maurine saw this skirmish unfold and immediately drew his large double barreled
blaster and aimed it at the traitor.  He had even less success then a clear shot then Dallas did.  The
marines too drew their weapons, and Boig had two heavy hitting phaser rifles.  The only problem was
that they had to go through Father Dallas to get to him.  Grant and Sparky, who was especially angry at
seeing this happen to his old friend, were trying to look for a non costly way to get to both Alan and his
captor.  Boig saw both of them.

 "Oh, please do so Commander," warned the ape.  "Nothing would make me happier then for one of you
to try and rush me.  C'mon do it."

 Dallas raised her gun a little, trying to see an open spot.  "Don't do this.  You've got no where else to
go.  Surrender now."  She saw her father squint in slight pain.  "Come on, you've got no where else to
go!"

 "I do as long as I got this!"  Boig pulled a silver trigger device out from where he was hiding it.  "Let's
see, what does this thing do?  Oh yes.  One explosive device Captain.  I've posted it right underneath the
gravity core.  That should set a disruption big enough to create a new black hole right in the middle of
the star system.  One that is big enough to swallow Cornerian itself in about seven hundred years.  I
think that it won't matter though since the resulting blast from the core destruction will turn every planet
we have into a puke ridden toilet hole.  I let loose this trigger and the last thing anyone on this ship sees
is a bright shining light.  So go ahead and make a move.  I got nothing else to lose."

 Dallas growled with anger, knowing that he was probably bluffing.  However, it was too risky as long
as he held her father.  What if he wasn't bluffing though.  It was too risky.  She took a slow step
forward.

 "Your black wolf friend and the rest of your crew screwed over my ploys to control your science
whore, so I thought a little freelance terrorism would be the next best thing.  Let's ask Dad, shall we?
Do you think your little girl is willing to kill herself or let you die to save her ship and everyone else
around it.  What do you think captain.  I take out this ship with the bomb, I wipe out this entire fleet
along with Star Fox.  Andross will love that.  How about you daddio?  Tell me what you think."

 Alan got a big grin over his face.  "I'll tell you what I think," he spat.  "I think that no one takes me
hostage without getting at least thirty pain fillers themselves."  The old dog raised his arm and thrust his
elbow into the chimps middle.

 He let go immediately and Alan turned around and decked him, hard, right on the nose bridge.  Boig
was knocked backward and he hit his head on the deck.  It did shake him a little, but he did keep
consciousness.  Slowly he began to rise.  The trigger in his hand was still depressed.  He went into his
jacket again.

 "See," said Alan Dallas as he walked away from the chimp arrogantly.  "Nothing to it.  You just..."

 "Captain!  Watch out!" yelled someone nearbye.

 Alan turned his head in time to see Boig raise small phaser and aim it at his daughter.  Not thinking, he
stepped to the side and blocked the way from Allison to the ape just as the trigger was pulled.  The laser
struck Alan between and below the shoulder blades.  The impact broke his body, bending it like a read
under a storm.  Dallas screamed as she saw her father begin to fall and she rushed forward to him before
he fell to his knees.

 Boig tried to get up again to fire at Captain Dallas herself.  He was stopped by a laser blast from across
the room.  Maurine depressed the trigger on his magnum sized phaser.  To clean strait beams shot out
and tore into the ape's knee.  His leg was blown off.

 Boig screamed, horribly and panic stricken as he watched his bloody leg slump out from underneath
him.  He was filled with such shock, he let the trigger device loose.  The room silenced when the saw
the metal object fall and clatter on the floor.  They all thought they were going to die.  Nothing
happened.  He was bluffing.

 Still not willing to be defeated, the ape raised his gun and shot at one of the security guards as he
reached for another hostage.  This time a young white cat.  "Guess what pall," said Boig.  "You're are
my designated legs.  Now move."  Reluctantly, the cat carried the crippled chimpanzee out of the area
and into the corridors.

 "No," whined Dallas, knelt down and her father's head in her hands.  "Father!"  Q'Ronnie rushed over
and knelt down beside them, calling for a medical team, stat.  Dallas took off her jacket and laid it under
her father's head.  Alan was unable to speak with all the blood in his mouth, but Dallas kept talking.
She never stopped talking to him.

 The medical team rushed into the area and down to the old husky.  Dallas was forced back away from
her father as they swarmed around him.  Dallas looked at her father, and then to the medallion he wore,
covered in his own blood.  Her own blood, after seeing this, began to rage.

 She rushed over to one of the armed guards.  "Give me that rifle," she growled as she tore it from his
paws.  He saw the rage in her eyes and stepped back.

 "Yes ma'am."
 
 
 

Chapter VI
The Reckoning, The Loss

 The medics lead by Q'Ronnie pushed the cart with Alan Dallas on it through the halls like it was a race.
It was a race.  A race for a man's life.  Beside him, all along the way was Sparky, friends staying with
friends.  An air tube was shoved down his throat through the blood, at least giving him some air.  His
back lay on two tons of padding, all of which absorbed the blood of his wound.

 "Hold on old friend," said Sparky.  "We're almost to medical and there you'll be home free."

 Alan would have smiled had his air hose wouldn't of hurt him if he did.  Even though it sound pleasant,
he pretended not to hear.  Rest.  Only rest.

****

 The young cat was frightened.  The chimp was starting to become delirious with the loss of blood out of
his stub leg.  He kept the phaser muzzle dug into his neck very hard.  The cat was now dragging the ape
though, and he was becoming more silent with every step with the constant babbling about nothing.  The
cat made his move.

 He grabbed the gun hand and pulled it away from his neck, and then turned around and slashed with his
claws.  A few small scratches were put into Boig's shoulder, but they only stunned him.  He saw the cat
run away from him, and he fired at him.  But Boig could hit nothing he was so lost.  He only laughed at
his misfortune, as he always did.  He did it when he found he lost control over Kesh as well.

 At least they got to the airlock, and Boig smiled as he approached the sealed hatch to the outside
vacuum.  He looked through the door, expecting to see a ship.  There was a ship seen, but it was over a
thousand kilometers away.  Everything else was stars.

 Boig beat his fist in anger, nothing going right for him.  Maybe the next one would be more lucky.  He
started to hop down the hall.

 "That was my father you worthless piece of scum."  Boig looked up at the spiteful and hating voice.
Captain Dallas stood their, the rifle in her shoulder and pointed at his eye.  The targeting laser was
hurting it, causing him to turn away.  Soon, the light died, and Boig looked to see Dallas slowly lower
her gun.  The laser target rested on his surviving knee.

 "This is for Kesh," she hissed.  She pulled the trigger, and crippled his good leg.  The ape screamed
and fell to the deck, holding his bleeding leg.  Dallas walked forward and kicked the ape hard in the jaw,
knocking him back and bouncing his skull off the floor panel.  "That was for my ship."

 Finally, she reached down and grabbed a wad of shirt, and yanked him to his only but broken leg.
Dallas, while holding him, reached over and opened the air lock inner hatch.  The tired out ape noticed it
and started to breath heavily.  Dallas threw him inside like a rag doll.

 "This is for my father...and for me."  She shut the door.  As Dallas input the codes for her move, she
swore to herself that she would never regret doing this like she did on the Illuminauti.  This monster
murdered her father.  Family.  And she would not lose sleep over justice.  The last time was not justice.
She hit the key, and looked out the window into the air lock.

 The pressure slowly built up, and soon the primate was beginning to writhe in pain.  She shut her eyes
to his pain, not willing to look anymore.  She did not open them again until a sound blared out.  When
she did, only stars were seen.  And more blood on the outer edge of the door to space.  A small piece of
uniform cloth floated freely on its own just outside the door.  It bore that patch logo of the Venomian
Force.

****

 It was just one of those times that all a person could do...was wait.  And wait they did, all of them.
Grant, Sparky, Maurine, and Conner all stood in the room and waited for word.  Sparky sat next to the
door, always checking it, looking at it.  Every half minute he would just glance at it or even rear his head
quickly just to see nothing.

 Conner sat across from the door, his head bowed in prayer for the old husky.  Everyone else just
waited, sitting and being quiet, thinking about what ever they could to pass up the nerve biting wait.
Kite walked in and looked to the door.

 "No word?"

 "No word," returned Grant.  "Not a even a peep from inside."

 "How long has it been?"

 "Ten minutes."

 The door opened, and Q'Ronnie looked up at his shipmates, a look of sadness and defeat in his eyes.
When he saw this look, Sparky lowered his head in dismay.  It was like all hope of the universe was
stripped from him.  Conner shook his head sadly, keeping his eyes closed and refusing to look up.

 Dallas rushed in at that moment, and all eyes went to her.  She paid no mind to Q'Ronnie's and
Sparky's look of hopelessness, but she did notice the many stains of blood on the good doctor's clothes
and hands.  Pleadingly, she looked at the Dalmatian physician and asked the question he did not want to
answer without even speaking.  He shook his head, and Allison started to tear.

 "The laser split his spinal cord, and disrupted the tissue of his main artery.  Even if we could have
gotten him here before he bled too much too save, he would have been forever paralyzed.  He'll...he'll
be gone within the hour.  I'm sorry."

 Allison was crushed.  Tears falling down her face like a river blurred her vision.  She staggered and fell
towards Maurine, who stood up quickly and caught her before she fell.  Everyone stood up to help their
captain, but she motioned them away from her.  After a few minutes of being supported by Maurine,
who himself almost started to weep from feeling Dallas's grief in his mind, she stood up strait and
looked at Q'Ronnie.

 "Can I see him?" she asked in a hoarse and quiet voice.

 Q'Ronnie did not answer at first.  "Of course.  You are his daughter, and maybe he should be with his
child for the last moment."  Dallas ignored him and went to the door, opened it, and walked in.  She
never even glanced at a single person as she went in.

 Conner finished his prayer and looked up, his eyes with tears in them as well.  There was something
special about those tears which everyone saw.  They sparkled unnaturally.  Like jewels of water, that
had an aura.  The tears of the Shyer.

 "Why do you cry?" asked Maurine.

 The dark wolf sighed as he glanced at the jackal.  Seeing a pair of glowing eyes made him shutter a bit.
"Allison Dallas is my friend.  I weep for the loss of her family, for they are my friend to.  They are one
in themselves, they always have been and they always will be.  Even when they are just one."

 Dallas opened the door slowly and peered in.  She did not know why she made such nervous
movements.  She was not expecting anything special to happen, and she did not want it either except if it
was a miracle.  She looked in and saw her father lying on a operating table with a blanket over him.
Quickly she walked to his side and bent down close to his ear.

 "Hey," she whispered.  "I'm here."

 He opened his eyes, one of them was bloodshot, and the other just tired looking.  Worn out.  "Ally?  Is
that you?"

 "It's me...Pubba."

 The old husky smiled warmly.  "You have not called me that in seventeen years.  It does an old man in
his last moments good to hear that."  His face went to a frown of concern as he started to look around in
a search.  "I can't see you Ally.  Where are you?  I can't find you."

 "I'm right here Papa, I'm right here," she said quickly.  Allison took her father's hand in her own, and
at once he started to calm.  "I'm here.  I'll always be here."  She squeezed the paw she held tightly.  She
almost believe she could contain his soul by doing it, for she refused to let go.  "Oh, Papa, why?  Why
aren't you fighting this?  I've seen you live through heart attacks and broken bones worse then this.
Why don't you fight?"

 He waited for a while to answer.  "I'm tired of fighting Ally.  I've fought all my life for everything I
ever loved.  A lot of it was for nothing.  I had to fight to win your mother's heart.  She was so cold
when I first met her.  Like an ice cycle.  But it was worth it, and you're the reason why.  Ally you're the
only part of my being that proves I'm not a total failure.  The only thing I was good at in this life...was
being your father."

 "There is no other," she said to him.  "You are.  Oh, God, Papa.  I don't know what to do if you leave
me."

 "Live," he whispered.  "Just live on.  Find someone to live with, for life's not worth living if you have
to live it alone.  The greatest joy of my life was watching you grow up.  It's all I ever wanted in life.
Now that is done, and so is my purpose here."

 "No," whispered Allison.  "No, who will help guide me.  I need you Papa.  I can't go on without you.
I can't move on without knowing that you are at home, keeping it warm for yourself.  I don't want to be
alone."

 "You won't be alone.  You have the best damn crew here to keep you company.  Sparky.  The brightest
spirit I know to date is that Conner fellow.  You don't need me anymore Ally.  But as long as you
believe, and as long as you keep your eyes to the future, I will always be here."

 Allison, never letting go of her father's paw, laid her head down on his chest.  His soft and slow beat of
his heart came to her ears, and warmed her.  Using the last of his breath, Alan began to sing.  It was an
old army song, and Allison knew it well.  Something to boost the moral of troops who's spirits were in
the gutter.  Each and every word brought a small amount of hope to Allison, and every tear was what
cost her.  Slowly, the heart beat began to decrease, going lower and lower with every shallow rise of his
chest.

 In a dark corner, Conner watched in the shadows as Allison kept her head on her father's slowly
sinking chest.  From here, he could hear the weak beating of Alan's heart, and it was growing ever
weaker by the moment.  He quietly ducked around the corner and bowed his head for another prayer.  A
silent one to honor a departing spirit of a friend's lost family tie, but the forging of a new and more
powerful one.

 The old man's music stopped...

 The soft thump of the heart stopped...

 "Papa?" he heard her say.  There was no answer.  Conner kept the prayer going, even though grief was
trying to stop him.  "Papa?" she said more loudly.  "Papa?  No, Papa.  No!"  She opened crying, and
she never stopped.  Conner so much wanted to go out there and take her in his arms to give comfort.
But to intrude on this would be to give disrespect.  He stayed put, and kept chanting in prayer.  As he
chanted, he could hear the old husky's voice upon the breeze of a rising soul.

 We will always be here.......
 
 
 

Chapter VII
New Grounds

"They do not die for us.  We die so they can go on.  A father or mother who let's their children die
without action from them are no parents at all.  They are our legacy, our keys to a brighter or darker
future.  We will live for them, and we will die for them."
The Epitaph of Alan Dallas
 

 She felt so much like a rat now she could almost puke.  Fara Phoenix heard about what had happened,
and she was already on her way.  The door was closed and locked when she came to it, no sound from
within.  Not even a tint of light from underneath it.  Fara reached her hand towards the announcement
pad, preparing to push it.  Her hand retracted for a moment, and then she went on and pushed the key.

 After a minute and another push, a voice from the inside welcomed her in.  Fara entered a darkened void
of a room.  She tried to be careful not to trip over anything, so she only took a few steps inside.  The
door closed behind her, and she was engulfed in darkness.  "Hello," she said.

 "Lights.  Twenty percent."  A dim light rose and illuminated the room enough for Dallas to see her
visitor.  She smiled at Fara Phoenix and went back to just staring at the golden medal she held in her
paw.

 Fara cleared her throat before she spoke.  "I've come to apologize about the way I acted yesterday.  It
was uncalled for, and I am sorry.  I was jealous at how friendly Fox was to you, in knowing that you
are in love with him.  You are, aren't you."

 Dallas slowly nodded.  "It will die, soon enough.  I learn to get over what I cannot have."  She looked
up at the vixen.  "You belong together.  So I'll leave it alone.  If you don't mind though, I would like to
remain as his friend, and yours too."

 "Of course.  I've also come to give my condolences on what happened.  I...I couldn't live if I lost my
father.  I feel I would have to go with him, or he would lose his way."

 Dallas shook her head.  "I once thought that, that I could not go on without Papa.  But he died so I, his
children, could go on living.  It's what he believed.  A parent should always go before their child.  He
would have died if it meant saving my life.  He did die so that I might live."

 "You miss him."  Dallas looked at her like she looked at a reporter who asked the obvious.  "You're
right, stupid question.  Well, you asked me to be here at six.  It's five thirty.  I told you I'd be here, so I
am ready.  Whenever you're ready too, my friend."

 Allison smiled at her.  "I got no sleep during the night.  But that doesn't matter."  She set her father's
medallion on a glass coffee table and got to her feet.  "We have work to do.  I'll be on your wing to help
you out personally while you train on KitHawk.  It's what friends are for.  But first, we have something
to do."

****

 Fara followed Allison into the SunHawk bridge where all of her crew and all the rest of Star Fox were
waiting.  When she entered, Fox gave her his condolences on the death of her father.  She thanked him
for that and moved on down to her chair.

 "Open a line to the fleet," she ordered.

 "Aye, Captain."  The communicator got an open channel to all the ships in the fleet.  "You're on,
Skipper."

 Dallas stood tall her feet and looked directly at the view screen.  All of her own crew started to grow in
close behind her.

 "Attention all ships," she began.  "We are all here now.  We have six, seven vessels in this task force,
and I know that we are all ready for this fight that's coming up.  But we will move forward in three days
from now, midnight on the button.  I suggest we use that time to prepare for what's ahead.  Keep
yourselves on your toes, keep a clear eye, and above all else keep an open mind.

 "This is the first big offensive of the Cornerian military.  For far too long we have been on the receiving
end of this war, and now it is time to utilize our own war machine and kick hell out of our enemies from
here all the way back to Andross' main base on Venom.  The way ahead will not be easy, and I will not
give any promises that all ships in this task force will be going home after its over.  Nor will I guarantee
that we'll be victorious at all.  To do so will issue a false sense of security, and we have evolved beyond
the need to lie to one another about our jobs ahead.

 "However, if we pool our talents together, sew our forces into one collective unit, and keep our faith
and our wills strong, then we will demolish that station back to a time where our ancestors were only
microbes and proteins.  We've come too far to give up now.  Surrender is no longer an option, and
defeat is one we can't live with either.  I wish that a peaceful settlement to this war was viable, but it is
not.  The only one that will keep us surviving is victory.  If we take this station down, then the supply
lines to Venomian invasion forces will be crippled, and the enemy forces of this sector will be made
blind.  It will be a massive step towards the victory which we want.  Which we need.  Three days we
move out, and in three days, our time will be their worst nightmare.

 :"Let's do this one...for our fathers."

To be Continued
 

Next: Assault Fire
The time for battle has come, and the SunHawk's greatest test is at hand.  With Star Fox and one
Cornerian task force at her command, Captain Dallas will lead them against the Dark Star station, and
with a little hope, destroy it.  However, people around her will start to wonder about her cold heart in
matters of war.
 

Star Fox is the property of Nintendo Inc. and has been used without consent.  The ship and crew of the
CSS SunHawk, Pandora Freelancer, Alan Dallas, the Blood Stone Raiders, Vigdis the cat, Cravix Boig,
and Benton Durango are my characters and can not be used without my consent.  True, a lot of these
characters are now dead, but I still require that you contact me should you decide to right about them at
all.  If you want to include them in your stories, send me an e-mail asking for it and I'll most probably
give you consent.  Thanks.