Shadows Cast In The Darkness
The First Story Of The Fulva Assault Team
by Cyberwulfe

"It was just so fitting, that I should name the squadron after the scientific name given to foxes: vulpes fulva. After all, I am a fox!"

Wes ripped the shades off his face and tried to get a better view of the oncoming attack force. He had always flown with them on, not only to look cool, but to help him see better. Sometimes, a pilot may be blinded by the bright flash of an explosion, and Wes knew that too well.

His brother had been killed when, during a space battle a few years ago, an explosion blinded him causing his ship to crash into a nearby cruiser. Wes promised himself that it would never happen to him.

The Venomian forces, once led by the evil Emperor Andross, were mounting a major assault on Corneria. After the Star Fox team had destroyed most of Andross' forces and killed the Emperor himself, the remaining ships had somehow mobilized, developed a hyperdrive engine for their ships, and were now flying down towards them.

Wes was both glad and disappointed not to have been sent out in the first wave. Most of the ships had been destroyed upon interception. He now led his group of six Arwings against the oncoming Venom fleet. The skies were erupting with explosions as laser fire was exchanged. In space above the planet, the scene was pretty much the same. Both sides were accumulating heavy losses, but the Cornerians managed to stay ahead, barely.

"Okay guys, remember what we're up against!" he said, trying to act as calm as possible.

"Cut the crap boss!" replied his left wing man, Jesse, a cocky bobcat.

"Yeah! Let's get after those monkeys!" added Freize, a mongoose.

Wes admired and respected the skills of his team. They had saved him many times, and he them. But now he was worried for their safety. The way he saw the fighting going on, he thought that ordering them to engage was like signing their death warrants. Then his fourth wing man spoke up," C'mon Wes. I'm right here with you!"

It was Nikki.She and Wes had had a relationship almost as long as Wes had been put in charge of the squadron. She was also an Arctic Fox, and they both shared similar experiences. Both from the same planet, they had been abducted from their school and brought to a secret base. After being held prisoner for three months, they were moved to an "Academy" and taught to kill and fight, as well as pilot jets.

Wes and thirteen others managed to escape, while others were put through their captor's mind control, being forced to hate through carefully programmed implants. Nikki was a good pilot, but Wes often wasn't in charge of the flight roster, and she was often placed in the last spaces of the flight group. True, Jesse and Frieze were both better pilots, but he also wanted to keep a close eye on her.

"Alright group," he said finally," Let's get 'em!"

"Yee-haa!" shouted Clyde, an iguana," Time to burn some bogeys!!"

The flight group split into it's familiar groups; three of two. One group would take the left flank, another the right, and the last group, led by Wes, would go straight through the middle. Several enemy ships exploded as they cut through the waves of oncoming fighters.

The brown painted, roughly saucer shaped fighters with a pair of vertical wings mounted on the back of the fuselage were obviously no match for the superior Arwing fighter, but their sheer numbers alone were able to ensure them victory. But the fact that they lacked deflector shields, and could be destroyed after two shots, also ensured the victory of the Cornerians. Which was why the ratio of Cornerian/Venomian ships was almost 5:3.

Wes was nailing multiple kills. The fighters were so dense that if he pointed his ship in any direction and fired he was sure to down something, but that also meant risking one of his fellow pilots as well. He saw Jesse fly past him with a bogey in his sights, but not for long. Soon it was merely another flash of bright red and orange. Wes remembered his shades and slid them back over his ears and down onto his nose.

In another half hour, most of the Venom fleet had been dealt with. Some had even tried to escape, but were picked off by flak guns or anti-aircraft laser turrets. The fighting had moved from the upper stratosphere to almost ground zero. Wes had chased a fighter to the deck, and nearly crashed his fighter in the process. His tactical display showed multiple targets, and his digital counter told him that there were still 167 fighters remaining.

His group was doing well, considering that they had lost one jet. Clyde had found himself with a dozen fighters on his six, and Wes had to watch as his jet was sent flaming towards Corneria. He was relieved to see a white silk parachute open and slowly float towards the ground.

Then something on the ground caught his eye. It was a tank, and its barrel was targeting him. Wes dived just barely in time to avoid the blast that would have surely shot him down. He pressed a few buttons to reset his counter and programmed his tactical display to read tanks as well as any other enemy craft. The new number came within seconds: 248. Wes sighed and turned his ship back to the main part of the fighting.

"Fulva Squadron, there are enemy tanks approaching. Disengage and attack them," ordered Wes.

"I copy!" came Jesse's reply.

"I'm on 'em!" said Chinook, a Malamute and the sixth member of the group.

The team turned from the dogfighting and began attacking the tanks. Luckily, the enemy fighters were too busy with the other Cornerian fighters to notice the four ships leaving the fray. Wes flew past the rest of the group to pick off any bogeys that might have followed, then joined the others.

He spotted the tank that had targeted him, which was easy to recognize from a large black blast mark on the left side. Wes locked his lasers on the tank and let loose a powerful energy burst. The burst tracked the tank and crashed into the side of it. The tank exploded, spreading debris everywhere. Wes grinned and looked at the progress of the rest of the team. Chinook was in the process of strafing another tank, Nikki was coming around for another attack run, and the other two were doing fairly well.

Then he felt his ship shake. The tanks must have called for reinforcements. Wes looked in his rear sensor scope monitor to see a dozen or so Venom fighters coming his way.

"Jesse, Chinook. We've got fighters coming in. Come with me!" called Wes.

"I copy," said Chinook.

"I'm right with ya boss!" replied Jesse.

The three Arwings grouped and flew to intercept the oncoming fighters. Barrel-rolling to try to deflect as many laser shots as possible, they succeeded in shooting down five ships before the encounter turned into another melee. Wes was a good pilot, but only because his tactic was to do anything to get the opponent into his sights. He would bank his ship left or right and pull back on the stick. After following the horizon he would eventually come across his target and fire. This tactic also worked in space skirmishes, but there was no horizon to follow.

Wes glanced in his rear view monitor and saw three fighters coming up behind him. He did a somersault and ended up on their tails. He fired, sending the bogeys flaming toward the deck.

"I've got a problem here!" shouted Chinook.

"I'm on the way," said Jesse.

Jesse's fighter flew towards the two fighters that were pounding on Chinook's rear shields. With pinpoint accuracy, learned by shooting laser pistols at trees while riding full speed on a hoverbike, Jesse shot the two bogeys out from under Chinook.

"Thanks Jess, I owe you one," said Chinook.

Jesse tipped his wing as he passed Chinook.

The group of assault tanks were now just a field full of wreckage and potholes. Smoke poured out of the charred metal shells that were once Venomian weapons of war. Wes had never liked wars very much. His only joy in life was flying, and he took every chance he got. Flying in the squadron was one of his most memorable experiences. After joining the Cornerian Air Force and eventually working his way up to Captain, he was put in charge of his own squadron, and allowed to choose the pilots as well as the squardon's name.

They were the special elite force of the Royal House of Corneria, charged with being the personal protectors of the two rulers of Corneria, King Peter and Queen Rose. The King had been assassinated a few months before Andross attacked once more and now their son, Prince Alexander, was waiting to be proclaimed King. But he needed to wait another four months until his eighteenth birthday.

Many had blamed them for the King's death, but they were in charge of protecting him from any type of aerial attack, and could do nothing about a person on foot. That was the job of the King's Royal Guards. They too had been blamed. But that was over now. There were more important things to worry about now.

The bogeys had thinned out now. Of course there was fighting going on all over the area, up to ten kilometers away, as well as in space. They had been descimated in space, with Husky and Bulldog Units from Katina fighting against them, as well as the Star Fox team's ship, the massive space cruiser Great Fox. The Great Fox had taken a severe beating and had lost one of its wings in the battle, but it was holding steady.

Wes checked his counter again. It had dropped dramatically to 137. Then he remembered his friendly status monitor. It read 344. They were ahead by many. Wes grinned, OK. All I need to do is stay alive for the next half-hour or so, he thought. The skies in this sector were clear. They closed up formation and Wes radioed HQ for instructions," Where do they need us the most?" he asked.

"Return to the palace. We've got tanks moving through New Dunkirk," replied the communications officer.

"Copy that. Okay guys lets get back and do our duty!" said Wes.

The five fighters set their ships on course for their home base; New Dunkirk, a mere six kilometers away.

Once they reached New Dunkirk, the tanks had already destroyed much of the great city. They also ran into some fighters," Control never told us they had air support!" said Wes.

"They must've just flown in," said Chinook.

"Either way they're toast!" said Jesse, cocky as always.

They came in to attack, as one group this time. The tanks were protected by a mere eight fighters, which were no match against the five superior ships. The tanks were of a different class than the others the team had encountered. They were larger, more heavily armed, and their armour could withstand two or even three power lock blasts.

"Use your Nova Bombs, but wisely," said Wes," As in only on undamaged targets."

"You got it boss!" said Jesse.

Sure there was the chance that the Bombs would destroy some of the nearby buildings, but most of them were in pretty bad shape anyway. The tanks were going down, slowly, but they were definitely being eliminated. There were only six left.

They were now in range of the palace. The tanks began their barrage. Pieces of the palace fell as the shells and powerful heavy laser blasts impacted.

"We've gotta stop them now!" shouted Wes.

He strafed a group of them, firing rapidly. He destroyed one, and damaged another. The third tank aimed at him and fired. The blast barely skimmed the edge of Wes' wing.

"Ground attack pattern Beta! Go now!" ordered Wes.

The five fighters moved into attack formation. They were now a single line, made up of five jets. Led by Wes, the `line' made one strafing run against the group of tanks. Blast after blast crashed against the heavily armoured tanks. Then finally, as Chinook was bringing up the rear, the last tanks exploded.

"Alright! We did it!" shouted Chinook.

"I saw, good shooting everyone!" said Wes.

The group began to circle the area, protecting the palace from any more attacks. But there were no more. The battle ended a few minutes later. As the last ships retreated into hyperspace, cheering could be heard on all channels. The Cornerians had won.

There was a price though. 268 fighters down, 27 cruisers destroyed, 157 pilots killed, as well as civilian casualties. Clyde was okay. He had survived the encounter with no more than a few bruises when he hit the ground. He met the others in the palace's main hanger.

"Hey guys! I heard you really kicked butt out there!" he said.

"Yeah, it was crazy!" said Chinook. He was sitting next to his ship, trying to `massage' the battle scars from her shining hull.

"I'm sorry you got shot down, Clyde," said Jesse," But I nailed a few for ya!"

"Thanks Jess."

Wes noticed how disappointed Clyde was. He was usually very timid while flying, but now his planet was under attack and he felt the need to protect it. He often referred to it as his planet because he had nothing in his life other than Corneria. He had been found in a hidden bunker in the middle of a jungle on the east continent of Ambrosia. After that he had lived in a foster home until he was old enough to join the Air Force.

Wes had known Clyde for a long time, which was why he had chosen him. Wes had three very skilled pilots on the team, himself, Jesse, and Frieze. Nikki and Chinook were good pilots, who often thought before they attacked, and then there was Clyde. He followed orders to the letter. He was trustworthy, loyal, and often took up the job of breaking up the few minor fights that had erupted between some of the team members.

After the awards ceremony, the pilots from the battle had been given a week of vacation. The various restaurants and bars were filled, and money and alcohol was exchanged hundreds of times over. Fulva Squadron had gathered in one particular establishment; the Turn And Burn Pub.

Wes and the others joked about their kills and flashed their medals around. Wes had been awarded "Flight Commander of the Year" by General Pepper and was now shouting very loudly," I'm the best darn pilot in all of Corneria!"

"Don't get your hopes up! That's the beer talking!" said Nikki.

She hated when Wes got like this.

"Forget Corneria, I'm the best pilot in the entire Lylat system!"

Wes jumped up onto the table and began to dance, the whole time chanting," I'm the best! I'm the best!"

Nikki rolled her eyes.

"Hey idiot! Why don't you just take your clothes off!!" shouted Jesse.

Wes stopped and looked down at his team. They were all looking up at him, except for Chinook, who was looking at a female husky at another table.

"Well... I just might!" joked Wes.

"Don't you dare!" said Nikki," I swear I'll never speak to you again!"

She got up from the table, leaving some money behind.

"Aw, come on Nyk!" called Wes, but she was already out the door.

"You sure are a ladies man, aren't you Wes?" commented Clyde.

Wes glared back at him. He knew Clyde was harmless, but felt hurt by the remark. Still, he climbed down from the table and took his place next to Nikki's now empty chair.

"Oh I forgot to tell you guys," said Frieze after she finished another sip," Guess who else we lost in the fight?"

"Who," asked Chinook, his attention drawn back to the conversation.

"Wulfe Litefoot."

"The Wulfe Litefoot?" gasped Jesse.

"You mean that mercenary pilot guy?" asked Wes.

"Yep, that's the one. He got nailed on the ground by a fighter. The debris from an explosion damaged his eyes so badly that he's totally blind. No more flying for him."

"Too bad. I heard he was really good too," said Jesse.

"He was here the first time Lylat was liberated from Venom."

Wes looked shocked," But that was eight years ago. The guy's gotta be a geezer!"

"Nope. He's only twenty-four."

"You mean he saved Lylat when he was only sixteen!" gasped Wes.

Frieze just nodded and took another sip of her drink.

"Man, if only I could do something like that!"

"You can't even keep your girlfriend," said Jesse.

"Nikki's just a little upset. I'll go see her tomorrow," said Wes.

"Make sure you're sober," said Clyde.

"Yeah, and over your hangover," added Chinook.

Wes looked at the four pairs of eyes watching him. Their bright grins flashed in the dim light as they quietly laughed to themselves.

"Alright," said Wes, fed up of being the fuel for their jokes," I'm going to bed right now!"

"Alone I hope," said Jesse, not able to resist the final stab.

"Oh, that'll help his chances between him and Nikki," poked Frieze.

Wes just turned and left. A loud shout turned his attention toward another corner of the bar where a fight had started. He just kept walking, past the bar, out the door, and down the street.

The next day, Wes woke up with the sun in his eyes. He was tired and wasted from the previous night. He checked the clock. It read 11:23. He had slept in, but it felt so good. He usually had to wake up at 7:30 and report for duty at the palace. But all the pilots had been given a week of vacation, and that included the Royal Air Defense Squadron.

He got up and decided to take a cold shower to help wake himself up. It didn't help at all. He collapsed on his couch and reach for the remote for his holo-viewer. The screen flickered then finally developed into an image. The sound came a few seconds later," ... and heroes such as Fox McCloud, Wulfe Litefoot, and Wes Odgen were honoured yesterday as the saviors of Corneria. After surviving the deadly onslaught of Venomian fighters, the Cornerian Army Air Force has suffered many losses, but continues to be the dominant power in the Lylat system."

Wes switched the viewer off. He was full of himself last night, but now he had had his fill. He groggily got up and walked to his room. He went to his closet and began to sort through the many casual clothes he had. Today was his first day off, and he wanted to get out of his flight suit for a change.

You don't get many days off when you're the protector of the Royal House, and Wes was lucky to even have a week. But now he had one. Nothing but a full week of late nights and sleeping in. Just as he was removing his shirt, the doorbell rang. He walked over to the door and opened it. It was Nikki.

"Hi," she said.

"Uh, hi," said Wes.

"Can I come in?"


Wes stepped back to allow Nikki to pass by. She walked as far as the couch and then turned around," You really embarrassed me last night. I felt ashamed to have known you."

"Aw, come on Nyk. You know how I am. I get excited and lose control of myself. I'm sorry."

"I accept that you're like that when flying. It adds the edge to your skill as a pilot. But when you're with me in public I don't like it. In fact I hate it. I hate this whole stupid job we have. The protectors of the Royal House. Protect from what!?"

"What about yesterday?" asked Wes.

"What about the past three years!?"

Wes looked at the floor. He stepped back and closed the door, then walked over and put his arm around Nikki who had begun to cry. She hugged him back.

"I'm just so scared. After yesterday, I thought we'd all be killed! The pilot death toll could have been 163, that's six more. Plus, did you hear about Wulfe?"

Wes nodded.

"Even worse, we could have ended up like him," she sobbed.

"But we didn't. And you know why? Because we're friends. We're a team. And we'll always be together."

Wes leaned down and kissed her.

The two figures leaned closer towards the table, trying to read the letter in the dim light. They were assassins, the same pair that had killed the King of Corneria. They had been hired by an anonymous person to come to the palace through a secret entrance and meet him there. What they found was a piece of paper lying on a small wooden table.

The leader, and larger of the two, had grabbed it first and was now making out the quickly handwritten letter.

I have another job for you. Before the prince turns eighteen you are to kill him. I have arranged for him to be on a tour of the Royal Air Defense Squadron's hangers in exactly one month, thirteen days. You are to conceal yourselves in the hanger while the prince is being led on the tour. When he is dead, the people of Corneria will blame both his body guards. As for his personal flight squadron, I want them dead. I have complete faith in your abilities, gentlemen. Don't disappoint me. More information will follow.

The smaller one straightened, licking his lips," Let's get ready!"

The week was almost half over. Chinook wished he had more time to just lay around but he would have to go back to work in a few more days. He was laying on his side watching the holo-viewer. His tail was laid out straight instead of curled in the usual `C' against his back. It flicked at certain points during the program, either through excitement or surprise. Chinook loved to watch sci-fi movies, and there was a special marathon on this afternoon.

He was in the middle of the third episode of The Planet of the Brains when the doorbell rang. He almost jumped in the air. He rolled off the couch and grabbed his pants. The doorbell rang again.

"Coming!" he called out.

He pulled a shirt over his head and then answered the door. It was Frieze.

"Hey, what's up?" asked Chinook.

"Nothing much," said Frieze," Wanna go hang around the mall?"

Chinook thought for a moment. He glanced back at the screen. The giant mutant brain was about to jump off a cliff to smother the inhabitants of a small village.

"Uh... sure!"

Jesse reached over to his desk and dipped the tiny brush into the jar of paint. He leaned back towards his model of a small Arwing and began to apply small detail lines to the ship. The ship, painted grey, now had a thin line of gold running down each side of the fuselage. After cleaning the brush he closed the lid on the jar and grabbed the plastic cement. Carefully applying a thin line of glue to the wing, he put the cap back on the tube and attached the wing to the fuselage. It stuck.

He stood up and cracked his back. He had been working on it for nearly three hours now. He then looked up at the many more models hanging from his ceiling. He looked at the pair of small hooks remaining among the tangle of strings. He only had two more spaces. He'd have to stop soon, either that or start adding the landing gear and setting them on shelves. But he thought that was degrading for ships, even models. They preferred to be in the air.

He'd also done many other models including old cars, trucks, tanks, as well as a model of the anatomy of some strange beast from Solar. He loved planes and jets the best though, not only because he was a pilot, but because they were cheaper and easier than most other models. He was regarded by his friends as a tough guy when it came to flying, but a real softy at home.

His choice of movies were also unique. They included many romances, tragedies, and some sci-fi; gifts from Chinook from birthdays past. He didn't usually watch the holo-viewer often, only when there was anything good on. His movies were slowly getting old, and he was bored of them. But there was always a good one that seemed to cheer him up or scare him out of hit wits after a hard day's work.

He washed his hands and went into his kitchen. He checked the timer for his meal; only thirteen seconds remained. What good timing, he thought to himself. After his timer beeped, he reached into the oven and pulled out the steaming pan of food. After serving himself he went to his living room and sat in his big comfy chair.

Clyde woke up with a start. He thought he heard a sound in his hallway. He slid out of bed and slunk his way silently towards the door. Then a hand came out of the darkness and hit him on the head with something hard. He was knocked out cold.

He woke a few hours later. He had been stuffed into a closet and the door was stuck. He kicked at it a few times, then the door gave way. He stumbled out and looked around, his eyes quickly adjusting to the dark room. It was ashambles. The room looked as if it had been searched; but what would anyone be looking for?

He began to check his shelves and stuff, carefully searching through the mess; all the time thinking, What would they want?

Nikki arrived a few minutes after Clyde's summons.

"Youch! It is a mess!" she said.

Clyde just hung his head and nodded. He had a piece of one of his lamps on his left hand. He tossed into a nearby garbage can.

"I've found your medal," said Jesse, who was also there," I guess that wasn't what they were after.

"I still haven't found anything missing," said Clyde.

"Have you seen this before?" said Chinook, slowly rising from the mess.

The others gathered around to see the small piece of paper in Chinook's paw. Clyde gasped. It read:

You will quit your job, or next time we'll come for you!

Clyde sank down into one of his chairs," What does this mean?"

The others just shook their heads.

Then Jesse looked up," I'll hang around. Y'know, to protect you."

"I appreciate it, but I think I'm just gonna hang for a while," said Clyde sadly.

The others took the hint and left. Jesse stayed for a few seconds, then followed the others.

The week ended on a bad note. Clyde didn't hear from whoever had trashed his place, but went straight back to work. Until any danger threatened the Royal House, he and his comrades would be busy, either with paperwork or any other business that may require their attention.

The latest problem was recruiting new pilots to help replenish the fleet. Many pilots had been lost, but luckily most of Corneria's aces had survived. Along with Fulva Squadron, they would search for and train any and all pilots they came across that wanted to join the CAAF. Fulva Squadron would remain at home to receive any recruits from New Dunkirk. A sign-up sheet was placed inside the main entrance for anyone to sign; within certain limits.

Each pilot had to be at least 16 to be allowed into the Academy, but since they were in a rush, each pilot would be put through a `crash course' to learn everything about ship-to-ship combat as well as intra-squadron dogfighting. Leading the course was Wes and Jesse, with Chinook, Nikki, and Clyde assisting. Frieze was handling all the paperwork. Her quick mind made her the best person for the job.

Within the first few days they received almost a dozen applicants, from many different species. Chinook was happy to see the husky from the bar, but then his ears drooped as he saw another husky put his arm around her.

"Don't get your hopes up, Chinook," joked Nikki," She's not your type anyway."

Chinook just smiled and watched as the couple made their way towards the main hanger where Wes and Jesse were waiting.

Behind Wes was their latest fighter; the XVR-7 Lupus Class Arwing. It was based on an older design in which the wings would fold up instead of out. Actually, there were two pairs of wings that would deploy in an `X' formation, to make the ship look like a big flying `X'. On the tips of each wing was a laser cannon, and in the nose of the ship was a Nova Bomb launcher capable of carrying seven Nova Bombs.

To make up for the lack of Bombs, the new ship was equipped with a new deflector shield technology. It could absorb three shots for every nine hits taken and use the energy to power the weapons of the Arwing itself. This gave the Arwing a 1:3 hit ratio, and assured that the ship lasted longer in combat.

In order to allow the ship to land, the wings were mounted on a gyro-stabilization system. This would rotate the wings so that they were horizontal with the hull, and allow the short landing stubs to touch the ground. A very sturdy looking design, the XVR-7 was General Pepper's brainchild. he had thought up the design while doodling in his notepad. He soon made some better, full detailed sketches and presented them before the Queen. She approved them and Wes and Jesse were now standing in front of the first working model.

Wes glanced back at the shining silver hull," Boy, what a beaut!"

"Yeah. And they gave you the honour of flying her, you lucky duck!" complained Jesse.

Wes grinned," Well I'll just work her in for you. You get all the fun parts."

"Yeah! Like testing the lasers and targeting system!" Jesse rubbed his paws together.

Wes looked over the eager group of recruits. They averaged in age from the minimum of 16 up to as old as 47, or so the list stated. There were a number of different species too; felines, canines, lizards, and insects. Wes recognized most of them, but some were a mystery.

He began to shout to get their attention. When they had quieted down he began his speech.

"I'd like to welcome you all to our Special Forces training session. For the next few weeks or so you'll be put through a series of training exercises, from simple flight controls to full fledged mock combat. I'll be your instructor, and I'll be assisted by my fellow pilots who I'm sure you've already met."

The group of recruits looked around at the five other pilots in the hanger. Chinook, in his friendly nature, raised a furry paw and waved.

"I'm sure you'll get to know them as I have," continued Wes," Now, I'm going to split you into groups. The group you are put in will be your designated squadron. You are to get to know them as if you have your whole life. Remember, these guys will be the ones to cover your butt in a dogfight. They will have to have your trust, as well as you having theirs."

Wes wiped his forehead. The tough part of his speech was over. As he read out the names of the recruits in each squadron, they gathered into lines, aided by Chinook, Frieze, and Nikki. They soon had four lines; four squadrons made of four. Jesse grinned. These were the guys he would have to break in during their combat lessons. Wes had taken over flight maneuvers, Jesse was the tactical coordinator, and Chinook would be talking about teamwork. He had asked Nikki to help but had settled with Frieze.

Clyde was going to be used as one of the targets during the mock combat sessions, along with Nikki who would be the aggressor. They had the whole schedule planned to the letter. Every minute was recorded, every session carefully calculated. It should take less than a month if the recruits were quick, and caught on fast. No use having the safety of Corneria hang in the balance. Prince Alexander still had to be crowned and they had to make sure he lived to be eighteen.

Wes led the way out of the hanger and onto the runway. There were twenty-three Arwings waiting for them. The older models seemed so primitive now compared to the new XVR-7. Wes announced that he was going to do a small aerial demonstration and climbed into the cockpit of one of the Arwings. After powering up he screamed down the runway and into the sky. He flew by the base, tipping his wing as he screamed past.

He then barrel rolled until he was upside-down and then pushed his stick forward. He soared up and disappeared through the clouds. Then he appeared from behind them. He zoomed just a few meters above the group watching him. They scattered and dived for cover. Nikki shook her head. Wes was showing off again! She joined Chinook in the hanger.

"Quite the show, eh?" said Chinook.

"Yeah, quite," replied Nikki sarcastically.

"He could really teach these guys something."

"That's what I'm afraid of."

After the first day, the recruits were tired. They had been run through long lessons of ship operations and had barely gotten past takeoff procedures when they were thrust into a team effort lecture. Chinook tried to explain things as easily as possible, but some of his `students' weren't being very cooperative. A cocky young badger had commented," When do we get to blow stuff up?"

"The next time Venom attacks!" replied Chinook, his back hairs standing up slightly.

Chinook didn't get annoyed very often, but these kids were trying his patience. Even some of the adults were being difficult. Nevertheless, the pilots managed to get through the first day in one piece.

Wes collapsed in his bed, too tired to remove his boots or his flight uniform. The heat in the room made him wish he had. It was like a sauna. Wes rolled onto his back and stared at the ceiling. He knew that it was still too soon after the war to be trying to train new pilots, but the need for security during the Prince's presentation was his top priority.

He finally hauled himself off his bed and pulled off his pants and shirt. He walked into his bathroom with nothing on but his boxers and looked into the mirror. His white fur was dirty with the stuff of an aviation hanger. Not to mention jet blast, dirt blown up from the jets, oil, and... what was that? Oh, just Nikki's lipstick. He picked up a cloth and ran it under the water for a few seconds, then rubbed at the red smear on his cheek.

While the water was running, he didn't hear the sound of the shower door sliding open. A figure dressed in black emerged, carrying a long metal pipe. Just as Wes was bending over to rinse out the cloth, the caught a glimpse of something in the mirror. He whirled around in time to get the pipe in his face. Wes fell back against the sink and sank to the floor, blood ran down his face and onto his chest. He was barely conscious, and looked up at his attacker.

Whoever it was he was fairly tall, with some sort of protrusion coming out of the top of his head, possible a horn. Wes grabbed for something to use as a weapon but could find nothing. The dark clad figure raised the pipe for another blow. Wes thought quickly and kicked the intruder in the groin. A groan emitted from the dark figure and he almost slumped over. Wes grabbed his collar and punched him a few timed in the face, then let the limp body fall to the floor.

Wes dragged himself to the communicator, leaving a trail of blood from the bathroom. He pulled himself into his desk chair and pressed the programmed button for Nikki's apartment. She answered a few seconds later.

"Do you have any idea how late it is!" she yelled, not seeing Wes' face in the dim light.

He leaned forward and managed to squeak out," Get over here!"

Nikki now saw the full extent of his injuries," Oh my gosh! I'm coming!!"

Wes winced as Nikki tried to clean his face up. The pipe had broken the skin on both his forehead and his cheek, and his nose was broken as well. His fur was red and bloody and he still felt wasted from the previous day.

"You're one lucky fox!" said the police officer.

Nikki had called the police when she discovered the unconscious intruder in Wes' bathroom.

"You're telling me," smiled Wes. Big mistake. A huge jolt of pain ran down his face.

"Hold still now," said Nikki.

Wes was glad to be in her care, even if the antiseptic stung.

"We'd better get you down to the hospital to make sure there's no serious damage to your skull," said the officer.

"Thank you officer," said Nikki.

At the hospital, Wes got a professional clean up job. His x-rays showed that he was indeed lucky, and could be released the following day. After getting a bath to wash his fur, he almost felt good as new.

"Now get some rest," said Chinook. The whole gang had come to see him.

"That's what the doctor said," replied Wes.

"Well that's what I'm saying!" ordered Nikki.

"Yes sir! Uh.. ma'am! Whatever!" said Wes, trying to salute without touching his battered forehead.

Then the others went into the waiting room to talk to the police. The same officer from the apartment was there. They all sat in the comfortable chairs and began to discuss the events of the previous two hours.

"So Mr. Odgen called you around what time?" asked the officer.

"It was about 12:34. I remember because I yelled at him for calling me so late." replied Nikki.

"And did you hear anything else other than Mr. Odgen?"

"No, nothing."

The police officer reached into his pocket and pulled out a piece of paper," We found this on the assailant. We think it was a message for Mr. Odgen."

Chinook, who was closest, took the letter and read it," Attention. Quit your job or we'll come back to finish you off! Hey, this is the same letter you got, Clyde!"

"Please don't remind me!" groaned Clyde. He was still shaken up from his encounter.

"The intruder hasn't revealed anything under questioning, but after your statement I believe we're looking at someone who wants the Royal Air Defense Squadron out of commission."

"You can say that again!" said Jesse, crossing his arms.

"I think we'd better get back to my place and try to figure out what to do," suggested Chinook.

"We're all wasted from today, and tomorrow will be even worse," complained Frieze.

"S'ok. I've got plenty of room for all of you," said Chinook, smiling.

"You're missing the point 'Nook!" said Nikki.

"Oh, okay," said Chinook. He looked at the floor and fiddled with his fingers.

He was the youngest of the group, just slightly behind Jesse. He was from the planet Canis, only nine when Andross attacked and nearly destroyed his home planet. Now 18, he wanted to do good things for others. He had gotten his revenge against Venom's army as well as their air force, but now he wanted to help his friend.

Later that night, as Chinook lay in his bed, he thought about the past few days. About Clyde's apartment, then Wes' beating. What if he was next?! He got up and locked all his windows and checked the door as well. Not worrying about the heat, because of his air-conditioner, Chinook felt safer with his windows closed tightly.

He lay back down and tried to sleep, but something kept nagging at him. He went to the kitchen to get something warm to drink. While waiting for the kettle to boil, he scooped a few spoonfuls of hot chocolate mix into a mug and sat at the kitchen counter on a bar stool. He sat with his back to the cupboards so that nobody could sneak up on him. The kettle began to scream.

Chinook poured the hot water into the mug and sat down at the counter. His tail gently swung back and forth as he sipped the creamy chocolate. He saw a magazine on the end of the counter and stretched to grab it. After reading an article about how people saw their lives in twenty years he downed the last drops of his chocolate and went to bed.

The three figures were hunched over the table again, reading another letter left behind by their unknown employer," They've got one of my best agents. Waste the lizard. More information to follow."

"Okay guys, you heard the man," said the leader.

"Let's go, " said the short, cocky one.

When Clyde didn't show up for training, Nikki went to investigate. Chinook offered to accompany her, but she said that she was a big fox now and could take care of herself. She rang the doorbell about seven times, then used her code card to open the door. The apartment was a mess again.

She gasped as she saw a blood stain on the edge of a nearby table. She saw another on a corner, but what lay around it? She slowly approached it and peered around the corner. Clyde's motionless body lay in the hallway, blood oozed from several deep gashes and blast marks. She screamed.

She knew he was dead, but still reached out to touch his tail. It was cold. She ran to the living room and called the police at once. She returned to the horrible scene. Clyde's eyes were still open and seemed to be looking in a particular direction. She followed his glassed over gaze and looked at the wall. In red spray paint was written," Who will be next? Quit while you still can!" The can of paint had even been left behind. Nikki doubted the chances of it having any fingerprints on it, but hoped that it would. She looked back at her old friend, his gaze now seemed to be on her. She moved away, unable to look into his cold, dead eyes.

Sirens could be heard in the distance. The police would be here soon. As the two officers entered the room, the smell got to them. Wincing, they looked at the body, then called for a coroner. Nikki explained what had happened and how she had found him. They nodded as they wrote everything down. Nikki hadn't had time to call the others, so she did it after they were finished with her.

They arrived a few minutes after her call. They were horrified at what they saw, Cyde's bloodied body laying in the hallway. Frieze began to cry, and was comforted by Chinook, but Jesse was fuming," I knew I shoulda' stuck around! This is my fault!" He slammed the wall with his fist.

"There's nothing you could have done, Jess," said Wes, trying to act the leader now.

"I could have been there. Tried to do something!" continued Jesse.

The others were silent. Frieze let out a little sob, Chinook caressed her smooth fur.

The police asked Wes and Chinook a few questions as well, but got little information other than what they already had. The two had been at the training area, and then received a call from Nikki that Clyde had been murdered. As the coroner took the body away, Wes and the others stood in Clyde's living room. The police were taking pictures of the apartment and writing down important bits of evidence in their pocketbooks.

Chinook was too busy to worry about how tired he was. He had to avenge his friend's death, but how? He didn't even know where to start. He needed help, someone who could think. Frieze! He finished packing some things into a duffel bag and ran to his communicator. He glanced at the clock, it read 11:35pm. It was late, but he had to wake Frieze.

The screen flickered to life and the tired face of Frieze appeared. Chinook wanted to smile at his friend, but he didn't.

"Chinook! Do you know how late it is?" complained Frieze.

"I know," apologized Chinook," But I need your help."

"Couldn't this have waited until tomorrow?" yawned Frieze.


Frieze rubbed her eyes then looked back at Chinook," Alright, what do you need?"

Frieze didn't like the tight, black outfit that Chinook had given her, but didn't complain. She felt the same way about Clyde, but had never thought of going against her friends just to avenge one of their deaths.

Chinook's plan was to try to get as much information as possible by checking Clyde's apartment then following any traces of where the murderers might have gone. Chinook used his canine senses to find it. He could smell both Clyde's blood in the alley as well as another scent, one he had never smelled before. Frieze followed cautiously. They came to a corner where the trail went cold. Chinook punched a nearby mailbox, sending it crashing to the sidewalk.

"I lost 'em! Dang!" shouted Chinook.

"It was a good try, but I think we should get back," suggested Frieze.

"Do you want them to get away!?" yelled Chinook.

Frieze, frightened by this sudden change in her friend, shook her head. Chinook bent down to where the escape vehicle had left a trail on the road. It was a car or truck of some kind. He pulled out an analyzer from his pack and scanned the tire treads.

After locking the signature into his sensor he was able to follow the trail. Frieze stayed on the corner," Chinook," she pleaded.

"I'll go alone if you won't help me!" said Chinook.

Frieze looked back, then followed. She hung her head and stuck her hands into her pockets. After about twenty minutes Chinook stopped.

"Anything?" asked Frieze.

"Nope. I lost it again."

Frieze was getting frustrated. Why was Chinook obsessively trying to find Clyde's killer? He was usually quiet, and didn't get involved with the team's small fights. But now he was vicious, and she barely recognized him.

He was now walking over to a wall that had a large door in the side facing the road. He moved his hand over it's rough, corrugated surface and smiled," In here!"

The pair looked over the door, trying to find some way of opening it. Chinook found a codebox on the wall, but he didn't know the code that would open the door. He plugged a small electrode decoder into the box and pressed a few buttons. Thee box beeped and the door slid open about one-third of the way up, just enough for them to slide underneath.

Inside it was dark. There were stacks of boxes and crates, and right in front of them was a car. Chinook walked up to it and looked through a window. It was empty. He opened the passenger side door and looked inside. He pulled out a flashlight and tossed another to Frieze. After a thorough search of the car they found nothing.

Chinook wandered around the car, then began to search through the maze of crates. There was a sound to his left. He whipped out his laser pistol and aimed it where he had heard the sound. There was nothing. He backtracked to where Frieze was still waiting by the car.

"I heard something," whispered Chinook.

"Let's go," said Frieze.

They both crept out the door and Chinook closed it with his electrode decoder. They both walked back to their apartment block. Frieze turned on him," Alright what's up Chinook!"

"What do you mean?"

"You scared the heck out of me tonight! You've changed and I want to know what's going on!"

Chinook looked down at her. She was now panting, on the verge of crying. Chinook took her in his arms, she began to cry," I'm sorry. I didn't mean it to be like that. I just..... I just.... I want to see those guys end up like Clyde, so I..."

He reached into his bag again and pulled out a long knife. Along with the blaster he was carrying Frieze understood his plan. She had seen Clyde's body. She rested her hand on his, the one holding the blade. He slowly placed it back inside his bag and walked away from her. She felt sorry for him. She knew what he was going through.

"You guys did a good job, very professional!" yelled the tall bear," You even left the paint can behind!" He slapped one of the assassins across the face.

"It was his fault!" cried the assassin who had received the blow.

"I'm not the one who wanted to rip up the iguana after I shot him!" shouted the other.

"Enough!" shouted the bear," I still want you to take care of the others. The Malamute and the mongoose were in my warehouse last night. They followed your tracks and searched the car. They're gonna be a thorn in this operation. I won't allow anything to keep me from becoming King of Corneria!"

The two assassins cowered before the great bear," What do you want us to do?"

The bear looked at them and smiled.

It was now two weeks after Clyde's murder. Chinook was still drifting away from the others and becoming more aggressive. He had even attacked one of the recruits who had made a smart remark. Wes had talked with him many times, but with little success. Jesse was spending some time with the enraged Malamute, and seemed to have a bit of luck getting out what was keeping Chinook so mad. As Frieze already knew, he wanted revenge for Clyde's death.

There was no time for that now. They had just received a new recruit, a sparrow named Trevor. Wes greeted Trevor, who seemed to be hiding some kind of sick joke, but ignored it; experience from working with Jesse. He already knew a great deal about flight and air-to-air combat, and was flying the first day. Jesse, who was running mock combat that day, was surprised at how skilled Trevor was.

The end of the day came at last. The recruits gathered their duffel bags and made their way to their homes. Trevor stayed behind for a few minutes to chat with Wes.

"So you've seen a lot of action huh?" said Trevor.

"Pretty much. You read the papers don't you?" said Wes.

Trevor smiled and looked back at the city," Naw. I'm from off planet. I heard you were hiring for new pilots so I came to show my stuff."

"You're a great pilot. I hope you become famous one day."

"Oh I will," said Trevor, he turned and left," I will!"

The next week was fun, a change of pace for the hard driven team. As the recruits got better, the work load for the team decreased. Soon they could just lay back and watch them fly circles around each other. Trevor was good, but there were still a few pilots that had a little more skill. He had a short fuse, and anyone who shot him down in the simulations got a punch in the nose. Jesse took the job of being bodyguard for the recruits, protecting them Trevor.

Wes had another `chat' with Trevor, telling him to keep his cool, but Trevor remarked," I'm gonna be famous, and I can't let anyone get in my way. They'll think twice about shooting me down again!"

But Wes just shook his head.

The time finally came for the wheat to be separated from the chaff; the good pilots from the bad; the weak from the strong. Out of a total of thirty-five recruits, twenty-three made it into the Cornerian Army Air Force. Wes had the job of personally choosing the one to replace Clyde, which was a job neither he nor anyone else on the team wanted. He walked down the line of graduates, looking at each of them and remembering their performances.

He finally stopped at a young raccoon named Jeremy. He stuck out his hand and Jeremy gladly shook it," Congratulations! Welcome to the Fulva Assault Team!"

"Thank you sir!" replied Jeremy, unable to hold back his wide grin.

Jesse watched as Trevor turned bright red. He gritted his teeth and clenched his fists.

Jeremy was soon a part of the squadron, one of the team. Of course he would never replace Clyde but he was a powerful asset. He could fight well, kept a clear head during combat, and always thought before attacking. He lived on the opposite side of town from the team's apartment block but since he was now part of the team he was given an apartment and was soon moved in.

Chinook dropped by one afternoon to see how Jeremy was doing.

"Oh I'm alright," said Jeremy in his cheery voice," This place it so big! Much bigger than my old place."

He was still walking around the room, looking from floor to ceiling, wall to wall. Chinook smiled. He knew how small it would seem in a few months. He had been on the team for a few years now, but still remembered how he had loved all this space to himself.

"I was just wondering if you wanted to go hang out somewhere?" asked Chinook.

"No, I'm fine. In fact, I was jut about to have lunch. Hungry?"

"No thanks. That's alright I gotta go anyway. See you tomorrow at the hanger."

"Yeah, bye."

Chinook walked into the main building for the Royal Air Defense Squadron's base. He waved to the security officer as he made his way to the hanger. Nikki was there, ready to try a test run on a newly delivered XVR-7. She was just climbing the ladder as Chinook called to her.

"Oh hi, 'Nook."

"I was just going to tell you that I'm sorry for the way I've been acting. I've been a real jerk!"

"I understand how you felt, Chinook. There's no need to apologize."

Chinook nodded.

"Oh, I meant to tell you. I saw Trevor earlier this morning and he said that he wanted to see you."

"Okay, I'll keep an eye out for him."

Nikki waved and Chinook returned it with a two fingered salute. As he made his way through a transparent tunnel that attached the hanger to the main building, he watched as she taxied down the runway. The engines screamed as Nikki hit the accelerator, then the XVR-7 disappeared in a bright ball of flame. The shock wave shattered the glass in the tunnel and knocked Chinook to the floor. He got up and stared at the wreck slowly traveling down the runway.

"Nooooooo!!!!!" screamed Chinook.

He jumped through the window and ran after the still rolling jet. Dodging falling pieces of debris, he caught up with the fighter and climbed up onto the wing, ignoring the heat. Flames shot out of every opening. The cockpit was gone, and the seat could be seen with a dark shape still strapped into it. Chinook gasped and stood on the wing just staring. He slumped down and allowed himself to roll off the wing.

He lay on the runway, not moving. The ground crew had caught up with the burning aircraft and were trying to extinguish the flames. Chinook looked up, tears streaming down his face. Two members of the ground crew ran next to him to see if he was injured. He stood up and walked towards the wreck. It was now just a smoking hulk.

Wes had to be held back by both Jesse and Chinook. He wanted so see Nikki, but there wasn't much to see. He charred skeleton had been pried from her seat and laid out for examination. Wes restrained himself enough to keep from punching out both of his friends. Jeremy stood nearby, silently watching the scene with big black eyes.

Wes finally gave up and allowed himself to be taken back to the padded chair. Jesse sat next to him and looked at his best friend. Wes was trying to hold back the tears, but he had loved Nikki more than anything, even flying. And that was the thing that took her away from him. He cursed the designer of the XVR-7 and wished he had never set eyes on the plane. Frieze wasn't there. She had stayed home, too afraid to face Chinook after his second friend was killed right before his eyes.

The bear, who had revealed himself to the assassins as Lord Ferrington. He had just paid the trio of assassins for killing Nikki, but wanted another job from them," I want you to find some way of killing the Malamute and the mongoose at the same time. I want them dead!"

"Of course my Lord, but how will we do that?" asked the tall leader.

"I don't know. You think of something. Program some sort of malfunction into their fighters," yelled Lord Ferrington.

"That worked once," said the second largest, a sparrow," I got lucky with that XVR-7, I doubt I'll get another chance like that!"

"Well now that you're part of the CAAF you'd have all the time you need."

"I'm just saying that I need to be cautious. I'm sure they're suspecting me," replied Trevor.

Chinook slammed Trevor against the wall," You killed her!!!"

"What?" gasped Trevor, the wind knocked out of him.

"You were there that morning when the plane exploded, you must have done something to it!"

"Must have, eh? Do you have any proof?" grinned Trevor.

"Who says I need any!?" Chinook threw Trevor through a set of doors and down the hallway. He followed, breathing heavily, anticipating the fight ahead. He would make Trevor pay for what he did.

He grabbed Trevor by the shirt and punched him in the stomach. Unable to collapse, Trevor hung from Chinook's arm," How do you like that, huh? That's just the beginning. I'm gonna make you suffer before I kill you!" said Chinook.

Just then the doors opened and Wes stepped through. He had seen Chinook and Trevor and followed. Chinook turned and then released Trevor when he saw who it was," Wes! I was..."

"I know what you were doing. Let him go, 'Nook," said Wes, hoping that mentioning Chinook's nickname would calm him a bit. It didn't.

"But he killed Nikki!"

"Do you have any proof?"

Chinook looked down at Trevor who was on his knees, "No. But I'm pretty sure of it."

"You're dismissed, Lieutenant," ordered Wes.

Chinook glared at Trevor, let out a low growl, then left the hall. Wes helped Trevor up," I'm sorry about Chinook. He's changed since Clyde's death, and Nikki's has made it worse."

"I understand. I'd better lay low for a while then," said Trevor.

"Good idea," replied Wes.

It was now two weeks before the Prince's tour in the RADS's hanger and fighter maintenance facilities. Every safeguard and precaution to ensure his safety was being taken ahead of time. The fighter crews were drilled every day to see how quickly they could all get airborne from a leisure activity. The times were getting better from 4:56:47, to 2:27:12.

They needed them in the air even faster than that though. The fastest time was 1:18:45, achieved by Trevor. He could get into his flight suit and have his jet in the air before his squadron was even dressed. This meant that the rest of the squadron would have to catch up. Trevor had been given lead position of a squadron made up of four Arwings. They weren't the newer XVR-7's, but slightly older models.

The Royal Guards were going through several maneuvers in case the Prince was in danger from a ground attacker. A sniper would be watched for by four hidden guards dressed as workers in the various facilities, and were armed with laser pistols with laser/radar tracking sights. If any danger was sighted, the Prince's close bodyguards would make a shield around him and get him to safety before the sniper could get the chance to fire a shot.

The preparation went on for days. In the palace, Prince Alexander was pacing," I hope all this work will be for nothing. I'm sure that everything will be fine."

"Of course, your Majesty," said Lord Ferrington, bowing slightly.

The Prince's personal aide, Lord Ferrington was in charge of the Prince's schooling, as well as other matters of state. He would be the one to assume the throne should anything happen to the Prince, which was why he had plotted to kill him. "I trust that every precaution is being taken?" asked Alexander. "Of course, your Majesty." "Good. Then, what do I have on schedule for this afternoon?"

Wes sat in the living room of his apartment, thinking. He thought about the big event coming up, about all the training and running around these past few days, but the first thing on his mind was Nikki. She didn't have to die, and he had no idea what whoever had killed her had against her, or the rest of the squadron, but he was promising himself to personally execute whoever it was when he found him.

Wes took another sip of his drink. The pink fluid bubbled as it settled when he returned the glass to a nearby table. Next to the glass was the remote for his holo-viewer. He grabbed it and pressed the power button. The screen flickered to life and the evening news came on," ... and as the big day approaches, fighter squadrons from all over Corneria gather in New Dunkirk to await the Prince's arrival at the Royal Defense Squadron's maintenance facilities. Following the tour the Prince will then proceed to the hangers to view the various aircraft, including the new XVR-7 Lupus Class Arwing..."

Wes turned the holo-viewer off. He was sick of hearing about that stupid new jet; the one that had killed Nikki. He began to think up his own plan for the day the Prince visited. He would make some sort of excuse in order not to show up, then disguise himself as a worker and nail the killers before the Royal guards could draw their guns. He would pray, not just for his success, but also that he would be stopped before he met the killer.

The day finally came. Chinook woke as his alarm, which had been set an hour early, buzzed. After slapping it off the table and snoozing for a few more minutes, he suddenly sat up with a jolt. This was it! He jumped of the bed and was dressed in less than three minutes. After grabbing something to chew on he ran down the stairs and onto the street.

He bumped into Frieze who was also just coming out of her apartment.

"Well, today's the big day," said Chinook. The day I waste those killers for what they've done!

"Yep. You sure you're up for this?" asked Frieze.

"I've never been more ready," replied Chinook, not looking at her, but glaring at some invisible demon.

Frieze merely nodded. She knew he might do something rash, but she had convinced herself to help him if he did. She liked him, not just as a teammate, but also as her best friend she would do almost anything for.

The two arrived at the main building for the RADS. After clearing security they went to the hanger. Chinook glanced out the new, bulletproof glass windows in the tunnel at the black scar that had been marked into the runway when Nikki's fighter exploded. Never again, he told himself.

Jesse was also there, leaning against one of the Arwings that they were going to fly during one of the demonstrations. Others had gathered as well, but in total there were only around seven pilots along with three members of the ground crew. Jesse approached his two teammates," Hey guys! You ready?" he asked.

"More than anything," said Chinook.

Frieze just nodded.

"Well I am pumped!" exclaimed Jesse. He jumped backwards in a somersault and landed on his feet. His agile, catlike movements allowed him to blow off access steam whenever he got nervous or excited.

They didn't have much to do to pass the time, so they got something to eat and settled down, awaiting the arrival of the Prince.

As the Prince's car pulled into the drive of the RADS's main building, the guards snapped to attention. Unknown to most of the spectators, there were over two dozen other guards hidden in the crowd. A double line of fourteen guards, seven on each side, ran down the walkway leading up to the doors. Once inside, the Prince would be relatively safe, at least from snipers on the rooftops.

The Prince entered the main building and was met by General Pepper, commander of the Cornerian Army. "Welcome to the Royal Defense Squadron's main headquarters your Majesty," said Pepper, bowing deeply.

"Thank you, General," replied the Prince," I am honoured by your warm welcome. I am ready for my tour now."

"Of course, Majesty."

Pepper led the Prince down the long hallway, the Royal Guards were everywhere. After passing through several doors they entered the main building for starfighter maintenance. There were three jets that had been purposely damaged in order to show the Prince how the jets were worked on. Pepper let one of the techs take over, who seemed nervous to be talking to the ruler of Corneria about a malfunctioning G-diffuser.

"Have you tried reversing the X thrust manifold?" asked Alexander.

Surprised, the tech nodded," I was just about to do that your Majesty. Would you like to watch?"

"I'd like to try it myself."

"Of course," gasped the tech, handing the Prince a tool.

After five minutes Alexander emerged from under the fighter," There, that should do it," he said, wiping his hands on a rag the tech had offered him.

"Nice job your Majesty," commended the tech after a quick investigation.

The Prince nodded to him and continued on his way.

After several more surprising encounters, the Prince was ready to see the main production building. This was where new Arwings were built, and those damaged beyond repair were melted down. Several large cauldrons were full of glowing, reddish-yellow molten metal from various Arwings that had been melted down in the past few weeks.

The last wreck to be put in, and the latest of the wrecks, was the remains of the exploded XVR-7. Wes, who was concealed behind a bulkhead, peered down as the procession entered the facility. He scanned the large building for the Royal Guards. They were pathetic excuses for workers, acting as if they were doing important work, but were actually watching for snipers. He grinned, then went back to his work. He was doing a diagnostic on part of a laser cannon that was to be fitted on a newly repaired Arwing.

As the Prince made his way further towards his position, Trevor became tense. He reached behind him and ran his hand along the smooth barrel of his G-27 Sniper Rifle. The scope was enormous, and allowed for targeting up to seventy-five meters or more. He wanted a definite kill shot. No screwups this time. He would please Lord Ferrington, who had promised to make him leader of the RDS.

He became aware of one of the Royal Guards coming towards his location. He pulled out a knife and waited. Just as the guard peered in the crevice, a feathered arm swung out and buried the knife deep in the guard's chest. The guard gasped and let out a smothered yell as he was pulled into the open space.

Trevor emerged a few minutes later, now disguised as one of the Prince's disguised guards. A double disguise, am I good or what! scoffed Trevor. He slid the rifle into a large holster on his back and made sure it was concealed, then made his way back the way the guard had come. He would wait at the end of the facility, near the melting pit.

Some workers were getting ready to lower the XVR-7's wreckage into the molten pit. A crane was having several chains wrapped around its gigantic hook. The chains were secured to several parts of the main fuselage. With all the noise the crane would make while hoisting, moving, and lowering the wreck, no one would hear his gun go off, especially with the silencer attachment. When the deed was done, he could just simply throw the rifle into the cauldron, melting it instantly as well as any evidence that he did it. He dropped behind a barrel and waited for the opportune moment.

Quickly checking every direction at random intervals, Trevor got his rifle ready. He slid several bullets into the chamber and clicked the hammer into locking position. Then, just to be sure, he clicked the safety on. He then waited, shaking slightly.

Wes had watched the guard walking down the walkway, then disappear into a crevice. Just as he was about to check on him he saw the guard emerge and walk back to where he came from. He was trying to shift something that he had stashed either on his back or under his worker's coat. Wes decided to follow him, but at a safe distance.

After a few minutes, the Prince appeared from behind a pile of scrap metal. He was being led by Chinook, who was showing off the new Arwings in their racks. The Prince ran his hand along the smooth fuselage and smiled. He said something to the Malamute that Wes could not hear, but he heard Chinook's laugh.

Then Wes looked back to where the suspicious guard had gone. He was now crouching over something in the corner of the building. Wes tried to get a better view but could not quite see what it was. He grabbed a piece of scrap metal and walked over to the catwalk that hung over the cauldron. He prepared to toss it into the molten material below," Clear!" he called out, as was required when throwing something into the cauldrons, should some molten material splash out and land on someone (rather like yelling fore on the golf course).

As the scrap piece landed in the glowing fluid, Wes glanced over at the guard, who was now peering down at the Prince. This seemed normal, a guard checking on the Prince, but then Wes noticed the object that he had been crouching over. It was a rifle with a huge scope on it. He doubted that it was standard issue for a guard disguised as a worker, but he would wait and see what developed.

Just then the crane let out a loud screeching sound as the XVR-7 was lifted into the air, due for its last flight in to the fiery pit. The guard grabbed the gun from the corner and rested it on the railing. Wes jumped up and ran towards the guard, who had his eye buried in the massive scope and couldn't see him coming. Just a few more seconds, and he would have his shot. The Prince's head came into view, a large target in the powerful scope.

Then a hand was on Trevor's shoulder and swung him around. It was Wes. He shook his head," Chinook was right about you," he said.

Trevor snatched out his knife and slashed at Wes. He managed to get some meat and Wes fell to the floor, holding his gushing arm. Trevor took the few seconds to aim once more. He was ready to fire. Then he was slammed against the wall. The gun went off and the bullet hit Chinook in the leg. The Prince's guards moved into position, covering him with their bodies as Chinook limped away. He glanced up and saw Wes fighting with someone. His friend was in trouble.

"I'm comin', Wes!" he shouted.

Chinook painfully ran to the nearest ladder and made his way up to the catwalk. As he began to approach the fight he was stopped by another disguised assassin," You don't look so good", she said, indicating his leg,"You'd better lay down."

She punched him hard in the stomach. Chinook doubled over and collapsed on the floor. He looked up at the assassin, it was the husky from the bar, and the flight school. Chinook gasped for air.

"You know, killing your lizard friend was just business, but you're pure pleasure. I know you've been gawking at me, and my boyfriend doesn't like guys who look on his girl," she said. She kicked him across the face and laughed. Chinook lay on the floor, bleeding from his leg as well as his cut lip. He had to get up, his promise to avenge Clyde now loud in his mind.

Wes was fighting two battles: the battle against Trevor, and the battle against the flow of blood erupting from his arm. Wes and Trevor exchanged blows, but Wes' loss of blood made him weaker. He felt like going to sleep but knew he couldn't. He had to keep fighting! He blocked a punch from Trevor and returned it. Trevor grunted and fell backwards.

They were now a few meters from the corner of the building and were fighting towards the catwalk. Wes thought that Trevor was trying to lead him there in order to throw him into the cauldron, but he would make sure that didn't happen.

Chinook was on his feet. He didn't exactly like the idea of beating on a lady, but this was serious; and she was no lady! Chinook ducked and returned the blow. The husky fell and landed on her back. She was up in a flash and avoided Chinook's kick. She grabbed a pipe that was lying on the floor and swung at Chinook. He ducked and the pipe hit the wall. He then grabbed it and tried to wrench it from her grasp. He did, and flung it over the railing.

She was close enough to him now to do some damage. She rapidly punched his stomach and then laughed as he fell to the floor once more. The she heard something behind her. She turned to see a raccoon holding another of the same kind of pipe," Hey! Stop beating on my friend!"

Jeremy swung the pipe and knocked the husky off the catwalk. She landed on the floor below and didn't get up. She was then pounced upon by several of the Royal Guards. Chinook painfully got up and smiled at Jeremy, who now rested the pipe over his shoulder.

"Thanks, partner," said Chinook. He knew Jeremy could never replace Clyde, but was glad that he was there to watch out for him.

"No problem. Now, I think our leader could use some of the same," replied Jeremy, pointing to Wes and Trevor, who were now one-third of the way along the catwalk leading to the cauldron.

Trevor was smiling. Not only was Wes losing blood, but he was also weakening. Trevor was sure to win. Then there was a loud pinging sound. He was being shot at. The guards were firing their pistols at the would-be assassin. He shouted out," Stop firing or you'll hit your man!" betting on their sense of others before themselves. The firing stopped, but as Trevor was flapping his gums, Wes was getting a second wind. Trevor now turned towards him only to get a fist in the mouth.

He spat out one of his teeth as he lay on the floor, suddenly aware of how hot it was. He glanced down at the fiery cauldron. The XVR-7 was just going past the catwalk on its way into the molten liquid. Trevor got up and tried to grab Wes, and at the same time throw him toward the edge of the catwalk. Wes caught himself on the railing and used his other hand to push himself off from the XVR-7. Trevor was not impressed. He threw himself at Wes, knocking them both onto the doomed jet.

Chinook was a split-second too late. He was about to grab Trevor but the bird ran towards Wes and they were now fighting on the burned-out fuselage of the XVR-7. Chinook and Jeremy could do nothing but watch as their leader fought for his life.

Wes was managing to stay on his feet, but the loss of blood, as well as the heat, was slowly wearing him down. It wasn't bad enough with Trevor still with some fight in him, but now he was dangling precariously over a pit of molten metal on the fuselage of a destroyed jet. As if things couldn't get any worse.

It got worse.He was knocked down and nearly slid off the nose of the fighter. Trevor looked down at him as he hung from the front of the cockpit, the nose pointing straight towards the bubbling liquid.

"Kinda hot, eh?" laughed Trevor, he was getting ready to kick Wes down into the glowing fluid.

Wes gasped. He looked frantically for some way out but saw none. Then he noticed a protrusion from the side of the fuselage. It was the remains of the refueling probe. He swung his legs sideways and built up enough momentum to throw himself over far enough to grab it. Trevor moved into a position that allowed him to strike once more, but by then Wes had a plan. He reached up into the cockpit and pulled out the destroyed ejection seat lever. He threw it at Trevor, who just simply knocked it aside. But while he was doing that, Wes quickly swung up and knocked him over.

Wes grabbed Trevor and punched several times in the head. The XVR-7's nose began to sizzle as it plunged into the cauldron. With one final punch, Wes knocked Trevor into the cockpit. He reached in and strapped Trevor into the seat and looked into his bloodshot eyes," You killed her!"

"Yeah, I did," smiled Trevor.

"You rigged this jet to explode before takeoff, you killed her with fire. She didn't deserve to die like that, but you do!"

Wes slapped Trevor once more and then jumped clear. Trevor began to scream. The liquid soon melted through and reached the cockpit. The screaming became louder as it melted Trevor's feet and legs. Then the screaming stopped as Trevor's breath left his melting lungs. Wes looked back up at the cauldron as the last of the XVR-7 disappeared into the cauldron. He was joined by Chinook and Jeremy, as well as a dozen other people. The Prince emerged with his bodyguards close behind and asked for what had happened. After a lengthy explanation as his wound was dressed Wes shook hands with Alexander," I guess I own my life to you. I will never forget what has happened today. You may ask your price."

"Just bring me the scum bag who set us all up," sighed Wes.

Lord Ferrington wished that he had never worked on Corneria. With several warships on his tail he had been forced to try to lose them in the asteroid field.

"Can't this thing go any faster!?" shouted Ferrington.

"Cool your jets," replied the last of his henchmen, the husky named Togo," This ain't no super jet."

"Just get us out of here. They know I planned the whole thing. Your mate must have spilled the beans!"

"Woah! She's no squealer! And I'll get us out. After all, you did hire me for my piloting skill."

But Togo had never flown anything so large through an asteroid field before. He was used to his sleek starfighter. The large bulk cruiser was jostled by an asteroid which sent it off course.

"We're losing our bearings!" shouted Togo.

"Get us back on-course," shouted Ferrington.

"Look out!"

Just then, two huge asteroids came together with the cruiser between them. They crushed the large ship like a pop can on a road during rush hour. Finally it was over.

Wes and the others were awarded celebrity status and made national heroes.

"Now what were you saying?" asked Frieze," Man, if only I could do something like that!"

Wes smiled. He remembered himself from two months ago. So cocky and young. But now he felt as if he had aged; grown up. As he stood with his team, along with their new recruit Jeremy, he smiled. A bright warm smile that seemed to release all the stress of the past few weeks.

Then as the full impact of what had happened hit him, he began to cry. He didn't hide it, but let the tears flow down his cheeks. His two best friends had been killed, and now he was supposed to act out as some sort of hero. But he would go on. He had to; for Nikki.


"I'm just glad it's all over! After Clyde and Nikki, I just wanted to find the guys and get rid of them!"

"Strike three and she was out!"

"I was too busy showing off the new ships to the Prince to have done much. Besides, I fight in the air, not on the ground."

"It was awful. I mean the scream was terrifying. I nearly puked!"


Characters: Wes Ogden, Jesse Bobcat, Frieze Acirfa, Nikki Valori, Jeremy Fisher, Chinook Aksala, Prince Alexander, Lord Ferrington, King Peter, Queen Rose, Trevor Sparrow

Inanimate objects: Fulve Assault Team, RADS, The Royal House of Corneria, XVR-7 Lupus Class Arwing, G-27 Sniper Rifle

©1998 Cyberwulfe (CW Inc.)