Black Heart of the Second Fox
Episode #7 of SunHawk
 
 

*Special Note*
This story does include some graphic violence of demonic nature which might be frightening to young readers.  This story is rated PG-13.  I would like to give thanks to Kay Twilight for allowing me to include her character, Star McCloud, into this story.  She plays a very important part in it.  Thanks.
 
 

Chapter I

"Space is the greatest void where darkness is sewn, and darkness is where evil can be most readily spawned.  It is no doubt that the most deviant of things can be created in the final frontier."
-Chidden Wenterfoot - Cornerian Philosopher-
 

 For thousands of years it has wandered.  Traveling from star to star, unseen by any natives, trying to find the ultimate place for it to sew its workings.  This entire time, the entity has gone through seven different galaxies spanning two separate dimensions to find its next grounds.  Almost all of his crossings were not worth his attention, and those that were proved to be a puny challenge.

 The evil, this sinister form of the stars, travels through the cosmos only to complete one single task: the absolute forging of total chaos and war.  It was his job, even though he looked at it like it was a game.  The shadow amongst the darkened voids, unseen to mortal eyes, searched high and low for his next sight of his forges of anarchy.  He was responsible for the destruction of thousands of civilizations over time.  The last time was a century ago where he polluted the mind of a common day female to turn her on her own people.

 As seen, the beast did very little, and needed to do very little, to complete his goals.  They were very simple in the long run.  Find a place where peace is high and healthy and destroy it, creating a seed of hell into the love and prosperity.  Also, he was to find places where war was already a plague and spread out and influence it greater.  All the monster found to accomplish these devilish tasks was to influence one single mind to do something drastic and terrible, and it would soon come.

 When these seeds of chaos were planted and sprouted, he began to feed off them.  He was not the same biological entities as these mortals were.  He needed these chaotic actions and emotions to nourish him.  In all respects, the space born demon was the exact authenticity of what total evil meant.  He was his own proof of it.

 For the last century, the hellish creature moved through the stars in the exact galaxy he started one hundred years ago.  There were many feeding sights in this galaxy to choose from just for temporary nourishment, but his real feast was directly ahead.

 The Lylat System.

 A great war was already being fought there.  A war that was being fought between brothers and sisters, which was the best kind to the evil.  Like a great galactic vulture, he waited high above the system, wondering, waiting for the right time.  The evil had something different in mind this time for spreading these unholy rights of war to other parts.  Usually, he was going to influence a mortal to be his pawn, now he was going to spread it himself.  This time, he wanted to have more fun in his job.

 The demon searched throughout the system, being careful not to be detected by telepathic minds.  His doom rendering presence was extremely sensitive to the minds of those he could see past their understanding, but there was a cure for that.  The creature knew it would be difficult, but good accomplishments in evil like this never came without a little hardness.

 In order to possess the body of a mortal being, the creature would have to find a weak willed soul.  He has done this very little and was not accustomed to its procedure.  Once he entered, he would have to go on to corrupt the soul of his host, and then shatter their spirit and cast it into oblivion, leaving the body for him to control.  This would take several days, because the entry process would weaken him greatly.  After that, it would take time to break a spirit that shielded against takeovers.  But it would be done.

 The evil, this one time, came upon a golden ticket opportunity.  He searched for a weakling for three days running, and soon found something even better.  He always knew that mortals would always be their own doom, with a little help from diabolical entities like him.  However, he never expected this.

 Quickly and without question, the evil entered the body of his new host, and at once began to sleep for regaining his strength.  This being, no soul of its own, was going to be a cakewalk.

****

 It happened like this...eighteen years ago.

 James McCloud stood over the cradle which housed their future.  Two infant kits, twin brother and sister.  Fox and Star McCloud were born not seven weeks ago, and already he was proud to be their father, even if it did seam premature.  Their future was not yet written, and he was going to make sure that theirs were the greatest known in all of Lylat.

 The door to the nursery opened, flooding the room with a pale warm light.  James turned to see his wife, Vixxy Renard McCloud, slowly walk into the room.  He smiled to see her, always willing to have her around.  These were her children too.  Vixxy walked up to James and calmly rested her head upon his shoulder, watching their children sleep together.

 "It's like...seeing your own life begin all over again," he said quietly.  "The signs of your days through life repeating through your eyes as you gaze upon the new generation you create.  And so begins our next chapter."  He put an arm around his wife, hugging her tightly to him.

 The two of them stood there for a while longer, watching the silent peace of their children's sleep.  After that, Vixxy shook her head angrily.  "If only we did not have to take Star away from here.  If we could only wait a little longer, then we could..."

 "I'm sorry my love, but you know how Dr. Andross feels about us being together," James calmly explained.  "Imagine what will come of him finding out we have children.  He is mentally ill, no matter how the Cornerian Ministry views things.  And he is destined to crack sooner or later.  Not even Peppy knows about our children yet, and when he does, he will see only see Fox.  We have to keep Star a secret for now.  Maybe, in the future, we can allow her secret to be revealed."

 "It is a sham, all of it, in the long run.  What if she feels we took favoritism to Fox should she ever find the truth.  What if..."

 "Nonsense," said James.  "We will not abandon her, and we will not allow she and Fox to grow up without knowing of each other."  At that moment, a soft cry came from the cribbage.  They looked down to see Star awake and crying.  The soft noise was enough to awaken Fox and upset him as well.  "Star needs to be fed," said James.  "I'll take care of her, you tend to Fox."

 James reached in and lifted the tiny vixen out and gently cradled her.  "Come my daughter," he whispered.  The them left the room together, and Vixxy looked down at Fox, who was crying loudly.  Vixxy went on to sing a soft lullaby to put Fox back to sleep as she picked him up and rocked him gently.  Within a minute, Fox was asleep again, and Vixxy smiled, replacing him back into the crib.  "Sleep peacefully my son," she whispered.  "I will always love you."

 Vixxy stepped away from the crib and opened a nearby bag, pulling the same mobile that her parents made for her.  Sentimental value to reuse it once again for her children.  Vixxy smiled.

 A small crack sound was followed by a powerful wind tearing through the room.  Vixxy turned to see the window wide open, the winds from the storm roaring outside intruding into it.  Vixxy, wondering how that happened, took one step towards the window to close it.  Her movement was interrupted by someone coming up from behind and grabbing her.  Vixxy tried to scream from the hold, but a gloved hand wrapped itself around her muzzle, taking her ability to talk away.  The person holding her was too strong to fight.

 Before them, a second person appeared out of nowhere, an invisible silhouette was followed by a distortion and then a person dressed in a total black light combat suit.  The second intruder looked into the crib and saw the male infant fox, awake and crying again from the cold wind.  Smiling underneath the hood, the intruder reached in and picked Fox out of the crib.

 Vixxy was beside herself, struggling fiercely to prevent her son's kidnapping, but her holder was just too strong.  The kidnapper got the window and turned to the other one holding Vixxy.  "Let her go," said a harsh female voice.  "We got what we came for, it's time to go."  In response, Vixxy was lifted off her feat and roughly tossed like a rag doll into a pile of stuffed toy animals.

 The two of them escaped through the window with her son.  Vixxy, relatively unhurt, was going nuts.  "James!" she screamed out.  "James!"

 In the living room, James was holding Star while she drank from a bottle.  He heard nothing of the ruckus going in the nursery.  He did hear the frantic screams of his wife.  In response, he quickly set the bottle down and put Star into the living room crib, and ran into the nursery.  He found the room's window open, the violent winds outside creating havoc inside.  Vixxy was trying to get to her feet but couldn't.

 "They took Fox!" she screamed.  James gasped in horror, looked into the crib to see his son missing.

 "Who?" he demanded angrily.

 "I don't know!  I couldn't stop them!  They took our son!"  Vixxy went on to cry hysterically, but James had no time to comfort her.

 "Watch Star," he ordered, yanking a phaser from his jacket.  James ran and jumped out of the window, landing hard into the mud.  Not letting the cold and dirty wetness stop him at all, James found two sets of foot prints in the mud and immediately started to track.  Inside, Vixxy rant into the living room and picked up Star, refusing to let her go.  She too got a small phaser from a gun cabinet.

 "Hurry up you fool," raged a large gorilla with his hood off.  His female companion, a frog, worked desperately with a syringe needle.  The gorilla held the crying Fox tightly, keeping his arm immobile.  Finally, the toad woman had the syringe ready.

 "Don't forget to suave with alcohol," warned the large ape.

 "Piss on the alcohol!" yelled the frog.  "We don't have the time.  The brat's father will be coming soon.  Hold him still you idiot!"  Without care, she wrapped her fingers tightly around Fox's tiny arm, and soon found signs of a vein.  She stuck the needle into the arm and slowly pulled back on the syringe piston, filling it with dark red blood.  The small vial was filled, and the needle was pulled out.

 "It's done," said the frog.  She looked through the trees to see a darkened figure running at them full bore.  "He's almost here.  Leave the little brat here, the father will find him."

 "What about a Band-Aid?" said the ape with concern.

 "Come on!"  The two of them ran hard into the bushes, disappearing using their stealth suites.

 James McCloud ran into the area, his phaser leveled and ready to fire at the first large movement he found.  The kidnappers were no where here, but James caught the sound of aggravated crying.  He found Fox in the rainy grass, crying from wet and cold.

 "Oh, thank you God," he whispered, holstering his gun.  James walked over and picked up his son, using his jacket to wrap him up warmly.  "Thank you."  The two of them walked back, but not before James cast a hateful glance to the bushes, towards the kidnappers.  They tried to take Fox away and were almost Scott free.  Why would they leave him here?  Choosing not to think of it, James went on to the house, thankful that his son was back with them and safe.

****

 Present day.

 Dr. Harvey Miltdown, a biological collage professor and scientist, walked quickly into the lab he had on MacBeth for the current point in time.  It was a high tech one, getting his funding from Andross even though the Venom emperor knew nothing about it.  Miltdown thought that Andross would look the behind the back funding over once the results were filed to him.

 The lab had little work going on.  There were very little people in here right now, which was fine considering the moment.  The doctor, a small and short weasel who walked on a cane because of a crippled knee, looked to the large glass chamber poised in the center of the room.  Inside the glass cylinder, connected to numerous tubes and large cables, was a chrysalis.  A cocoon.  The sleeper inside the large husk has been incubating for seven full years, getting the exact genetic codes given to it right.  And now, after this time, the large pulsating husk, perhaps a good six feet tall, was almost ready to hatch.

 Miltdown looked harder into the cylinder, watching the hypnotic pulsing of the chrysalis, just hoping that it would hatch open right this minute, thus sealing the success of seven years of total vigilance.  Being cut off as second banana to Andross before he was exiled to Venom seven years ago gave him the opportunity to utilize some of these ideas of his.  Before that, he was just waiting to use the numerous amount of blood samples he stole from Cornerian citizens for a running length of twelve years before that.  When the time came, he picked out a random phial of blood and started to build on its DNA patterns.

 Now, seven years later, Miltdown was able to identify the person he was cloning.  That was why he was giving, or more appropriately selling it to Andross once the sleeper awakened.  This one should get top dollar for him.

 Miltdown was smiling deeply when the lights began to loose brightness.  They went dim for a running length, and then they died, casting the room in darkness.  Only the lights from numerous computer screens and the lamps inside the chrysalis chamber were still going strong, all operating on their own power supplies.

 This was not expected.  Never before has a power failure plagued this facility.  It was no wonder that Miltdown was a little beside himself.  He was almost about to demand what was happening when new events started to take place.

 A near by terminal of computers started to flicker and go haywire, right before a few bursts of electrical feedback tore their circuitry to pieces.  All the computers there died at once.  A bright light caught Miltdown's attention at once, since it was coming from the chrysalis chamber.  Some of the life support tubes into it were starting to crack.  A few seconds later, one of the tubes burst open and fell.

 Miltdown watched with angered horror as numerous reddish purple arcs of electricity came from the broken tube fitting and ran into the chrysalis.  The bolts were large and deadly looking, seeming to heat the fluids inside enough to cook the cocoon.  After a few minutes, the arcs stopped, and only a few circled around the husk.  The chrysalis itself looked relatively undamaged, but Miltdown knew better.

 "Quickly!" he yelled.  "Get the sleeper's life signs."  A computer worker nearby carried out his orders, and soon four flat lines were showing on the screen.  "No," said the doctor.  "No!"  He beat his fists down on the console, anger running down every vein he had.  "Seven years of hard labor down the damn drain."  He almost panicked now that all of Andross' money he stole for this was also gone for nothing.  He wondered how long until he found out the truth, which was exactly how long until Miltdown's fate was sealed.

 "Doctor," said the computer worker.  "Look."  Miltdown looked at the computer screen to see a life reading on each line.  He got up, looking at it in astonishment.

 "That had to be at least ten thousand volts of electrical power going through there at God knows how much amperage.  This should not be happening."  He punched a few buttons to try and get confirmation.  It was true, the sleeper was still alive and in perfect health.  It should be impossible, but it was true, and Miltdown left it at that.  "Keep an eye on those life signs and tell me of any more change," he ordered.

 "Yes doctor," said the worker.  Miltdown left the lab to his quarters, already feeling a heart problem coming on from nervous feelings.  He needed to get away.
 
 
 

Chapter II

"Clev traxis wren taro des lo draca iim zxajck Karra.  Wran Tarreck Karr."
-Dragon Soul Motto - Magistrate warrior group of Shyer Caste Catholaie-
 

 No one saw it.  No one was around to see it.  Not many people took a trip around near Titania.  It was far too harsh a planet to live around.  Since no ships were around for the anomaly to be seen, nothing was done about it.  The event just proceeded on its own, bringing something new to Lylat.

 A large vortex, like a giant maelstrom created by the swirling clouds of a nebula, appeared very close to Titania.  It was bluish green in color with a few spots of white in the swirling mass.  Deep in the center of a vortex was a hole that lead to nothing at all.  It was a hole in the universe more or less, only it was unveiling something coming forth.

 A bright but brief flash was emitted from the center of the vortex, and an object came out from its center.  It moved out very quickly at first, but then it slowed greatly as it approached the surface of Titania.  After a good distance of traveling, the vortex hole was flooded by the clouds and the spiraling form dissipated slowly.  Anyone who would have seen may have recognized it as an artificial wormhole entrance or some interstellar portal, a small one compared to real.

 The small object was already descending towards the desert sheeted planet below.  The redness cleanly being reflected off of its light green hull, the small ship was going strait into the atmosphere in perpendicular fashion.  Like this, it should have been incinerated by atmospheric entry, but nothing was touching it.  The object continued to descend regularly.

 It lost control upon entered a massive sand storm.  Trying to weave in and out of the storm and navigate away from dangers, the computer flying the strange object faltered, and the ship went out of control.  It crash landed into the sands with a terrible screeching sound of hard sand on something.  The skin of the ship was nothing recognizable, but it didn't sound good against sand.

 After skidding a few thousand meters, the small ship stopped as it ran into a sand dune.  There is stayed for now as the wind of the storm was bombarding it with sand, already in the process of burying it into the dessert.  Before it did, a man sized hole was formed into a side of the object, and two sets of feet stepped out.  Beside the feet, a few drops of blood fell into the already orange red sands.  This person, injured and tired beyond extreme, could already feel life and soul very close by.  It was as good of place as any.

****

 The loud crashing sound outside came to her ears, causing her to rear her head.  Star McCloud was just stepping out of the shower when it happened.  First there was a terribly loud crashing and then a screeching sound that sent shock feelings right up her spine, making her back hairs go on end, and then there was a rumble.  Finally, there was only silence.

 Star dried off and dressed quickly, determined to investigate the incident's cause.  She grabbed some high powered binoculars and opened a small exit from her secret den.  When Star found a dune high enough, she started to scan the area.  What she found surprised even her.

 An object, a vessel or something, had crashed into the sands.  It was a fair distance from her lair, which meant it must have crashed pretty hard.  Star raised the binoculars to her blue eyes and looked out over the landscape.  Still, her left wrist was in a support brace from when she broke it a second time a while back.  It didn't bug her much lately.

 The object she was looking at through the glasses was greenish colored, and was being buried by the sand storm.  It was here she noticed the blowing winds and the sand being caked one again into her long dark hair.

 "God damn it," she swore to herself, trying to pull the sand out of her hair.  She would have to shower all over again to get this mess out.  First, she kept scanning the area.

 The thing did look like a vessel of some kind.  Star put it on herself to memorize the classes and types of every ship known in the Lylat System on both sides of the war.  It was about a month ago she got data on Corneria's new Sky Omega class war cruiser, which, even to her standards, was a very sweet ship.  But what was in front of her was nothing she had ever seen before.  In fact, it looked too high tech to be either Cornerian or Venomian.

 Not at all satisfied with what she was looking at, Star took a few pictures with the camera inside the binoculars so she could study the object inside.  Maybe later when the storm let up, she could take a gander at it first hand.  This is if the sands didn't take it away from her first.  Now, she had to get cleaned up all over again.

 Star opened her door way and jumped down into it, almost wanting to develop the pictures she had and wait to wash up later.  At once she got into a hall, she saw something on the floor that said she would be doing neither.  A spot of blood on the floor, followed by another, and yet another and more after that.  A trail of blood was running down her hallway, going towards her den and the other to her own fighter bay.

 Looking rather shocked again, not believing that someone came into her home without tripping a single alarm, Star got a phaser from a nearby compartment.   She headed down towards the fighter bay first, checking to make sure that her most important things there were all accounted for.

 Calmly, she sneaked up to the corner into the fighter bay and peered in.  There, she found her intruder.  It was a figure, supporting himself against Star's small custom made fighter, the Arctic, which was still under construction.  Beside it was her primary fighter, the jet black Arwing she called Midnight Fox, which the intruder stayed away from now.

 Seeing this stranger touching her soon to be coolest aircraft yet set something off inside Star.  With great amounts of pissed off attitude, Star stormed into the bay and pointed her gun directly at the intruder, ready to shoot if he made a move.  Thus far, he just stood there.

 Star got about ten feet away from him when she stopped.  It was a fox, white as snow fur, lengthy hair but not girlish, and a white short cut cloth robe, going down to his knees.  The arctic fox was clutching his shoulder.  Below him was a small pool of blood.  The fox was a little shorter then Star, skinny and a little frail looking.  Star almost felt sorry for him, almost.  She kept her phaser level and cleared her throat loudly to gain some attention.

 The intruder fox reared his head.  Star saw that his ears were pretty long even for a fox.  Slowly, still clutching his shoulder, the white fox turned around and faced Star, keeping his eyes closed for now.

 "I don't care how you got in here, yet, but I hope you can clean this mess you made on of this floor before I neurolize you and kick you out of here.  If you bled on my new carpet, I'll just have to..."  She was stopped when he slowly opened his eyes.  "...kill you."  Star was startled and a little afraid at the sight of his eyes.  They were glowing, a bright pail blue color, like flat water surfaces.  Star was paralyzed by his gaze.

 The white cloth of his robe was torn and bloody, but he seemed not disturbed by the wound.  He took a step towards Star, holding out his hands to her.  "Scvrevic narr ti corsin ratiijn?" he said.

 "Stay away from me!" warned Star, stepping away from him and raising her gun towards his face.  The white fox stopped and recognized a weapon.  He knew that she would not fire if he did not move forward, so he had an back up plan.

 The white fox's hand shot out, and Star's pistol was torn from her hand by and unseen force.  She watched as it shot out of hers and into his own palm, and Star swallowed nervously.  She watched as the fox's eyes glowed brighter, and the gun in his paw froze on its own, going to a solid ice form.  With one quick jerk on the tendons, the iced phaser shattered in his hand and pieces of it fell down to the floor.  Calmly, he looked back towards Star, who was standing there awe stricken.

 "How...?" said Star, at a loss for the air to talk as well as words.  "How did you...?  I mean, how the hell did you do that?" she asked finally.  The fox did not answer.  He simply opened his paw and let the last fragments of frozen phaser pistol fall to the floor, and then looked coldly at Star.  Swallowing, Star put up her fists, ready to defend herself physically if it came down to it.

 The white Fox saw this, and smiled at her warmly, his eyes flaring up for a second and then going back to "normal."  Star kept her guard up and looked at him.  It was here she noticed how young he looked.  At least fourteen years maybe if not fifteen, barely out of actual childhood.  He was handsome for his age too.  Slowly, Star lowered her grip, thinking that he might not be all that dangerous.

 Not dangerous?  This guy, thing, whatever just froze your gun in his bare paw, thought Fox to herself.  Anyone who could do that must never be messed with, no matter how small they looked.  Star let her fists down slightly and stepped aside.

 "All right," she said quietly, "forget the neurolizer.  But please leave here.  I'm asking you kindly to leave my home, please."  This was humiliating, and Star was almost about to choke from her bruised ego.  But even she knew that a swallowed pride was always better then a broken life force.

 "Corc neri far, na xjich flarimnay," said the white fox, shaking his head.

 "Oh, yes, I forgot," said Star, a little dismayed.  "A lack of communication ability always pisses me off.  Being with Fox when he didn't listen to me was bad enough.  Now I got some night light eyed weirdo who has the coldest hands in the universe but also doesn't understand a thing I say to him."  Star sighed, annoyed by this situation.  She figured that the white fox probably meant her no harm, otherwise he would have done something before now.  She looked at the wound on his shoulder, gritting her own teeth by how painful it looked.

 Star was no stranger to pain.  It was just the two and a half weeks ago she went through that terrible burn sensation over her face and body that hurt like hell and put her in bed for eight hours, all of it from no apparent cause.  It meant that Fox was injured somewhere, and Star was feeling her twin brother's pains.  She wanted to go help him or try, but she could not move anywhere when it happened.  Besides, Fox survived it and was fine now.  Star knew this.

 "You know, you should get that looked at," said Star kindly.  She knew that he could not understand her, but she tried anyway.  "I'd patch it up for you if you'd let me, just so it wouldn't get infected when you went into the sands.  Hell, I would take you to Titania space port myself if my dune skipper was moving yet, but..."  She turned around to face him, but found him to be gone.

 "What?  Hey!  Where'd you go?"  Star ran back down the hall way towards her living space and found him at her desk at the computer.  He was standing, standing on the back of her desk chair, squatted down onto it to look at the computer.  Rotating on the computer screen was a wire frame image of a Sky Omega class destroyer.  He seemed rather interested in it.

 "Yay xjici lipos ibabwai nari karat?" he said to her, pointing to the image.

 Star shook her head, fed up with this lack of understanding.  "You know, I wish there was some way to learn your language in less then thirty seconds or you mine but I really can't so there is no sense in complaining about it."  She looked at the white fox, her arms folded before her, and her patience gone.  "What am I going to do with you?" she asked quietly.

 The white fox got down off the chair and looked at her, shaking his head.  With a quick walk, he moved towards Star and took her hand into his.  Star almost collapsed when she saw this, thinking that her hand was going to freeze and fall right off.  The fox's touch was warm, almost fiery.  Star sighed with relief, glad that the worst did not happen.  His next move, placing the other hand onto her cheek, which surprised her even more.  She looked at the fox, who winked back to her, a gesture not to worry.  This did little to calm Star's anxiety, but what happened next did.  She was about to twist the other fox's wrist and let him experience flight with some of her judo tactics, but something stopped her.

 She started to hear music in her mind, a soft melody of a÷something she couldn't recognize flowing through her conscious mind.  After a few seconds of listening, Star calmed down and smiled, the music starting to soothe her.  She felt the fox's hand move from her cheek, and the music stopped, and just silenced.  Star was left half stunned by what just happened, and she looked towards the white fox.  He stepped away from her, looked thoughtful for a moment, and then sighed.

 "Thank you," he said to her, sighing more.

 "You can speak our language?" said Star, a little relieved herself.

 "Well, not at first.  I had to learn it from you," said the fox, going back to look at the computer screen.

 "What do you mean?  What are you talking about?" she asked suspiciously.

 "I had to go into your mind to learn how to speak your language," he explained.  "You didn't feel a thing did you?"

 "Well, actually it was rather...  Hey, wait a minute," she growled angrily.  "Just wait a damn minute here!  You got into my head to learn how to speak my language?"

 "That's right," he said.

 "Well, you know how many rights you just violated there jack?  They say unpermissioned mind scans is a major offense to all Lylat telepaths!  I take it about as well as being sent to the hospital, and I don't care if you were looking to see how to read and write so you can send letters back to your mother!  Just what else did you see in my head besides how to speak in my language?"

 "Nothing."

 "Nothing?  And you actually expect me to believe that?"  The white fox ignored her and just looked at the screen.  He did believe it, which did not mean it to be true to Star.  She shook her head angrily.  "Who are you anyway?" she asked, finally getting some understanding to the question.

 "My name is Orion," said the white fox.  "Orion Drakhan.  I would assume that you would ask what I am too but that is something I cannot disclose to you."

 "How did you find this place, I hid it under the sand as best I could.  No one knows about this place.  Not even my brother."  She stopped for a moment, thinking.  "The weird spaceship upstairs, that's not yours, is it?"

 Orion turned and looked at her, nodding slightly.  "The computer pilot on that ship was in desperate need of maintenance.  I guess it malfunctioned on the way down.  No big deal though.  I'll I have to do is set up a beacon for another ship to come and pick me up.  The sandstorm will take care of anyone finding it.

 "By the time anyone does, they'll consider it some archeology find from someone who's been around before they have.  I found this place because I can sense the presence of other people's souls.  Yours was more bright then usual, even for a Lylatian, Star McCloud."

 Star stood there, a little dumbfounded but not showing it.  "Is that some sort of a compliment, or am I supposed to look all goosy or what?  And how did you know my name?"  Orion pointed to a picture on the wall, one of Star and Fox together from five years ago.  Their names were cleanly etched into the frame.  "Unless you are Fox, which I know is not true."  Orion went back to looking at the picture, trying to study it.

 Star sighed.  He was smart, for a younger person.  She almost left him but decided against it, and she went in and sat down on a sofa.  "Back there before you started to understand me, I asked you to be neurolized and then leave this place.  I would like to keep it a secret as much as I can.  But you don't have to take the neurolizer if you don't want to. You don't seem the type who would squeal like a pig."  Star knew she was taking a sick chance, but who was she to make him do something that he didn't want.  Star really did not want to become a vixen flavored pop cycle for the sand worms.

 Orion sighed, a little disappointed.  "I'll take your memory wiper if you wish it."

 "I'll let you sleep here for the night, and I can tend to that wound if you want me to."

 "Oh, that's all right.  It'll heal on its own from a good night's sleep.  Thank you for that anyway.  Tomorrow morning, I'll take your memory pills or whatever they might be, and be on my way."  Orion kept staring at the ship before him, trying to figure it out.  "What is this?" he asked.

 "That...is a computer," said Star.  She knew what he was talking about, she was just having some fun for once.  "I take it that since a computer was flying your spacecraft that you must know something about them.  At least something.  I could never put my faith into a computer to fly my planes or vehicles for me.  Never substitute mortal instinct with digital logic, for the latter is bound to screw out on you."

 Orion looked at her, asking for some seriousness.  "That's Corneria's new Sky Omega class war cruiser.  I've been studying its specks for a few weeks now, trying to memorize them all.  I have a lust to know everything that goes on in this system.  Right now my system wide database is a little small, but its going to be huge by the time this war is done."  Star shook her head, scorning herself for spilling more secrets to this stranger.

 "Anyway, even I have a sense not to go one on one with that monster.  Those talon beams it has, the triple A version, are accurate enough to snip even my Arctic fighter out of space and powerful enough to make only one shot count enough.  Plus it has four separate fighter squadrons of Arwings, the only ones which Pepper has for the military on itself I guess."

 "That," said Orion, tapping on the screen, "is my destination.  I have to find some way to get there and I'll find out why once I do.  Until then, I will wait here and then go to the nearest starport and go from there.  Can you direct me to it tomorrow morning?" he asked.

 Star nodded.  "I'll take you there myself.  Listen, it's getting late, and I have to shower again because I was dumb enough to step outside into a sandstorm with wet hair.  You can sleep on the couch, just try not to get any blood on it."  Orion nodded to her, and Star left.  Satisfied with what he saw on the screen, he stepped away from the computer and sat down on the couch.  Soon he heard the running water of a shower somewhere in the back.

 "Good idea," he said to himself in his own language.  Orion cuffed his hand over the bloody tear in his robe, and ran it down the length of the stain.  Magically, the stain vanished, leaving only a closed wound to deal with.  Orion took the time to heal the wound with his powers when he came in here, but it was not complete.  Sleep would finish it off.

 There he sat on the couch, listening to the sound of running shower water, trying to go to sleep.  His glowing blue eyes lit up the area around him, making him an actual human torch.  Soon, the light died from his eyes closing, and Orion leaned over onto the couch, falling into sleep upon hitting the cushion.

 When Star came out to get her CD player for the night, a wet towel around her fine figure, she found Orion sound asleep.  He looked a little more peaceful here, and those glowing eyes were shut off, not making him look all that freaky.  Here, Star spotted the jewel which was hidden underneath the robe and on his shirt.  It was a badge of two dragons around one gemstone, blue as a day's sky.  That is, when they were off Titania.  Also, the dragons had small red jewels in the eyes.

 Star nodded to him, still wondering if the boyish fox was trustworthy or not.  He probably did not mean harm to her, but he could be waiting to murder her in her sleep.  Somehow, Star doubted it.

 She went into her bedroom, yawning louder with every step.

****

 The place was so dark it scared her.  Star found herself running through the darkened void at top speed, trying to outrun what was behind her.  even she was terrified by its evil presence, but she could not help but look back towards it, seeing if it was giving chase.

 It was so horrible looking, Star almost shook with total fear just by knowing it was back there.  She swallowed hard, almost feeling like her who adam's apple was cast into her stomach, and continued to run backwards away from it.  She could not see it, but seeing was not required.  The known presence was all that was needed.

 She turned around and started to run again, but was stopped cold.  It was in front of her now.  The large thing which was the only word Star could find to describe it other then monster.  The creature was over nine feet tall from head to toe.  It had a total of six seen appendages, four legs and one set of arms.  From this distance, it looked like a cross from a mantis and a spider, black as the night and ugly as a grave creature, Star slowly started to walk away from it.  The thing that got the most attention was the large red eyes, burning like the fires of Solar, and as soul shattering as the thoughts of hell itself.

 Star turned to run the other way, but she was stopped cold yet again by a new vision.  Fox McCloud, her brother, his whole face right before her.  Only it was shadowed, but Star knew it to be her brother.  "Star!" it called out in a painful voice.

 Star McCloud leapt up from her bed, the nightmare getting her insides everywhere.  Cold sweat was pouring off her brow and the rest of her body.  She shook with fear at the nightmare, not wanting to remember any of it.  But it was so vivid.  It was almost like Fox was calling out to her because that evil looking creature was holding him prisoner.  Fox knew that this was far more then just a dream, it had to be something else.  She heard her brother's call for help, and she knew where too.

 Quickly, she leapt out of bed and started to dress.  It was only twelve thirty in the morning, but this was something that could not wait.  She was too unwilling to let this go as just a bad dream.  She ran out and saw that Orion was also awake again and a little troubled looking.

 "What's the matter?" he said, a suspicious look on his face.  Star looked at him, her lower jaw quivering nervously.

 "Nothing," she lied.  "Nothing's the matter at all.  I just have to leave and I mean right now."  Star started to throw on her boots and get her flight jacket, along with the keys to Midnight Fox.

 "You had a nightmare did you not?" asked Orion getting to his feet.  Star stopped and turned around to look at him.  "You were running from an evil thing you could not see, and then were faced by a large and devilish insect creature.  After that, you saw your brother who was calling out to you, asking for help."

 Star's jaw was dropped, mesmerized by that.  "You haven't been reading my mind while I was sleeping were you?" she asked.

 Orion smiled.  "No, Star, I assure you that I was not.  I had the same dream."

 Star walked towards Orion.  "Then it is something important, and not just a dream at all."

 "Yes.  And since you saw it, you have saved me a trip.  You are going to your planet Zoness aren't you.  That is where you will find your brother and his captive whatever."

 "You know what it is," said Star.

 Reluctantly, Orion nodded.  "I'll explain on the way.  I must warn you now that what you saw in there, the creature, is as real is the flesh on your bones, or the blood in your veins, and the connection you have to your brother.  When this is over, your sleep may very well be disturbed for a long while to come."

 Orion turned around and walked down the hall towards Star's fighter bay.  She was left there, looking a little worried.  Star cared nothing about what good night's sleep she got.  She was worried how her brother might be connected to the monster she saw in the dream.  Star, swallowing, grabbed the keys for her jet and ran down the hall.

****

 About seven minutes later, the black Arwing fighter, two people inside it who were Star in the pilot's seat and Orion in the extension behind her, was screaming out of the Titania atmosphere.  Inside it, Star kicked the plane's rockets up as high as they would go and set a course for Zoness.  This was one time that this was only a big wild goose chase, but somehow, she knew it wasn't.

 Star tapped her fingers into a key board at her side and readied her head set.  "This is Star McCloud, designation Midnight Fox security code, seven, one, nine, Tango, two, eight, four, seven, one, Sierra, Babylon, five.  Send private electronic message to following recipient.  Fox McCloud.  Message as follows."

 She waited two seconds and then went on.  "Fox? it's Star.  Sorry I haven't called you or wrote you lately.  Listen, send me a message yourself to me if you get this.  I just had a bad feeling and I want to know if you are OK.  I'm on my way to Zoness now and I have a feeling that something concerning us is going down there.  I don't need your help for this, and actually I prefer if you don't come at all.  Call it a worried gut feeling that something bad will come of it.  I don't expect you to head my warning, but just think before you come running over the hill.  See you soon Fox.  Bye....Message: End.  Terminate Star McCloud, time of O twenty eight.  Logout."

 Star took off her headset and sighed heavily, trying to understand what was happening.  After a while of calming herself down, she started to talk to Orion.

 "Now, tell me what that bug thing was I saw in that dream."

 Orion was reluctant to say anything about this.  "We don't have a real name for it yet.  But the two words that best describe what it is are 'space demon.'  That is exactly what it is.  An unholy entity that is born, bred, raised, lives and dies in the airless confines of space, above and beyond."

 "And how is it connected to my brother?" demanded Star.

 "I don't know.  I have a feeling that we will find out soon enough.  And may Tarreck help us all if what I feel is anything remotely close to the truth."  Orion silenced for a moment, and then Star heard him speaking a prayer in his own language.  Never before has Star McCloud been this afraid.
 
 
 

Chapter III

"I am gray.  I stand between the candle and the stars.
We are gray.  We stand between the darkness and the light."
-Motto of the Minbari Gray Counsel - Babylon 5-
 

 There were two other people to see this terrible dream.  Captain Allison Dallas was one of them.  True, it was only twenty-three hundred hours Corneria time, but she was not about to let something like this go unhindered for long.

 Dallas threw on her uniform jacket, ran a quick come through her hair, put her glasses on, and headed down the hall at top speed.  On route, she called for all Shadow Squadron members to meet in the fighter launch bay for an emergency briefing which she would deliver herself.

 The ship was in dock over Corneria undergoing some major repairs from their fight against Dark Star.  They suffered forty eight casualties, eleven of which were fatalities.  It would be at least a month before the great warship was moving once again.

 As far as crew standings went, there were not many left on SunHawk other then Dallas.  Only Sparky and Dr. Q'Ronnie were remaining on board, and everyone else took shore leave to Corneria.  All of Shadow Squadron was still aboard as stated.  Grant had gone to visit his folks in Corneria City and look up some other friends as well.  Kesh and Maurine were spending the time alone together in the mountains.  Dallas had no idea where Conner was at, for he never said anything before he left.

 Star Fox, she had no idea, and that scared her.  The dream she just had showed Fox being held prisoner by the worst looking alien creature she had ever seen.  Fox was her close friend, and she was not going to let anything touch him.  Right now, Dallas knew exactly where to look for this problem.  Zoness.

 All of Shadow Squadron was waiting inside the launch bay when Dallas got there.  Most of them looked tired.  The weary fatigue of the Dark Star fight still on them a little.  She paid it no mind.

 "What's going down, Cap?" asked one of the Shadow members.

 "What's happening, Skipper?" asked Kite McCane immediately after.

 "Gentlemen, first thing is that I want you to know that this assignment I am giving you will be completely off the record.  If any of you want to cash in now and go back to sleep, no reports will be made, and no alterations to your pilot statistics will be done either."

 "Where is it that we're going?" asked Ninook, Shadow Squad leader.

 "Zoness," replied Dallas.  "I've gotten...a unanimous tip-off that something big might be going down there.  I don't know what yet, but it may involve Star Fox in some way that is going to hurt them.  Although the person who gave me this mission data said nothing about the dangers involved in it," she lied, "I believe that a risk factor should definitely be accounted for.  If you want to bail out now, do so, and nothing more will be said.  I will go on this mission myself if I have to."  Everyone saw the look in her green eyes and knew that she was dead serious.

 "Hell with that," said Kite, getting to his feet.  "I'm in with you on this all the way Captain."

 "Thank you Mr. McCane," she said.  "Anyone else?"

 "I've got your back," said Ninook, standing up as well.

 "'We got nothing else better to do," said Corporal Zeke Timel, a tall beaver with a crazy sense of adventure.  "Just sit here like bum in the streets is not my idea of a good time.  Besides, Star Fox saved my pelt at Dark Star.  I feel I owe it to 'em to help 'em out.  Count me in, Skipper."  Dallas nodded to him and looked towards the others.

 No one else got to there feet.  Out of the seven of Shadow Squadron members, only three stayed in.  Ninook looked around, very disappointed somewhat.  But they were pretty weakened by the battle when the SunHawk was damaged.  A Shadow and the ship he protects are one.  "I expect you scum sacks to be plenty rested up by the time we get back.  When we do, I'm going to drill you until your eyes melt down into your mouths."

 "Thank you gentlemen, that will be all," said Dallas.  She started to head towards one of the Shadow Squadron Arwings.

 "We're leaving now?" asked Kite.

 "Right now.  Get to your planes, we don't have the time to chitchat."  Kite and the other two got to their Arwings and strapped themselves in.  By this time, Dallas's fighter was already being taxied towards the launcher.  A few minutes later, the Arwing was pushed forward and ejected from the SunHawk launch bay.

 Dallas looked behind her to see the other three members of Shadow come out of the bay and move into formation with her.  "This is Squad leader, report in."

 "Shadow One, standing by," said Ninook.

 "Shadow Three, standing by," reported Timel.

 "Shadow Two, rock and roll," said Kite.

 "Set S foils to space flight mode and set your course to Zoness.  At this distance, it will take us at least five hours to get there."

 "Nothing we can't handle Cap'n," assured Timel, setting the auto pilot to manual, allowing him to fly.

 Nothing else was said after that.  The four orange Arwings sped off into space as fast as their ships could go, maximum burn being poured into their thrusters, making them burn hot and fast.

 From the Great Fox, Fara Phoenix watched from the bridge windows as the four other Arwings were launched from the SunHawk and then started to fly out into space.  Captain Dallas had called to check on Fox, just to make sure he was safe.  When Fara told him that she didn't know where Fox was, Dallas cut the link to her and that was it.  Now, Fara was watching the four fighters in a hurry  through space, thinking herself that something has gone wrong with Fox or something else.

 Fara watched the fighters last seen area long after they had vanished into space.  If Fox was in trouble, then she would pray for his safe return.  What she didn't understand was how he got out and started to head off towards Zoness without ROB or anyone else knowing about it.

 "What's going on?"  Fara turned around and saw Fox, looking like a mess, standing at the bridge door.  He yawned out loud and then looked at Fara, who glared at him angrily.  "Did I miss something?" he asked.

 "Where have you been?" demanded Fara.

 "In the game room.  I fell asleep while hooked up the VR system.  That's what you get for playing something so boring its hypnotic.  I had the most God awful nightmare through it though."  Fox smiled with amusement, but Fara was not.

 "Do you have any idea what just happened?" she demanded.  "I don't know how or why, but Captain Dallas and three other fighters headed out to find out where you were.  She said that you might be headed for Zoness, but..."

 "What!" said Fox, blowing up all of a sudden.  "Zoness?"  Without saying why, Fox grabbed his flight helmet off of the table.  Fara caught him before going out the door.

 "Where are you going?" she asked.

 "To Zoness and find out what the hell is going on."  He got to the door and headed out, Fara hot on his heels.

 "Let me go with you.  I'll take Peppy's Arwing and we'll go on this together."

 "No," said Fox.  "There is something on Zoness that is definitely going on.  And I have to find out what.  Someone close to me is going there now, and I don't mean Dallas.  Someone else.  Don't worry Fara, I'll be back soon."  He turned around and kissed her on the forehead and hugged her just before he sprinted down the hall.

 Fox got in his Arwing and warmed it up quickly.  Within minutes, he was spaced and flying away from Corneria out towards the stars, towards Zoness.  On his way out, he got on the horn to ROB and instructed him to tell the others where he was going when they got back.  He didn't want them following now, but to have them not follow at all would be impossible.  ROB confirmed the orders and then informed Fox that he had a message electronically coming in for him, designated with no return address and an urgent private tag on it.

 Fox took the message in his Arwing.  He smiled when he heard Star, his sister's voice on the PA system.  When he heard her say she was going to Zoness, he half choked from terror over the worst.

 "Oh, God, Star," he muttered to himself.  "Not you.  Please don't go there."  Fox hit his engines and tried to scan ahead for Shadow Squadron, but they were already long gone.  Swallowing heavily over fears of his own sister, Fox took his Arwing towards Zoness at the best speed it could go.  For all he knew, Star could already be entering the Zoness orbit.  He knew that she could take care of himself far more effectively then any of his team could, but still...  He had the terrible gut feeling that if she went down there, she would not be walking out.

 Fox tried to get more speed, but his engines were already pushing at their max limit.  At this rate, he would not get to Zoness for another five to six hours.  It was the pits that it was on the far side of the sun, then it could have taken only an hour to get there.  Fox just hoped that wherever Star was coming from, it was far enough away from Zoness where he would surpass her to it.

****

 The custom built science vessel, known throughout Lylat as the Praetorian, was lumbering towards its new destination, where they would be landing within the hour.  Not just a science vessel, but a mobile science facility between planets, this place was where many of Andross' worst biological creations were made.  Now, it belonged to another.

 Dr. Miltdown looked up into the view screen, into the eyes of Emperor Andross, and he smiled.  Andross, however, made no such friendly gesture.  He recognized an old assistant of his from Corneria before his exile, and was not please to see him.  Andross folded his hands before him and stared coolly at the small gimp doctor.

 "I've got a present for you your highness," said Miltdown.

 Andross raised a single eyebrow, not interested but intrigued.  Miltdown shook his head.  "Actually, I mistook myself.  This I will have to call merchandise instead of present, forgive me for saying so.  I have to make a living you know."

 With an annoyed look, Andross reached over to terminate the connection.  "Good bye Miltdown," said Andross coldly and sarcastically.  "I'll send someone over later to thank you for wasting my precious time."

 "Wait!  Wait!" called out Miltdown, running towards the screen frantically.  Andross returned attention, but with impatience and anger.  "My lord, the product I am selling you is something that you would very much love to have.  Consider it an object to wipe out something that's been eating at your dinner platter without you knowing it lately.  Once yet have my little object, you'll be able to eradicate that nuisance from the inside."

 Andross narrowed his eyes, faintly interested now.  He leaned back in his chair.  "I have a lot of nuisances from Corneria these days Doctor.  Be a little more specific in which one you are talking about."

 "The worst one of all of course," said Miltdown proudly.

 "Star Fox?"

 "Exactly."

 For the first time in this conversation, Andross grinned with interest.  What exactly did this doctor have in mind?  He knew Miltdown as an accomplished biologist and brilliant individual, he did have the best teacher.  He Wondered what would Wolf think about the ultimate tool to eliminate Star Fox that was not coming from him, as if it mattered.  Andross leaned forward.

 "You've got yourself a deal Dr. Miltdown.  How much is it you are asking for?"

 "We'll settle that when we meet for business and after you've taken a look at the merchandise.  It's not ready yet, but it will be by the time we meet."

 "Where?"

 "Zoness.  Six hours.  You'll see my science vessel on the surface."

 Andross nodded to Miltdown and leaned forward farther.  "One warning, 'doctor'.  I am working very hard on something very important to me.  This war against the Cornerians is not going very well for me lately.  With Dark Star's death and the loss of over half my forces and the rest failing miserably left and right, I have to turn to new weapons.  If I find that you have wasted my time, the guards I bring with me are going to have a field day playing golf with your eye balls."  He terminated the link, leaving Miltdown to swallow nervously.

 "Dr. Miltdown?" said a scientist.  He looked towards the attractive young mink and nodded to her.  "It's time."

 "It's time?" he repeated.  With his ears perked up, Miltdown limped his way to the laboratory with great glee, fearing he would miss it.  But it was still there.

 The chrysalis was pulsating very rapidly now, almost looking like it was about to explode out into the jar.  He ordered a worker to have the life supporter on line as soon as the sleeper broke out.  It was already, and the weasel doctor went to look on with total glee.

 It started.  A large crack spewing out a white mucus emerged before them.  Out from that crack came the small claws of a glistening paw with orange fur.  It has begun.

****

 Star shook violently, her whole body trembling as she lost control of her jet.  The Midnight Fox slowly started to descend out of control, but Star clutched her heart.  To her, it felt as if her whole chest had imploded and was ready to pop out of her own chest into her hand.  She gritted her teeth, waiting until the pain subsided.  After a short time, it did, and Star got control over the fighter again.

 "What is wrong?" asked Orion, looking forward towards Star.  "Are you all right?"

 Panting heavily, Star nodded her head, still clutching the heart that nearly took her wind away from her.  It was no heart attack.  She was in perfect health.  But Star knew it was not Fox either.  She didn't know how, but she just had that family feeling that Fox was unharmed, for now.

 Something terrible just happened.  She didn't know what, but it definitely involved both her and Fox.  Star was going to find out what it was, and soon.  The only question was how it would effect her.  Their engines were already at their peak, yet they were still over an hour away from Zoness.  With every kilometer closer they came to Zoness, both Star and Orion could feel one more ounce of darkness closing in on them.

 Star shook her head, forcing herself not to think about Fox's implications in this matter.  Star knew that worrying all the way out here would only cloud her judgments to come, so she pushed it out of her thoughts and started to think objectively.  For one thing, Star had no clue what was really going on, so she was going to have to be extra careful if there was a fight ahead.  Did this involve Andross at all?  If it did, being ID'ed by him as a McCloud was something she wanted to avoid.  But if Fox was being held captive, or if his life was threatened by the mad Venom lord, then she would unveil herself if it meant saving him.

 Behind her, Orion had went to sleep.  He sure wasn't letting this worry him that much, thought Star to herself.  She still had no idea what he was either, nor his involvement in this calamity.  Nonetheless, even though he has not proven himself as a true friend yet, Star was a little glad to have him along.  But what could a child do against someone like Andross, even if he could freeze things with his hands and read minds like books through physical touch.

 Another wave of searing pain raged through Star's body, making her heart skip a beat again.  She yelled out slightly, taken surprise by it, and then prisoner.  This discomfort lasted longer then the first, and it was just as agonizing.  Yet Star was able to maintain control of the Midnight Fox, keeping it level.  Orion awoke at the sounds of her pain.

 "Focus on something else," he said to her.  "Take your mind off of the pain and think of something that brings you comfort or pleasure.  Be at peace with yourself."

 Star concentrated on memories of her father, James, and the time she had while she was a kit.  Soon and sure enough, the pain subsided before she knew what happened.  Star breathed with relief, again her heart on the edge of an attack.

 "Cramps?" said Orion, smiling towards her.

 "What?"

 "Never you mind.  Are you all right?"

 Star nodded, rubbing the back of her neck.  "Something is coming," she said quietly.  "What is it?" Orion did not answer, he only looked towards the stars.  Star was getting more impatient every moment she was around him, and it was beginning to show.  She decided that it was enough.

 They were just coming up to Fortuna, which, to Star's dismay even though it was her idea, was going to be a brief rest stop.  She turned the fighter and headed down at top speed, beginning a landing descent onto the most frozen plain she could find.

 "What are you doing?" asked Orion.  "We do not seem to have time for this."  Star said nothing in reply.  She just set the landing cycle and let the black jet land softly into the snow.  When they were down, Star forced open the canopy and jumped out, looking at Orion angrily.

 "Get out!" she yelled out at him.  "Right now!"  Orion shrugged but obeyed, jumping out of the fighter and facing the vixen.  Star had lost all fear of what Orion was or what he could do.  She was tired of his holier then thou attitude and secretive sense of duty.  She reached out and grabbed his robe, yanking him nose to nose with her.

 "All right, snow flake!" she quipped loudly.  "It's time that you and I had a little chat.  I want to know everything that you know about whatever it is we are facing here, and I want it not now, but right now."

 Orion narrowed his illuminating eyes at her and looked away.  "If I hafta smack you around to get you to talk, then consider it severance pay.  I'll get what I want and leave you here on this snow cone where it seems you'll be right at home.  Personally, I'd rather have your help in this, but..."

 "Then why do you persist in this senseless threats of violence, wasting our time that is very valuable to us on this frozen waste land where, despite what you may think, I really don't want to be."

 "Fine!" yelled Star, hoisting him to his toes.  "But you are going to level with me.  You're acting like this is all some big need to know basis, and guess what, I need to know.  So start talking and make it snappy, because we're not leaving this ice chest until I'm satisfied that I know enough to go on!"

 "Maybe we should talk in flight," he suggested.

 "Hell with that!" she screamed.  "Right here and right now."

 "We've wasted enough time already.  I'll tell you everything you want to know on the fighter while we're on our way or I'll do it right here if you wish.  But if you wish to remain here in this frigid dessert planet then don't forget to remember that your brother could be already landing on Zoness as we remain here."  Star stepped back, shaking her head.  She nodded to him.

 "Get in," she said to him.

 Within a few minutes, Star and Orion were in flight again, and Star looked back towards him, waiting for his fulfillment.

 "The creature we are facing up against is known as the Defiler to our family.  He is a space born entity of total evil, said to have been born within the heart of a dying star, which is a great bringer of life.  He got his name from my ancestors after he destroyed the temple which my ancestors built over three hundred thousand of your years ago."

 "Your family goes back that long?" said Star.

 "It goes much farther then that, believe me.  Before then, we were one of the many  common right hands for the main body of the Shyer Catholaie Caste, the religious and the smallest part of my people, known as the Shyer.  The Defiler came into our homeworld trying to eliminate the peace which was growing there.  He battled against my ancestor, the Grand Priest Harlen Mashir, and murdered him.  Nothing was left of the temple when the monster was finished.  Not even a single molecular, or even a shadow that it existed at all.

 "The Defiler went about the Shyer countryside, setting rival guilds and clans to war against one another, pitting brother against brother.  It was the first time the Shyer have ever warred against one another, and the blood that spilled because of it was atrocious.  For the nest century and a half, the Defiler remained on our homeworld, routing out the hidden seeds of Chaos and making the roots and vines of it spread across the planet.  Cults, terrible and bloodthirsty cults, were spawned to follow and worship him.  The say that the only tower temple erected to him was constructed from the bones of innocent women and children."

 "My God," said Star.  "So what did you do?"

 "Even though they were the first ones to be violated by this horrid deviltry, the Catholaie were the only ones who maintained some shred of order.  This alone was enough to put them as resistant to his presence, so he sent his followers out to hunt the Catholaie down and terminate them.  He decreed that no Shyer loyal to the Catholaie was to be left alive, no one.

 "After this, those that survived this hunt, which were less then a tenth, went into hiding in the mountains.  For some reason, neither the Defiler or his followers could follow them into the mountains, but all of my ancestors set up there the last remaining line of defense against the Defiler's most hostile takeover.  They set up what was known as the Dragon Soul Brotherhood, led by the greatest leader of our people, Tarreck Soulfire.  Although he was at first a member of the Executor Caste, he was the last one to of our people to follow and the only one who knew the old warrior's way.  He took up residence with the Catholaie and taught them to fight, and they taught him many other things as well.

 "This group came out of them mountains and took the Defiler forces by a surprise storm.  Although they were loath to spill the blood of other Shyer, it was the only way left to eliminate the monster's influence over the people.  The evil himself left his followers behind and took to the stars after he saw that he lost.  So, we had won our own world back.  All those who flocked to the Defiler's banner were exiled into space, us making sure that the only place they could ever go was a desert dust ball planet out on the galactic rim, out of our hair for all time.

 "After that, we lived on.  All of the Shyer took up the philosophy of the dragon, and Tarreck faded off into legend, always in our hearts and our memories.  No one knows what happened to him, and we don't try and wonder either.  The Dragon Soul Brotherhood to this day remain intact, appointed at keeping the peace between our people, and watching every vigilant in case the Defiler would ever return.  We never thought its return would bypass us, and end up going for you."

 "So that's what we are facing now," said Star.  She shook her head, not believing what she just heard.  "Some ancient evil is going to cause trouble in our system by what, escalating this war up further, if that's at all possible.  And you haven't told me how Fox is connected to it or any of this."

 "Actually," said Orion, "the Defiler won't get into it directly.  He works by influencing someone involved already, usually in an important position, and has that vassal breed his evil for him.  That could very well be what the Defiler has in mind with your brother, if anything at all."

 Star laughed, something inside her saying that what she just heard was nonsense.  "That's ridiculous!" she yelled.  "Fox is no one's martyr, especially for evil purposes.  He wouldn't go for something like that."

 "No one is above being corrupted by the Defiler.  He has ways of getting what he wants from mortals, even if it takes time to span until their elder years.  Horrible ways too."

 "No," insisted Star.  She shook her head quickly, still not swallowing this.  For her, it was all too much.  "I won't believe that.  What about you?" she asked after time.  "You're one of this Dragon Soul Brothers, aren't you?"

 "Yes, one in training though.  Just an acolyte.  My training was...postponed if not terminated because of that vile witch monster Pandora Freelancer."  Orion crossed himself religiously as if to ward off evil, a precaution after mentioning a name that would be forever cursed by the Shyer.  "There are very few of us left now because of her.  I was close to this system when the Defiler passed into it.  I took the opportunity to fulfill our original obligations of existence."

 "And just how powerful is this creature?" asked Star.  She turned around in her seat and looked at him.  "You don't walk into a brawl without having some skills to bust heads and expect to walk out in one piece."

 "He is a space born super natural entity, we don't know the exact extent of his abilities, but he must be able to pull off the things he has ever done.  The nature of them, no one, not even Tarreck, as ever seen them to our knowledge.  All that we know is that the level of the threat which he brings reaches up to a galactic level."

 Star swallowed hard, thinking about this.  If she wanted to, she could turn around now, leave behind the memories of Orion and this Defiler entity and be back in bed before dawn and think this as just some horrible nightmare.  Not if Fox was involved.  Star would be damned before some intergalactic Satan got her twin brother as a pawn.  Besides that, it was too late to turn back anyway.

 Before them was Zoness.  The sick green and olive drabs of the poisoned seas and atmosphere, done at the hands of Andross because he needed a disposal sight for all the wastes he created.  Star was almost brought to tears every time she thought about this hell hole of a planet, thinking on how beautiful it was a long time ago.  Before the wars.  Star shook her head, not thinking about it.  A few seconds of orbit, and her sensors found something.

 "Well, looky here.  It looks like someone has already set down in the garbage sea.  Looks like a Interrogator class Science Vessel, used by Venom forces only.  Looks a little different from normal ones though.  More upgraded and advanced.  If I didn't know any better, I'd say that is the Praetorian."  She squinted her eyes, not understanding what she was looking at and how it fit into the situation.

 "Is that bad?" asked Orion, looking down towards the planet surface.  His mouth curled in disgust when he saw the polluted environment, and the life down there suffering from it.

 "I don't know," said Star.  "Probably.  The Praetorian was one of Andross' most productive biological research stations.  It is a mobile science vessel but it can also morph into a stationary facility, both serving the same purpose.  If it's involved with your Defiler monster, then I hate to think what's going on between it and who ever's running that thing.  It can't be good news."

 Star started a descending run towards the planet, homing in on the Praetorian's beacon.  "That ship declared itself neutral shortly after the war started, so they should allow us to land.  I know they've been selling some nasty stuff to Andross, but I haven't been able to acquire hard evidence on that yet to send back to Corneria or, better yet, use for myself.  But both Priority One and the Cornerian War Ministry know that this ship has been dealing with Andross."

 "Well if they know about all of the 'nasty stuff' as you put it, then why do they let this ship go free and claim to be without side?"

 Star grimaced and shook her head.  "It's all part of that great, wonderful world of interplanetary politics.  All of the desk runners back home think that if we have any hope of settling this thing peacefully, we have to run the war through their own special political hand book.  But their too stupid to realize that Andross doesn't give a flying hoot about peace.  That's why the Cornerian military themselves have been so inactive during the war until just recently."

 A warning light sounded on the flight control console.  Star looked at the tac screen to see they were fast approaching the science vessel.  Star dove hard and pulled up just before the Midnight Fox hit the water.  This jet was stealthy enough for her to stay low and fast, then she wouldn't have to worry about those damned search lights everywhere.  She would still have to evade them good enough to remain covert, and that would be a challenge.

****

 They were all very shocked when the saw what hatched out of the chrysalis.  The sleeper would in fact be a great asset to Andross, if not the greatest of all time.  Everyone looked at Dr. Miltdown a little different from then on.  A brilliant man for thinking something this big up, but nuts for ignoring the risks of it.

 Miltdown cared nothing about the risks.  He knew that they were there, but he would slash them out of the air with surgical precision just like others he took care of already.  He limped into his lab and all eyes went to him.

 His female mink assistant walked up to Miltdown, herself looking a little angry.  Miltdown knew that she was afraid of the risks involved with this project, but he considered her opinions something on the line of entertainment rather then words of wisdom.  A bad habit which would eventually kill him.

 "So, where is the sleeper now, Doctor?" asked the mink.  "Or should I say newborn abomination and death certificate."

 "My dear Dr. Staler," whispered Miltdown.  "You shouldn't worry so much.  Soon Andross will be coming around the corner and we'll sell him the thing that will prove both his best friend and most favorite toy."  He walked towards a window and looked out towards the wasted see, smiling.  "When that happens, he'll no longer be your worry.  My worry, sometime, maybe."  With a quick jerk, he turned around with a great beaming grin.  "Never mind," he said.

 "The experiment is now in the detention area, which is where he will remain until Andross gets here or he proves to be loyal to Venom.  Until then, he stays put."  Miltdown limped over to the chrysalis chamber, now empty except a few shreds of the cocoon itself hanging loosely.  After a while, he went back to his desk where Staler stood and wondered about her boss.

 "You know something doctor," said Miltdown to her.  "You are a pretty lady."  The way he looked at her sent chills up the minks backbone.

 "Goodbye, Dr. Miltdown, I have to go."  She ran quickly out of the lab, keeping her back turned all the way.  When she was gone, Miltdown looked at a few workers who were also smiling at what happened.  The laughed between themselves, and were stopped by a new signal.

 "Doctor, a ship approaching us at high speeds is requesting permission to land," reported a worker.

 "Do you have an ID on the ship in question?" he asked.

 The worker looked at his screen for a while, confused by this new sight.  "It looks like an Arwing fighter, but its configured differently.  It's colored all in black."

 Miltdown poured a drink for himself and leaned back in his chair.  "Allow them to lend and see to it they find their way into the detention block.  I see that our new pet has his first test in loyalty.  Let's see if he scores as I expect him to."

 At once, the worker sent the landing approval to the approaching fighter.
 
 
 

Chapter IV

"I create what I can and sell it to the highest bidder, whether it is weapons of mass destruction or even a kid model of an Arwing fighter.  When it comes to weapons, Andross is the highest bidder always.  Can I help myself to use war as profit, something that is so good for business?"
-Dr. Harvey Miltdown - Science Vessel Praetorian-
 

 At last, Fox got Shadow Squadron in his sights.  They were dead ahead, not in visual range yet, but close.  Captain Dallas was keeping her speed below max to conserve fuel for the trip home.  Fox did not want to be seen by her, for she would definitely send someone back to coax him home.

 Fox had already told himself that there was no way he would be leaving if Star was involved.  She was the only other McCloud left, and he was not looking forward to becoming the last.  He decided not to complain about it, for Zoness was only a stone's throw away.  Another hour, and they would be there.

 He didn't know if Star was there yet or not.  They were too far out of range to be able to tap into each other's thoughts, even if she was on Zoness.  If they got there, he would know if she was there, almost there, or not.  Fox sighed and started to listen in.  Shadow Squadron was having words.

 "All right boys," said Dallas.  "We'll be entering Zoness airspace in about thirty minutes.  Keep your eyes open for welcoming committees."

 "Captain, what is it that you think has got Fox anyway?" asked Kite.

 "I don't know," said Captain Dallas.  "I don't even know if we should be here or not.  Sorry about that boys.  But...I thought it was worth the stretch."

 This was what told Fox to remain hidden as well.  If they found out he was here, then they might turn around, even though he doubted it.  If Fox persisted on going forth, then he knew that Captain Dallas and Kite would go with him.  But the others?  He remained back and kept the distance and pace with them.  Fox kept trying to get in touch with Star through telepathy, but she was too far out of range as of yet.  But he kept trying.  He couldn't afford to stop.

****

 No one was out to greet them when the Midnight Fox landed.  This was strange yet again.  You would expect some sort of welcome on a neutral aligned space craft, a friendly gesture to keep the suspicion down.  Here, there was just authorization for landing and that was it.  Star looked around on the small landing platform.  A door inside was left open, no movement inside.

 Orion climbed out of the ship and stood next to her, narrowing his eyes towards the darkened entrance for them.  Without thinking, he walked forward towards the door and peered inside.  Star followed up behind him, a light phaser in her hand, just in case.

 The hallway, like the platform, was deserted.  No power going through it at all, and on door at once entrance was open.  Not liking to be lead around, Star tried the other door first.  It was locked and sealed from the other side, and she was not about to blast open a door on a potential enemy space craft.

 The two of them walked through two flights of stars towards lower decks of the ship.  All the time, they were being blocked off at certain points, as if they were being taxied somewhere.  Star hated this.  This was an obvious lead to a trap, but with Fox possibly around here somewhere, there was no way she was leaving until she knew for certain.

 They were stopped three decks bellow where they started, which, Star guessed, was the lowest deck of the ship.  She saw a sign on the wall that listed all areas on this deck.  Cargo storage, engine equipment, detention block, supplies.  Star saw detention block and glowered angrily.  If she was being led somewhere, that had to be it, and it was probably where they were keeping Fox.  Yet, there was something strange about this.

 The two of them walked down the halls, following the arrows to the detention areas and trying to remain silent.  No one on board of the crew was seen at all yet.  It was as if the entire crew was nothing put air shadows after they left the ship behind.  Orion figured that if the Defiler was here, he probably murdered all the crew and cast them overboard, leaving just him and Fox.

 The two of them were stopped cold by the first noise other then themselves.  It was a loud but distant cry of agony and pain, like a tortured man somewhere.  When Star got to listen to it, her eyes narrowed in anger.

 "Who was that?" asked Orion.

 "It...it sounded like my brother," said Star, walking forward slowly, the phaser gripped tightly in her paw.  "But this isn't right."

 "How do you mean?"

 "Fox and I are telepathically connected.  His thoughts and mine are known to the other in close proximity.  Plus, we feel each other's pains and agonies.  Right now, the only thoughts I am picking up are my own, and I'm not feeling anything.  Whoever that was, he was in pain."

 Orion looked forward and shook his head.  "Then maybe it wasn't your brother," he said calmly.  Orion advanced more down the hall, and Star stayed ahead of him, her phaser ready.  That scream sounded so much like her brother, she was so certain of it.

 The detention block area was unguarded, and all but one jail cell was opened.  A sick green light was illuminating the whole block, some of it was from outside since this deck was underwater, but still shallow enough for daylight to get through.  The rest of the green was ugly green mildew on the overhead lamps.  Star grimaced at the sight of this, and the thought that her brother might be held in here.

 The only locked jail cell was an electrically charged cage big enough to live in.  There were no bunks inside, just a dirty metal floor.  Star and Orion both looked inside the cell and saw its inhabitant.  One fox, sitting against the wall opposite from the bars, had his arms around his knees and his face buried in them.  This Fox was unmoving and rather gaunt looking but still built strong enough.

 Orion and Star stood before the jail cell and looked into it, then to each other, and then back at the imprisoned fox.  Even though he heard nothing of them, the fox inside brought his head up and looked at them with bright green eyes.  Star gasped at sight of him.

 Inside, was Fox McCloud, wearing the standard prison garbs given by Venom captures.  One pair of knee cut pants.  Fox smiled at the two before him, more then any at Star.

 "Hello Star, sister," he said to her, his eyes narrowing towards them.

****

 There it was.  Planet Zoness.  Captain Dallas looked down at the polluted sphere and scowled at readings.  It was definitely the Praetorian down there, floating without power in the waters.  That ship was put on a possible wanted for questioning list a while back, just after it went into hiding deep in Venom space.  Now, it was here.

 Dallas was just about to order that all ships were to descend upon the Venomian science vessel and board it, but Kite stopped her.

 "Captain, we have a problem," he said to her.

 "What?" asked Dallas, a little annoyed.

 "That.  Twelve o'clock high."  Dallas looked up and saw the seventeen plus Venomian fighters, all of them Invader III class, swooping down on them hard.

 "All ships: scatter!" she barked out.  "Engage enemy targets at will."  '

 Dallas headed strait into the enemy fighter group, letting her lasers cannons speak for themselves.  She plowed strait through the enemy formation and destroyed at least two, probably three of the enemy while doing it.  Behind her, Kite and the other Shadows were engaging targets one on one or even three on one against.  None of them bothered with their Shadow technique, they just fought like a wind storm with fiery brambles.

 Fox McCloud saw this engagement from his Arwing and decided to ignore it.  He also saw the Invader's mothership, a Venomian heavy carrier, enter orbit around Zoness.  But this was not his destination either.  Fox saw the Praetorian on his sensors and knew that that's where Star had to be if she was here.  He couldn't read her thoughts yet, but he would be able to once he got on that station.  At once, he started his descent, committed to bypass all the search lights, not caring about being detected.

 As he entered, a shuttle was being launched from the Venomian carrier.  The dogfight with Shadow squadron continued on, fighters from the carrier replacing ones that fell every time.

****

 Star walked forward and pointed her phaser through the bars, right at Fox's heart.  "You are not Fox McCloud," she growled hatefully.  "If you are Fox, then why can't I read your thoughts?"

 The Fox before her got to his feet, showing that he had chained manacles around his wrists and ankles, securing him cleanly to the wall.  He glared at both of them, a little frustrated and walked forward as far as he was allowed.

 "You're right," he said to her.  His voice was the exact same as the real Fox McCloud.  He was the same height, the same build, the same shade of orange in the fur and the same patches of white around the eyes.  Only, he seemed a bit darker.  "I'm not the Fox McCloud who is your actual brother.  I was spawned from a blood sample taken from him."

 "Spawned?" said Orion, looking at Fox.

 "You're a clone...of my brother?" asked Star in disbelief.

 "Yes.  I believe that if I wasn't told this by the scientist who created me, then I would believe that I was the actual Fox McCloud.  Still, that doesn't change the fact that I am as much Fox McCloud as the original is."

 "Like hell you are," spat Star, keeping the phaser pointed at her brother's clone.  Fox stepped back, looking at her angrily.  "You are a screwed over abomination created by Andross or someone else to try and break my family name.  I'm not buying it, so as far as I'm concerned, you're history."  Star began to pull on the trigger to her phaser, ready to kill this vile creation.

 Fox 2 just calmly looked at her.  "You could be right about that.  Even though Andross knows nothing about me yet just as he knows nothing about the existence of Fox McCloud's sister, and I am very sure that you would like to keep it that way.  My creator, Dr. Miltdown, wants to sell me to Andross as if I am some sort of slave of his.  I am not buying that.  So you can kill me if you want and you'll be serving both our purposes.  Or, you can get me out of here and we'll leave this place behind together."

 Star lowered her gun, keeping an eye on Fox 2, not removing it.  It was obvious that she didn't trust him, making her reluctant to help him.  "Think of it this way," said Fox 2.  "I could very well be your nephew or something like that.  Since I was created from Fox's DNA, he would be best described as my father.  Are you willing to terminate a potential ally, Star McCloud?  An unofficially new McCloud addition."

 "But you are just a copy of Fox's personality," said Star, keeping her phaser at the ready.

 "On the contrary, I do very much have my own personality, programmed into my head while my incubation was taking place.  All of Fox's personality traits from Fox were taken from him by spying telepaths over the past three years.  I know all Fox knows up 'til about...five months ago.  I guess that was what Dr. Miltdown wanted.  The best way to crush the McCloud family name like an egg under a falling meteor.  Simple as that."

 "You just said that you almost believed that you were the real Fox McCloud when you were born," stated Orion.

 Fox 2 stepped back and put himself in the shadows.  "Star, unless you tell your companion to shut his mouth and stay out of our business, this conversation is terminated.  I'll take my chances with Andross, maybe I'll assassinate the overgrown monkey."

 Star motioned Orion away, and he complied.  Fox 2 smiled as he watched the white fox remove himself from his view, and then he looked back to Star.  "So," he said.  "What do you say?  Let me out of here or leave me to the dogs?"

 She made no motion of making a decision for a long while.  Before she did she turned around and looked at Orion, who nodded slightly to her.  Star looked back to Fox 2 and sighed, looking at the control panel at a nearby desk.  She walked over to it and recieved demand for a password.  Star easily hacked her way through the security system and set a command, and the gate to Fox's cell swung open.  At once, Orion stepped inside and walked towards Fox 2.  The clone looked at the arctic fox with great hatred, threatening and trying to intimidate with his glance.  He started to growl.

 Orion reached out towards the wrist manacles, and Fox snapped his jaw out towards his hand, almost catching a finger.  Orion stepped back from him, his eyes glowing brightly.  "No one but family will I trust, snowflake," warned Fox 2.  "Especially not freaks."  He spat on the ground in front of the white fox.

 Star walked in and saw the clone's extreme anger and loathing towards Orion, wondering why.  She had gotten a key from the desk and was walking towards Fox 2 with them in hand.  She was stopped by Orion.

 "Perhaps we should rethink things through before we act," he said calmly.  "This could very well be the Defiler's target.  Since it is a clone of your brother, it could be why you saw him in your dreams."

 "Don't listen to him Star," warned Fox 2, jumping up to his feet.  "He's been deceiving you ever since you met him.  Cut loose of him right now.  Let me loose and I'll kill him and we'll get out of him together."

 At once, Star knew that Fox 2 was lying to her.  Although she didn't trust Orion she still knew that he was being truthful.  "We can't just leave him here," she said.  "We'll release him, but after that he'll be on his own."

 "Suite yourself," said Orion.  "I..."   He was cut off from a move by Fox 2.  The clone blind side shoulder rammed him, sending him flying into the bars.  Orion ran into the caged bars, which were still electrified.  The resulting arcs of electricity ran through his body, causing him to yell out in rage and agony.  The power to the bars was drained quickly, and Orion's smoking body dropped to his knees and then to his side.

 Before she could respond to what happened, Star was grabbed by the shirt collar by Fox 2 and hoisted into the air with one arm as if she was nothing.  Star tried to wrestle her way out of the grip, but this version of Fox was hordes stronger then the original, and Star was helpless.  She looked down into the eyes of the copy of her brother, who was looking into her eyes evilly.

 "I knew it," said Star.  "With genetic manipulation, even the most seemingly good guys can stab you in the back if told to.  Thanks for proving my point."

 "Oh, you are very welcome.  The only thing is that my motives to betray you were not given to me.  They were my own.  It's nothing personal you know, it's just that Andross' path looks the most profitable.  I guess Miltdown knew what he was doing when he put feelings of greed in my heart large enough to rival that of Pigma Dengar.  Going through and bringing peace to this system.  There isn't much profit in peace, but it is handed out in gold diamond crusted chests during war.  But don't worry Star.  I'll make certain that Andross does not know about your affiliation to the McCloud family."

 Star said nothing, and simply stared at him.  In a split second motion, she spat into his face.  "Go to hell," she sneered.  Fox 2 simply smiled at her.

 "Until then, sweet dreams sweet heart."  Star felt a cloth cover her nose and mouth.  She tried to struggle, but felt herself slip into darkness.  Star fell asleep in his hand, and Fox 2 laid her down gently on the steel floor.  His eyes went to Orion, laying on the floor unconscious.  "However, your friend," he said loudly, going and lifting the small white fox up just as easily, "won't be leaving this ship with his heart and head."

 Fox 2 walked out of the cell and shut it, Orion slumped over his shoulders and Star inside on the floor.  He did notice it as he walked out, but he didn't mind the phaser parked right outside the cell.

****

 The Venomian shuttle moved silently up to the side of the large science vessel, adrift in the waters of Zoness.  From his shuttle, Andross looked over the green polluted waters of Zoness.  All of this mess was his doing, his handiwork.  Even when he looked out over these dying waters, dying because of his actions, he had no regrets.  Andross considered this a price well worth something as grand as all of Lylat.

 The dark gray hull of the Praetorian science vessel was seen somewhat easily after they were close enough to it.  The shuttle pulled up slowly and landed with a gentle bounce on its rocking landing pad.  Here, a plank exit walk was lowered, and a dark red carpet rolled out.  The large ape never saw the black Arwing on the opposite landing pad, nor would he have even cared.

 At once he stepped out, six of his personal body guards, all of them large mountain cats armed with heavy phaser blasters and lethal envenomed swords at their ever ready belts.  They all stayed in a protective circle around Andross as he walked lord like down the blank and towards the door inside.  There, Dr. Miltdown and a few of his aids were there to greet them.

 Miltdown stepped forward and greeted faced Andross, not able to get close enough because of the guards.  "Welcome your highness," greeted the scientist.  "Welcome to my home and your former property."

 "Actually Miltdown, I still own this ship despite your loyalties in this conflict," corrected Andross.  "And when this war is over, I will be taking it back to help for scientific exploration for the systems I conquer outside Lylat."

 "Until then, we will always be here to sell you the best and greatest of my creations."

 "Yes, like the one you told me about earlier.  One that I would definitely not want to miss.  I hold you to your words doctor.  Please keep in mind that I had a very important project going on back on Venom."  He motioned for a few of his guards to secure the area inside, which they did at once.  "If I am not completely satisfied and impressed with the product of your boast, I'll take this ship now and you will be swimming in a poisonous sea."

 Miltdown swallowed nervously since the subject was still going through a trial of loyalty.  This was a great risk indeed.  As they maid their way inside, a worker come and said something quietly into Miltdown's ear.  When done, the weasel scientist beamed a great smile of satisfaction and turned to Andross.  "If you will follow me my liege,  then I will introduce you to the asset which will most likely make Star Wolf an obsolete waist of time."  Andross glanced at the small creature, wondering what he was up to, even if he did like what he just heard.

 As they all stepped inside, no one saw the small dot on the horizon growing larger very slowly.  A second standard Arwing was skimming over the waters, trying with great success to avoid the search lights.

****

 Andross and his guards followed Miltdown into the research lab.  It was empty save for a few workers keeping the units inside in working order.  Andross saw the empty and darkened incubation chamber and scratched his long white beard with feelings of curiosity.  He turned to Miltdown, who sat in a nearby work chair and waited patiently.

 "So, where is your merchandise, doctor?" asked Andross.

 "He'll be here.  He had better be here.  I must warn you that the nature of this subject has forced me to give him a loyalty test before I can entrust him to you.  We should be seeing the results from that test some time soon, but I cannot guarantee that he will act as I, as we wish him to.  If he fails, I'll have him destroyed and I'll compensate you for your troublesome journey."

 "Yes you will compensate me," admonished the imperial lord, standing over Miltdown like the tower that he was.  "You will compensate failure to me with your ship, your crew services, and your life.  That is what I hold if this test of yours is a failure."

 Miltdown swallowed hardly, praying in his mind that this was not a failure.  Hell with the seven years of work down the drain garbage if it was.  This was his life on the line here.  He waited nervously in the chair, seeing Andross lose patience with every second, looking towards the doors every minute.  Andross frowned as he watched him do this.

 One of the doors slowly slid open, and Miltdown slowly got to his feet.  He smiled as he spotted the darkened silhouette of his creation standing at the door, a comatose figure hanging from his fist full of cloth that made up the captive person's clothing.  With one motion, the holder lifted his prisoner off the ground and tossed him into the air towards Andross and Miltdown.  The white fox landed face down, still unconscious at their feet.

 "There is our unwelcome visitor," said Fox 2, keeping in the dark.  Andross looked up in surprise at the voice of his worst enemy.  Slowly, the face of Fox made itself visible to them, an evil grin on his face as he looked at Andross, walking in very sure of himself.

 At once seeing Fox walk towards their master, the six bodyguards got between him and Andross, their swords and guns drawn and ready for fight.  Fox stopped and folded his arms, looking at them as if they were nothing more then oversized wooden figurines. Andross himself pulled a phaser and aimed it directly at his worst enemy, ready to kill.  Fox 2 only yawned, not really worried.  This both confused and angered Andross greatly.

 "Wait my lord!" yelled Miltdown.  "Don't shoot!"

 "Thank you Dr. Miltdown.  I thought that you were selling me one of your cheep toys, but this is even better.  Expect top dollar payment for this perfect gift for me."

 "If you kill him, then you waste the perfect gift."  Andross looked at him, expecting an answer.  "You don't get to kill him, or brutalize him, or torture him to death for fun.  You get to use him.  You get to utilize his power for yourself."

 "What?  You were actually able to turn Fox McCloud against his own people and join my side.  That is the impossible."

 "This is not the Fox McCloud, my lord," explained Miltdown.  Andross looked at him for a moment, and then raised one bushy eyebrow.

 "You cloned Fox McCloud?" said Andross, lowering the phaser.  "Well, that is something special.  Tell you what.  Create another one so I can have fun venting rage and frustration I have on that little whelp onto this little thing you have."

 "Emperor, this clone took me seven years to incubate.  If you waste him now by killing him, I will not create another.  The war would be over and Fox would be long dead by the time I got finished.  This being does have his own personality that I have given him, but he also has all of the experiences and memories of the original Fox.  He has already proven himself obedient of not loyal.  Think about what you would be gaining with him in your employment."

 Andross was already smiling with evil as he thought about this.  The opportunity sounded very appealing to him.  "I could send him in and set up Fox with some crime, and destroy the McCloud family name over night.  Oh, I love it!  You are right doctor.  I am very impressed.  Again, expect top dollar for him."

 "What he can do is only the beginning.  Imagine this.  You find some way to capture the original Fox McCloud and replace him with Fox 2 here.  With that, you can destroy the entire Cornerian Army quite easily.  Because of his seven year incubation, he is an exact replica to Fox strait down to the genetic blueprints.  Check his paw prints, his retinal patterns, and even his DNA matrix, and they will all be exact to Fox's.  This is the best anti-Star Fox tool you have ever gotten.  As you said, what better way to destroy an enemy then to turn his friends against him."

 "I don't mean to break up your little amounts of scheming gentlemen," said Fox 2.  "But it appears we have company."

 They all looked towards a screen to see a blue Arwing land on the last remaining empty landing pad, and its canopy open up.  Fox McCloud jumped out and ran towards the door.

 "Well, doctor.  It seems the original copy has just arrived."

 "Allow me," said Fox 2, walking towards the door.

****

 The chemical knock out wore off very quickly.  Star opened her eyes and looked around in the cell.  She was alone.  Orion was gone and so was her brother's evil clone.  The last thing she remembered was Orion unconscious on the floor, and Fox 2 putting a cloth over her mouth, smothering her into unconsciousness.

 The chemical he hit her with must not have been very potent.  Star could think as clear and nothing on her was sore, as what came from the common smothering chemical.  Plus, she spotted a phaser on the floor outside, well within reach.  Star got to her feet and went to get the phaser.  She got it and pointed it through the bars, and shot the computer console on the table.  She saw the electrical charge to the bars die, which must mean that any alarm must be dead too.  She stepped back and pointed it at the gate lock.

 "Thanks for the skeleton key out, jerk off," she said quietly.  Star fired the gun and melted the lock off.  She walked forth and kicked it open.  "I'm still not buying it though."  Star ran out of the detention block, but didn't get thirteen feet outside before she started to feel her real brother's thoughts.

 Star gasped in horror and quickly sent a telepathic message.  Fox!  Get out of here!

 At once a telepathic from her brother came back.  Star?  Where are you?

 Get out of here!  It's a trap!  Leave!  Now!  A moment of mental science ensued.  This was stopped by a great sharp pain to Star's eye, as if she was just decked hard enough in the face to break an eye socket bone, but it didn't come to that.  She was too late.  They have him.  She remembered the last thoughts she felt from Fox were of confusion and shock, horrified shock.  And then nothing.

 Angrily, Star ran up the stares to save her brother÷and Orion.

****

 Fox slowly walked down the halls, keeping in the dark and shadows and out of sight as best he could.  Star was here somewhere, but he couldn't find her and he couldn't read her thoughts either.  He shook his head, and then stopped, feeling a telepathic glimpse of her sister.  Fox looked on, trying to read it more clearly.

 Fox!  Get out of here!

 He almost jumped at the sudden words into his mind, and at once recognized Star.  He sent a reply at once.  Star?  Where are you?

 Get out of here!  It's a trap!  Leave!  Now!

 Fox turned around, all of a sudden nervous, right into the face÷of himself?  The mirror image of Fox stood right before him, glaring at him evilly.  But he was different.  Dressed differently in a Venomian prison garb, and had a much darker and more evil air.  Fox widened his eyes in shocked feeling and horror, not knowing what to make of this.

 "Hello, father," said the look alike, mocking in his voice.  The second Fox grabbed the original by the jacket collar, and the last thing Fox himself saw was an orange fist being rammed into his eye, and then darkness.
 
 
 

Chapter V

"I may be young and I may be inexperienced.  But my soul's path has been set for me the day I was born.  I can live with it.  I am one with the soul of the dragon.  We live to serve, we die to protect."
-Orion Drakhan - Dragon Soul Acolyte-
 

 "Well done my boy," congratulated Andross as he watched Fox 2 drag his "father" into the room with them.  Fox was out cold from the punch to his eye by his clone.  Fox 2 turned around and looked down at him, a smile on his face.

 "My present to you," said Fox 2 to Andross.  "I have a small fee for services rendered as well."

 Andross scowled at him, and then turned to Miltdown.

 "I put feelings of extreme greed into his mind to make sure he remains loyal to us.  As long as you pay him well for his works done for you, you'll never have to worry about him turning turn coat on you."  Andross looked back towards Fox 2, who was standing their glum, his arms folded before him.

 "That still doesn't explain the ease on how he captured Fox," stated Andross.

 "Actually it does," said Miltdown.  He walked towards the clone and stood by him and Fox.  "You see, through genetic manipulation before he was born, your highness, Fox 2 is ten times the strength and speed and intelligence as the original.  Since he has all of Fox's skills in his arsenal, he is just as deadly inside a fighter cockpit as his predecessor.  Quite frankly, he is more valuable to you then all of Star Wolf put together.  He has no comrades in arms to bicker with either."

 Andross sat there, scratching his beard in thought about this.  His eyes went down to Fox, and then back to 2.  He smiled greatly, very much liking all of it.  "I will be handing Fox alive to Wolf for him to deal with.  They were great assets to me as well, and they will still be useful even though Star Fox is basically out of commission now that we have their leader in chains.  Still, I feel I owe it to Wolf and the rest for their services, so Fox will be given to them.

 "Once his bloody corpse," continued Andross, "which is probably all that will be left of him once Star Wolf is done, is out of the way, Fox 2 will go and rejoin Star Fox and destroy it, and the Cornerian forces from the inside, and the McCloud family name and grind them all into powder.  I guess I won't have to work for the next month after all.  Thank you Doctor Miltdown.  This is perhaps the greatest thing I have ever received."

 Miltdown smiled with pride, and patted Fox 2 on the arm as he left.  The cloned fox followed his movements, a wicked twinkle in his eye, and then shook his head.  "I'm sorry gentlemen, but there has been a change in plans," said Fox 2.

 Andross looked up into his eyes, wondering what he was thinking.  "What do you speak of?" he asked.

 "I÷am taking over."  They all watched with shock, even Andross, as Fox 2's eyes glowed with a blood red fire.  "Sorry, Emperor Andross, but your license of imperial rule has just been revoked."

 Andross shook his head, a little disappointed.  His eyes went to Miltdown, who stood their dumbfounded.  The bad/good doctor knew he was officially already a dead one now because of this.  He swallowed, taking a small step towards the door.  For the moment, Andross ignored Miltdown's movement and looked towards Fox 2.  He was at first a little surprised by that effect he did with his eyes, glowing totally red like a demon, rubies with the sun behind them.  But the old ape was not in the least bit intimidated or frightened by them.  His look was more or less disappointment.  Almost sadly, he motioned one of his guards forward.

 The heavy armored black puma looked at Fox 2 gleefully and pulled his venomous blade.  He ran hard at the clone, who still stood there, his arms folded before him and seemingly unready for an attack.  The cat reached him and swung his sword, intending to cleave his skull down between the eyes.  Fox 2's arm shot up as the blade was coming down and he caught its edge in his palm, a few inches above his own face.

 At first, he was surprised by this motion, and looked into the blood red eyes of Fox 2, swallowing.  He remembered then and smiled.  "Too bad for you," he smirked.  "That poison in the blade was strong enough to dissolve the insides of ten elephants.  I guess you have less then half a minute to survive."

 "Really?" said Fox 2, raising one eyebrow.  "Then, please feel free to explain to me how poison can enter a body,"  he let the sword go and showed his open paw to guard, who almost ran out of air right then, "when no marks have been made at the body."

 Andross leaned forward in surprise and shock, as did the others.  The guard rose the blade to strike again, but Fox 2 caught him by surprise.  His hand shot out and grabbed the cat's arm, squeezing it with a grip like a vice made from frozen steel.  The cat screamed out, trying to get to the phaser at his belt.  Fox 2 reached up and scratched an upside down cross onto the cat's forehead and stepped back.

 "Barbecued kitty cat, anyone?" he asked.  The cat's head caught on fire, and he started to jump around like a vile mad man, trying to bat out the flames.  They only roared more bright, staying on his head only, destroying his face and scalp.  He fell to his knees, still screaming, and then down where he died after violent convulsions.  When the flame died, only a blackened skull was left behind.

 Fox 2 looked at the fingers he used to scratch the guard and frowned.  "Not exactly what I expected or wanted.  Looks like I'll have to go tone my skills before I attempt you use them again.  What the hell," he said, shrugging his shoulders.  "There always is more then one way to skin a cat."  He got to his feet and started to walk towards the remaining five guards.

 At once to protect their leader, one of the guards pulled Andross up out of his chair and started to shove him towards the door.  "We'll hold him off," said the cat.  "You must leave your highness."

 "Yes," said Andross.  He reached forward and grabbed Miltdown's arm.  He also reached down and grabbed Fox by the back of his neck and lifted him up roughly, throwing the hero over his shoulder.  "But not alone just yet."  Those two left and the five guards faced the fire eyed creature, who looked at each and every one of them like they were jokes.  The door was shut behind them.

****

 Star could hear the terrible screams of battle through ship's walls, but they failed to even slow her down.  She ran forth, trying to home in on Fox's unconscious thoughts to find him.  Star stopped when she came to a wall where the battle sounds and screams of tortured beings came from.  A loud clatter into the wall made her step back.  The sounds of a terrible animal also came to her ears, which caused her to step away even more.

 There was something going on in there, but she waited to do anything before they stopped.  Fox could be in there, and she didn't want to endanger him foolishly.  Before long, the room fell silent.  Quietly and with some reluctance, Star crept towards the door nearby and grabbed hold of its handle.  She swallowed nervously as she opened the door and peered in.

 What she saw got to even her.  Five mountain cats, everyone of them gutted from head to waist, hanging upside down from the ceiling.  Their insides were all piled up on the floor below them.  Blood was on the floor like it was an extra surface.  Star had seen blood before, so she was not afraid of this scene.  But it did rumble her insides a little, and she could not help from vomiting in the corner.  She guessed it was the stench more then anything.

 A single door was swinging alone on its hinges, leading outward.  Star ran out, ready to use her phaser on whatever she met.

****

 Andross with Fox over his shoulder and Dr. Miltdown all ran towards where the shuttle was parked.  Miltdown knew that Andross was going to kill him once they were safe, but he was willing to die by the large ape's hands then the violence he seen from what he had created.  To hell with it being his responsibility, but Andross had other ideas.

 "Where do you think you are going, 'doctor'," mocked Andross, blocking the weasel's path out.

 "My lord," whined Miltdown.  "We have to escape."

 "No, Fox original here and I are going to leave, and you are going to stay here and fix your mess.  I don't want that thing to leave this planet."

 "But÷" Miltdown could not get the words out.

 "No, I think that you will all stay here."  Andross looked down his way and saw Fox 2, holding a small burlap pouched in his fingers.  Over his shoulder was the white fox he had brought before.  "Here," he said, opening the bag.  "Take a whiff of this."  Fox 2 threw the bag at them.  It landed at Andross' feet and exploded upward into a sparkling golden cloud of dust, going into the nostrils of the two still conscious beings.  At once, Miltdown fell over and was out like a light.  Andross fought it, and resisted with all his might, not willing to be beaten by powders.  Nonetheless, his eyes rolled back and he fell forwards, dropping Fox well he too fell.

 Fox 2 watched the three drop like flies.  He smiled at them and then down at the still out Orion.  Shaking his head with disappointment, he lifted him up and then went to get Andross, hoisting the massive ape quite easily.

 Away from them, a mink scientist, Dr. Miltdown's assistant, saw the events of Fox 2's betrayal and panicked.  She jumped out of the small alcove she was hiding in and started to run down the hall.  Fox 2 spotted her and grinned.

 "Oh, too bad.  Sorry, but we can't have loose unwanted souls running around the ship making a pest of themselves now can we?" he asked no one there.  Fox 2 set his two cargo subjects back down to the floor and gave chase to the mink, Dr. Staler.

 He ran as if he were a light breeze through the air, down on all fours like the true animal.  His teeth and dripping fangs bearing their true strength.  His red eyes burned.  The mink's sent of her blood was so easy to track.  Soon, she was in his sights.

 Staler stopped and looked back at the red eyed monster.  She shook with fright and panic as the monster got up and slowly walked towards her.  "And so the prey of the hunter meets her fate," whispered Fox 2.  He watched as the mink backed into the wall, trying to go where there was nowhere to go.  She turned her head away from the walking corruption.

 With one fluid acceleration, Fox 2 sped up towards her and leaped.  Staler screamed as she saw the red eyed creature leap strait at her, land into her middles, and tear her strait through the wall.  The impact broke her body, but she still lived through it, much to her dismay.

 Star McCloud stayed behind a corner, knowing with great grief that she could not save the mink if she hoped to save Fox.  She stayed put and could only listen.  The disturbing, terrible screams from the mink and the evil growls from the monster, coupled with the sounds of flesh being torn.  Star cuffed her ears she was so sick of the repulsive sounds.  This did little to keep out the sounds of the doomed mink from calling desperately for help.  Star almost gave in and went out to help, but sudden silence stopped her.

 Footsteps came quickly out of the hole in the wall and walked off.  Star heard someone whistling a tune which Star knew as one of Fox's favorites.  The sounds disappeared and Star peered out form her corner.  Slowly, seeing it was safe, she walked towards the torn open wall and shined a light inside.  She sighed with grief at sight of the mangled and torn corpse of the mink, no longer identifiable as such.

 Star turned around and looked down where the clone of her brother had gone, breathing heavily with anger and loathing towards him.  She knew that this could not continue.  If this monster got out, he would make a massive threat of himself.  This nightmare started tonight, and Star swore to herself that before the sun rose, it would be finished as well.

****

 Another enemy fighter fell before her, and Dallas pulled up hard before its debris rained into her face.  She swallowed hard and regained her positioning on the enemy forces.  So far, Shadow Squadron's forces were still relatively untouched, and the enemy forces were dwindling.  She broke away from the fight for a brief moment, leaving the other three pilots to clean up.

 Dallas looked down to the planet below, suddenly worried about what was happening.  She knew that there was something important and dangerous being unraveled in the rogue science ship, Praetorian.  And she wanted to find out.

 A signal was received by her computer, and it did not look good to her.  Dallas gritted her teeth angrily as she looked over this data.  According to this data, a new bio weapon was being developed by Andross for use in the war.  Dallas already knew about the damage caused by the weapons under the Aquas ocean and on Solar, all of which were destroyed by Star Fox.  She really did not want a new one running amuck.  Captain Dallas swallowed and reentered the fight against the Venomian Invaders.

 "Squad Leader to Shadow One, have you received any new data?" asked Dallas.

 "That's affirmative Captain," answered Ninook.  He ran through the data once more and nodded.  "But we can't do anything about it until we're done with these guys," he stated.

 "Take all that you can out quickly.  We have to take out that ship down there before it leaves," announced Dallas.  She shook her head in dismay, shaking off a fighter behind her.  "As unfortunate as it is, anyone on board it is expendable."

****

 Slowly, Fox opened his eyes and was able to cast a glance, finally.  His eye felt like it had collided with a high speed rocket.  He tried to sit up and look around, and he found his wrists tied up as well as his ankles.  Fox remembered.  He remembered being punched by himself and knocked unconscious.  Fox looked around and was surprised by his current fellow captives.  Andross, Dr. Miltdown, and a white fox he knew from somewhere.  There was a fifth, their capture, which Fox spotted as two red dots in the shadows.

 "Finally."  Fox heard his own voice spoken, and his own face and form emerge into the light.  "You're awake.  Boy, I wish I had a camera.  What a photo op, all three of my fathers in one little room together."  He went towards Fox and looked down.  "The one who I was created from."  He went to Miltdown.  "The one who I was created by."  Finally to Andross.  "And the one who's funding made it all possible."

 "What?" yelled Andross.

 "Oh yes.  It's the biggest prank pulled on you Emperor Andross of all time.  Perhaps one of the last best gags."  Fox 2 stepped back and looked at him and Miltdown.  "You see, Dr. Miltdown needed the funding to create his little project, the end result being myself, seven years ago.  But he had no where to pull it from.  So, he started to extract small amounts of credits from your own bank account bit by bit for the initial and overall maintenance costs for my chrysalis.  Over the past seven years, you lost over three million credits, taken out from under your nose by the good doctor here."

 Andross did not even look at Miltdown.  He didn't have to.  The doctor knew he was doomed either way, and he was violently shaking in his boots.

 "What's more, after he found out who I was being cloned from, Miltdown thought it might be wise to sell me to you for top dollar.  He knew you would pay since I was such an inviting tool to eradicate your worst enemy.  So, overall, he was going to invest his own private corporate empire from the wealth he got from you.  With all the money left over from what he stole from you to create me, plus the money he got for my sell, he might have been able to buy victory from Corneria."  Fox 2 leaned up against the wall and smiled, obviously proud of himself.  Orion grimaced, feeling the wretched vanity emanating from the vile creature.

 "What are you?" asked Fox.

 Fox 2 was about to answer, but he was beaten to it by Miltdown.  "He is a clone of you.  He must be defective because he is turning against all of us.  How he could do this is beyond me.  I gave him life."  Fox was now very angry at the thought of being cloned.  The result of it shook his head, amused at the doctor's misunderstood upset feelings.  Fox 2 started to laugh out loud, the evil, villainous cackle echoing down the halls and reaching the ears of Star McCloud.  Fox felt her presence, but remained silent.

 "You poor, poor soul, Dr. Miltdown," said 2.  "You really don't know what you have brought upon yourselves do you?  All three of you may be the father, but only of this body.  You think all of those electric surges onto the chrysalis were nothing doctor?  That was myself, taking a grasp onto this body and pulling myself in."

 "I÷I don't understand," said Miltdown.

 "Of course you don't.  All of it is beyond your perception.  You see, I am the thing which your children see in their nighttime fears.  We are the last remaining true incubus.  We create chaos and feed off anarchy, enjoying our works to the great extreme.  For hundreds of millions of years we have traveled the mortal universe, taking in nutrients from conflict and dissolution and pestilence.  I am no longer Fox 2, which is a really stupid name created by a stupid person.  I am DeFox."

 "Let me guess," said Fox.  "That's short for Demon Fox.  Kinky."

 "Good guess, but wrong.  Actually, it's short for Defiler Fox."

 "I knew it," said Orion.  DeFox looked towards the white Shyer fox and smirked.

 "Yes, I guess you should know it.  You Dragon Soul pukes drew out one of our kind from your world, and now you think you can move the stars to destroy all of us."

 "All of you?" said Orion, his glowing eyes widening.

 "That's right.  You thought there was just one of us didn't you?  The one who took a nasty good foothold onto the Shyer home world and brought colossal amounts of hurt to you for a long, long time.  That was a different Defiler, and he is still kicking strong somewhere else.  We all are.  There are thousands of us, spanning the endless planes of existence, plane by plane, universe to universe, so now you know.  Get used to it."  DeFox turned around and sat down in a chair, looking at all four of them.

 "So what happened to the personality I created for the original Fox 2?  Is it part of you?  Are the experiences of Fox McCloud still there?" asked Miltdown.

 "Unfortunately no," said DeFox.  "When I took control of the body, everything already there, including Fox's know-all, were cast into oblivion.  This body was so easy to take for myself.  No mortal being can create their own souls.  So this body had no soul of its own when I took it, making it a snap for me to take it. Now there is only me, and that is all that is needed.  It will take time for me to regain all of my powers.  By the time comes, our day will be upon the galaxy.

 "None of you, not even the Shyer, know what you are looking at."  DeFox stepped into a light which cast a shadow on the wall.  Its outline was not the same as DeFox's.  In fact, it didn't even look recognizable, except as alien and evil.  "We are the at the highest peek of evolution known.  We are bred, grown, live, and die in space all through our lives.  I myself have walked across multiple dimensions, other universes, countless worlds and civilizations, with only a single task to complete.  Create and influence the chaos and use that to feed.  We don't care the aftermath and results of what we do.  We just go to feed and survive.  It may seem a dark and lonely existence to you mortals.  But when you are as powerful as us, who needs friends and family."

 "Actually, I do know that," said Andross.  He sat up more readily and looked at DeFox.  "You know, we would make an excellent team.  Join me, and we'll crush this system together.  I'll prolong the war and increase the enemy suffering as best I can for you to feed.  Just give me victory and give me this system.  I know it is my destiny to become master of this galaxy."  Away from him, Orion shook his head, disgusted.

 DeFox walked over to Andross and looked down.  "Don't tempt me to kill you now," he hissed, his eyes glowing bright red.  "That is basically what you are doing.  You insult me with such a proposition.  Why should I play second banana to an inferior life for.  If you want to conquer the galaxy, do it yourself.  My playground is so much more bigger.  Just watch out for the Shyer when you advance.  They are ten thousand years ahead of you in technology and ten billion years ahead of you in evolution."

 Andross scowled at him, but DeFox ignored it.  "Well," he said, going towards a nearby desk.  "It's been nice meeting you all, but I really have to go.  I'll find a nice quite spot somewhere in the universe with this new form to use, rest up and get back my powers, and the start a new campaign against the universe.  As for you four, I took the liberty of sending false information to the Cornerian Shadow Squadron above our heads that a dangerous new bio weapon created by Andross is being developed here.  The lovely Captain Dallas will attack the ship while it's still water bound and send it to a fiery and watery grave.  Which is a fitting end for you Lord Andross since you created the mess on the waves outside.  My hat is off to you by the way for that."

 The lights to the room went out, flickered and then went out again.  The light from Orion's eyes died out then.  DeFox's eyes were glowing brightly in the dark, but they were not as illuminating as Orion was.  He saw a soft blue aura go off and then he heard a shattering sound.  He knew that sound, ice being broken.

 DeFox could see nothing, nor did it matter.  A bright flash filled the room darkness, and he saw just enough to witness Orion throw a lightning arc from his paws.  The white bolt traveled vertically along the floor and ceiling until it struck DeFox.  The monster yelled out in pain and was thrown clear, knocked strait through the wall.

 "Tell me how that felt later!" yelled Orion.  He turned around and grabbed Fox's ropes, his own eyes clearly illuminating for him.  The ropes froze and Fox was free in a second.  He got to his feet and went to the phaser on the table, and turned back to see him freezing Andross' binds.

 "What are you doing?" he asked, not believing what he saw.  "You're not releasing them are you?"  Andross easily shattered the frozen chains which DeFox used on him to counter the large ape's greater strength.  He got to his feet, looked hatefully at Fox.  He grabbed Miltdown by the neck and ran out towards his ship.

 "Why did you do that?" asked Fox.  He ran to Orion.  "If we left him here, the war would have ended."

 "Would it have?" asked Orion.  He looked at Fox sternly.  "Is a man just as evil as your enemy but without the insanity more or less dangerous then the one with?  Think about that.  Plus, life is sacred no matter how dark the soul is.  It was not his time."  Fox slowly nodded his head to Orion.

 "Quickly," said the Shyer.  "That's arc did cause some pain to DeFox but it didn't stop him.  We have to find a way to stop him and get off before Captain Dallas attacks this ship."

 "I'm with you on that," said Fox, his phaser in hand.  The two of them went to the hole Orion made when he threw DeFox through it.  However, the demon clone was already gone.

****

 The last fighter fell about ten minutes ago.  Now, all four of Shadow were skimming the surface of the poisoned waters.  The planetary security net, the search lights, had spotted them long ago.  It didn't matter.  One swift stroke against that ship was all that needed.

 The fragments of the Venomian carrier were falling into the atmosphere, burning up on entry.  Very few made it without being incinerated, while the rest fell harmlessly into the waters.  One single nova bomb specially delivered by Kite took care of it.  Now, they had the same present in store for the Praetorian.

 Even with the reasons which justified the actions, Dallas did not want to do this.  But if there were innocent life forms, one of which might even be Fox, then they were not able to be saved.  Silently, just in case Fox was there, she prayed for their lives, and asked forgiveness for what was to come.

 ETA to the Praetorian was in four minutes.
 
 
 

Chapter VI

"I fight to conserve the future for future generations.  This is all I have to give them, other then my life to let them keep it."
-Captain Allison Dallas - CSS SunHawk-
 

 Slowly and painfully but surely, DeFox limped his way down the hall towards anywhere he could go.  He was hurt by the Shyer lightening arc, and he had to escape.  The wound was healing quickly, and all he need was a minute or two to regain his strength.  However, he didn't have a minute to spare.  Fox and the Shyer were hot behind him, ready to do him in.  He considered himself fortunate to escape in one piece at all.

 Still, DeFox could not believe it.  That Shyer was only a trainee in the Dragon Soul practice.  The masters never expected to survive in fights with the Defiler, and this pup got the drop on him.  Partially, he blamed himself for what happened.  But then again, the small loss of power gave the Shyer the opportunity he needed, plus much of DeFox's power was gone after leaving the body.  He should not of underestimated him so.

 DeFox leaned up against the wall to gain a breath.  He was still mortal in this body, and he could lose it if it died, forcing him out into a weakened state.  He had to escape and regain his full power, then he would come back to carry out his vengeance and his task.  Then and only then.  The Defiler made a note, however, never to try to take mortal bodies again, no matter if they had no souls or not.

 "Now, you weren't thinking of leaving us alone here alone, no one to play with, were you?"
DeFox looked up to see Star before him, a phaser aimed at his heart.  All he could do was chuckle under his breath.

 "What's so funny?" asked Star.  DeFox continued to laugh, and then stood up strait in front of her, defying her weapon.

 "Do you know what your pointing your gun at?"

 "Something evil, sick, and that doesn't deserve to live.  Plus, your mere existence is an insult to the name of my father.  If you are talking about physicality, you're a Defiler who's taken the body of my brother's clone.  That's why you hurt the name of McCloud, and why you must not be allowed to go on.  You're a danger to innocents.  So, you are history."

 DeFox looked at her coldly and smiled.  "All right, shoot when ready.  Just keep in mind that it's creatures like us who create evil and insane scientists and traitorous piglets who were, undoubtedly, the ones who sent your father to a burning pit."

 "Screw you!" screamed Star, hearing her last thing to set her off.  Star fired into DeFox, round after round until three red streaks cut into him.

 DeFox yelled out during the three rounds, making Star think that he was going down.  After the third, she opened her mouth in incredulity when he started to cheer like a nut.  The laser blasts themselves didn't even mark him.

 "Oh Yeah!" he screamed out.  "You got me!"  Star shot some more, each round striking his chest and was stopped cold, not even a black spot being left in the fur by the heat.  She kept shooting, gritting her teeth with frustration hoping that one shot would do it.  DeFox yelled louder, jumping around like a maddened wind up toy.  "All right, Star!  Nice shooting!  You got all that anger and hate inside of you, each and every shot giving me strength and taking away shots that you might need later."

 Star, out of breath, looked at the phaser in her hand and then back to DeFox.  He could taste the misunderstanding of this.  "When are you mortals going to learn that you can't harm true evil with evil.  I feed off of it, and I grow stronger.  You want to kill me Star?  You're going to have to find a different way of doing it.  That phaser isn't going to do jack spit against me."  He started to move towards Star, deciding to finish it.  "You know, I left that phaser at your jail cell for you to escape with your life.  I can see that was a mistake.  Fortunately, that mistake is easily rectified.

 "Maybe her weapon can't hurt you."  DeFox looked and saw Orion standing at a door, Fox behind him.  "But mine surely can."  A blue sphere formed in Orion's palm, and DeFox started to back away, throwing up his hands in defense.  Orion tossed the sphere at him, which blew up right in front of DeFox.  At once, the evil creature was plagued by cold.  Star jumped out of the way just in time before she was frozen by the ice bomb.

 She got up and looked at DeFox, who was frozen solid in his tracks.  The ice sheet over his body was already cracking under his strength.  He was going to be free in seconds.  But Star still saw the look of pain on his face, which gave her an idea.  Star headed down the hall away from this, grabbing a bucket in the corner as she went.  This had to work.

 Using his strength, DeFox shattered his ice coat like glass, tossing many shards into the air.  He was weakened, but only slightly, up on his feet in a second.  "No more parlor tricks," he said to Orion.  "You want to fight, hand to hand, claw to the claw."

 "Whatever you want," said Orion, walking forward to face his enemy.  "I am one with the Soul of the Dragon.  We stand, and we advance."

 "How colorful.  I was looking forward to a direct confrontation with you impudent little jerks."  He cracked his knuckles and gestured for them to come and meet him.  "So, come on then," he mocked, his eyes glowing red.

****

 Andross looked down from the window of his personal shuttle.  This was not his day, but he was relieved to be out alive.  Him coming here had brought a hefty price.  Over forty of his Invader III's had been lost, another of his carriers was destroyed, he had lost his best traveling body guards, and the most promising weapon he had ever seen against Star Fox was a big fake.  Plus, he found that he had lost large sums of money to create that fake.

 Angrily, he turned towards Miltdown, who sat in a chair, defeated from his failure.  When he saw Andross coming with a really pissed look in his eye, the doctor began to cower away, Andross' shadow covering him in darkness.

 "I am disappointed Doctor," said Andross.  He reached down and grabbed the weasel by the back of the neck and lifted him up quite easily, up to his own eye level.  "You dragged me out to this toilet planet to show me a new weapon that was defective in the extreme, ask ridiculous amounts of money for it, and then I find that you stole money from me to create it.  I am fairly convinced that you don't have the credits you took from me, so I am going to look them over and just deprive you of something else."  Andross, Miltdown still in his hand, headed towards the back of his shuttle.

 "Wait a minute, my lord," pleaded Miltdown, now sounding more like a child then a respectable scientist.  "You must realize that I created a clone of Fox McCloud to help you fight him.  I should be entitled to something for that, shouldn't I?"

 "Yes, I believe you should.  If the project worked, I would have made you the head of my bio-weapons division.  However, your project failed, miserably.  But I'm still going to give you something for your troubles doctor?"

 "What is that?" asked Miltdown hopefully.

 Andross reached over and opened the hatch to the airlock they were standing next to.  "I'm going to hope that you can find some way to breath in a vacuum environment."  Andross tossed the crying weasel into the airlock and shut it on him.  Without regarding it, Andross opened the outer door and watched the weasel, screaming in panic, fly out into space to his doom.  Andross shook his head.  "I guess it's pointless to hope for the impossible," he said to himself.

 The old ape went to the pilot's chair and set a course back to Venom.  He had so much work back home to do, and a lot of it was already wasted on this trip.  Still Andross could not help but wonder about DeFox.  He was an enemy to him as well as the McCloud family, and he knew he would have to be on the look out for that sick little beast.

****

 Dallas looked down at her tactical status display.  Two nova bombs on each fighter were armed for one single pass over the Praetorian, making sure that not even a microbe made it out alive.  Their ETA: two minutes and thirteen seconds.

 Dallas continued to pray for their lives.

****

 Fox flew through the air, and felt his back collide with the bulkhead.  This fight with his possessed clone was not going well at all.  He was like a titan when it came to strength, and something else as far as speed and intelligence went.  DeFox and Orion were grappled with each other.  DeFox was over half a foot taller and was more built then the frail looking teenage Shyer.  Still, Orion was managing, but barely against him.

 DeFox pulled his hand away and punched Orion square on the jaw, twirling him around.  At once, DeFox put him into a full nelson, lifting him off his feet.  "You know, next time you Dragon Soul punks decide to send one of your own to face a Defiler, make sure that he or she is not a young puppy who's only a wannabe in training."

 Fox got up to his knees and saw Orion struggling to escape from his capture.  They were losing this fight.  Star! called Fox telepathically.  We could sure use your help here.

 Star heard Fox's call and struck the faucet, demanding it to hurry up.  She was filling her pail with water, wishing it would go faster.  Hold on, she said.  I'll be there as soon as I can.  The crystal clear water was filled into the bucket, and Star picked it up and ran out of the room, trying not spill it.  Here I come Fox, I just hope this works.

 DeFox squeezed tighter around Orion, making the small fox feel like his arms were about to be pulled out of their sockets.  "Sorry small one," said DeFox.  "You're practically on your own, and you're as helpless as a newborn kit, which is practically what you are."

 "One person, no matter how strong, can always prevail as long as they believe in themselves."  He looked to the side.  "But it also helps to have friends."  DeFox was blind sided by Fox, and was knocked hard into the wall.

 "How does that feel?" asked Fox, seeing that DeFox was momentarily dazed by the attack.  He helped Orion back to his feet, and lost sight of DeFox.  When Orion was back on his feet, DeFox moved on them.  He punched Orion hard on the chest and sent him to the wall, and wrapped his fingers around Fox's jacket.

 "Nice move," complimented DeFox, lifting Fox into the air.  "It was your last."  DeFox carried Fox over to an opened garbage tube to the outside.  "Do tell me how that water below us tastes when I meet you in hell.  We Defilers are always welcome there, so I'll drop you a line."  Fox did not reply, he only smiled.

 "Excuse me," said Star.  DeFox looked in her direction, smiled at first, and then saw her pale of nice clean water, where his eyes widened in frightful horror.  "Tell me how this water tastes."  Star threw the pale of water, splashing it into DeFox's face.  At once, the demonic creature started to scream in torment.

 Star ran towards him and jumped, fly kicking him right in the chest.  DeFox flew backward and landed on his back where he stayed, bellowing loudly.  Fox was dropped into the garbage chute, but he grabbed the edge before he fell all the way through.  Star was now helping him out.  They both looked when Fox was safe at DeFox, who was kicking and screaming and rolling over as if he were a bird with its wing cut off.  Smoke was coming from his face, head, and shoulders.

 Star saw this and breathed a sigh in relief, glad that her plan worked.  Orion came over to them and helped them to their feet.  "Come," Orion said.  "We'll use this opportunity to escape while we can."

 "What?" said Star, frowning.  "You mean he's not dead?"

 "He'll be on his feet in a minute.  When he does, he's going to be really mad at you.  Defilers don't take well to being harmed like that."

 Star swallowed and helped get Fox back on his feet.  The three ran out of the door, DeFox on the floor was calming down, the pain subsiding.

 "How did you know?" asked Orion.  "That the water would bring him harm?"

 "I thought about it.  DeFox said that no weapons of evil could harm him, and a phaser's only purpose is to kill people.  Then I thought about water, which brings life.  You want to destroy evil, you use something good.  Plus, when I shot him, it was because I was too proud about my family name to let him live.  That time, Fox was in danger.  I couldn't let him kill my brother."

 Fox smiled at her, and she returned it.  "Well done," Orion said.  "Now let's leave him here and get out before its too late."

 "Why in such a rush?" asked Star.

 "Shadow Squadron's on their way here.  They're going to bomb this ship back a thousand years so we might want to book before they do get here."  Star nodded and they all ran down the hall more quickly.

 DeFox was fuming now because of Star's actions.  When he got to his feet, his eyes were practically on fire they glowed so brightly, on a face that looked like it was in a basin of acid for a whole minute.  Now, now he was really pissed.

 Star, Fox, and Orion looked back to see DeFox rip the door off of its hinges and toss it aside.  At once he looked hatefully at Star.  "You!" he yelled, pointing at her.  "You÷are a dead woman!"

 Star looked at his melting face and smiled.  "Oh yeah!" she said.  "Prove it!"  DeFox walked forward and bumped into the wall, getting a growl from him.  He couldn't see.  Star's pail of water did more damage to him then she anticipated.  But he wouldn't let blindness stop him.  DeFox limped after them, determined to carry out his threats.

 "I may be blind!" he screamed out.  "But that won't keep me from getting my claws on you!  I'm going to skin your fur off and use it for a wall rug!"

 "Come and get it if you want it!" taunted Star.  "At least my face doesn't look like a pizza that's been in the oven too long."  DeFox growled and rammed his claws into the steel wall beside him.  The claws tore through the metal like it was only foil.  The hate inside DeFox was increasing his strength by a lot.  At least he couldn't see them.

 They all ran more hastily now.  Even as a threesome, they knew they would not be able to take on this monster when he was that strong, even if he was blind.  DeFox kept up with them as best he could, using his nose to follow them and his ears to track their actions.  However, he could not follow and keep track of them forever, and he soon lost it.  Roaring angrily, DeFox punched the wall, creating a dent in it.  He went on, trying to find some way to relocate them.

 "You can run!" he yelled out.  "But you can never hide from me.  Never!  I will find you no matter what rock you try to hide under, and I will kill you!"  He went on trying to find them.  "After I kill you, I'm going to kill your brother, and I'll destroy anyone you have ever cared about!  The total erasure of the memory of you is my next goal!  A Defiler always cashes in!"

 Star stopped, hearing every word said to her by DeFox.  She sighed, knowing what must be done.  "You two find a way to stop that bombing.  I'll meet you both at the closest landing pad from here."

 "Star, you can't fight him by yourself," protested Fox.  "Let me go with you and we'll face him together."

 "I'm the one he wants now," said Star.

 Orion went into his robe and came out with an object.  It was a dagger, made out of ice, beautifully crafted.  Star looked at him like he was crazy.  "It won't melt, I assure you.  And it might help you.  Remember the dagger."

 Star nodded and took the dagger and stuck it in her belt.  "I'll lead him away from you and give you the chance to escape if needed.  Don't worry my brother, I have a plan."  Fox refused to move, but found himself doing it anyway when Star shoved him into an elevator along with Orion.  "Go!" she yelled.  And wait for me.  I'll be with you soon.

 "No!"  said Fox, reaching out to her.  Star watched the elevator with them in it descend to the landing pad level.  She sighed as they went, but she did have to lead DeFox away from them.  That should be easy considering the current facts and states of mind.  But first÷

 Star went to a nearby computer terminal which still had power, feeling lucky that it was even here for her.  She input some data into the machine in a search for her idea component.  It was her last chance to end this nightmare, even if it meant her going down too.  The search initiated, and Star was forced to wait.  She looked down the hall both ways for DeFox, seeing that he wasn't there.  But he was coming.

****

 "Target's in sight," said Kite.  He set the nova bomb seeker to impact somewhere on the left wing of the vessel.  "ETA is in thirty seconds."

 Captain Dallas gripped her control stick, her finger touching the release trigger very slightly, wishing this would turn unnecessary.  Fifteen seconds.  She finished off the final words of her prayer, completing with the word of Amen.  Ten seconds.  The target square was right on the center of the large science vessel, growing bigger as they got closer.

 "Shadow Squadron, hold your fire."

 Dallas reared her head, recognizing the voice of Fox.  "All ships, break off attack!" she yelled.  "Abort!  Abort mission, repeat abort mission!"  She pulled hard on her stick, not touching the trigger.  The four Arwings screamed right over the top of the ship, rocking it heavily with sonic booms.  "Fox?  Is that you?" asked Dallas.

 "Yes, Captain," returned Fox.  "There's no biological weapons here, so you can abort your bombing run."

 "Roger that," said Dallas.  She sighed in relief, happy to disarm her weapons.  Quietly and reassured, she started her landing descent to the vessel below.

****

 DeFox set the microphone down and continued on.  That disaster was averted, now he could kill Star without hoping to be bombed away before he could do it.  The four fighters were landing now, which was just as perfect.  He would take care of Star, and then eliminate the rest of them one at a time.

 He continued down the hall, still without eye sight and using his nose and ears to navigate.  Star was around here somewhere.  He could feel it.

 She was almost done with the computer.  It had gone on for almost a minute, so it had to be.  Star was growing more impatient every time she felt the Defiler's presence edge closer to her.  She swallowed nervously, tapping the computer to try and speed it up.  It must have worked.  The data she wanted came up to her, and she smiled.  It took only a few seconds to read and get the data she wanted.  A little map reading, and another lucky feeling that her destination was close by and close to the outside.

 Satisfied with what she saw, Star picked up a wrench and struck the computer screen, shattering and destroying the console.  She kept the wrench in hand, ready to use it again if needed.

 "You can't hide from me Star!"  She heard the voice echo from down the hall, not able to determine which one though.  "I'm bred to hunt, it's what I do, blind or not blind!  I am smarter, faster, and deadlier then any of you puny Lylatian mortals!  Why don't you just stop and accept your fate now?  It is unavoidable and you know it!  If you do that, I'll make your end quick and relatively painless!  If you make this harder for me, then I'll take my time!"

 "If you want me," yelled Star down the hall, "I'm in here!"

 DeFox turned at the voice and walked quickly down the hall, smiling that she heard him.  He found her scent and picked up his tracking towards her, already pinpointing her position.  Gleefully, DeFox got on all fours and ran down the hall, heading towards Star.

 She found it pretty easily and entered the room, or better described as an empty in ship steel tank.  Star ran inside, keeping the door open.  There was no where else to go other then the way she came, and down and up.  Above and below, in the floor and ceiling, were hatches controlled by valves inside this room.  Above was one of the Praetorian's two large three deck tall water tanks filled with water.  Freezing water, which made Star nervous about this, but it was water.  Below, an ejection system to the outside, used to eject the water into space if needed.

 Star spotted the two valves about ten feet from the door entrance, each of which would open the hatches when she needed.  She had to be careful though.  Switching the wrong hatch would ruin her plan.  Star was not going to test which one was which though.  She did not want to accidentally flood herself before the time was right.

 Ready now, Star hid behind the door.  "I'm in here!" she yelled out, placing the wrench she had into her palm to use it if her plan failed.  If her plan failed, she was dead, but not without a fight.

 Star swallowed.  "I'm in here, so come and get me!  Your not afraid are you?"  She waited a few seconds before DeFox ran inside, ready to kill.  Star watched him run to the other side of the tank, and then stop, confused.  She shut the door and sealed the two of them in.

 "Surprise," she said.  DeFox turned around and smiled at her.  Star saw his face very clearly now from the lights in the tank.  His skin was burnt and mottled, flesh deformed from the water she already doused him with.  The eyes, now red lights only, themselves were practically gone.  He still vaguely looked like Fox, and sounded like him too.  He took a step towards Star, making her raise her wrench in defense.

 "So the fox would face the Defiler," he said as he sensed her weapon, stepping again towards her.  "I can't decide what to do.  You are facing me, excepting your fate like a true warrior, but you are still resisting me.  Maybe I'll extend your suffering for a little while, but not too long."

 Nervous as hell, Star lowered herself, ready to spring to those valves.  DeFox grinned at her evilly.  Star broke out in a run to the valve, hoping she got the right one.

 "I think not," hissed DeFox, raising his hand to her.  Star saw a small field of distortion, right in front of her, looking like the reality in that area was constricting before her.  She couldn't stop fast enough to keep out of it.  The distortion exploded with light as she ran into it, and Star was tossed away, all of her insides in the chest area compressing and imploding, or so it felt like.  Star fell into the oppisite wall and slid down, groaning from the real hurt.

 Away from them, Fox stumbled and fell to the floor, clutching his chest as he folded up.  Orion stopped and knelt beside him, knowing what it meant.  The Defiler found her.

 She felt two different things.  Like she had just been stomped on by a horse five hundred times and that every nerve ending in her body was virtually on fire.  Using the wall, Star slowly pulled herself up.  She was clutching her chest heavily, fealing a cracked rib.  Star looked up and caught sight of DeFox saunter over to her slowly.

 "I guess that fit of rage did more then make me stronger," she heard him say.  "Too bad I can't do that again.  Tell me, Star, how did it feel?"

 "Kiss off," coughed Star, trying to get off her knees and to her feet.  DeFox waited until she was too both feet, and then kicked her in the back of the legs.  Star felt her feet fly out from under her, a fealing of flying on her own, and then a hard impact on her back, making her arch upward as she gritted her teeth.  Star fell, breathing heavily.  She looked up and saw the evil, spiteful thing stand over her.  She started to sit up, refusing to stay down.

 He walked to her side and knelt down next to her.  Star looked into his face, and watched the scarred face revert back to hits normal form, the pleasant one of her brother.  She was still not impressed.  "You know," he said, looking at her eyes now that he could see again, "I don't have to kill you at all."

 Star shuddered as DeFox gently stroked her cheek and then her hair, and started to scoot away from him again.  "I'm not your brother, that is true.  I am willing to look over the water part, but just for you.  Surrender yourself to me, and we'll let the sprouts order's death grow together."

 Star looked up at him and smiled.  "I'd rather eat a bucket full of worms," she whispered.

 "Suit yourself," said DeFox.  "I can very much arrange that."  He reached out and grabbed her chin, tightly, and lifted her off the ground.  Star kicked out viciously, trying to make him let her go.  DeFox only laughed as he squeezed tighter.

 Remember the dagger.  Star remembered Orion's words, and went to her back.  Her fingertips found the icy blade, and she drew it free from her belt.  Star ran the ice dagger into DeFox's shoulder f the arm he held her with, and she was dropped.  The evil animal stepped back and screamed out, loudly, shrieking with Fox's voice as well as a demonic monster yelling as well.  Star saw smoke come from the knife wound, doing damage to his insides.  When he tried to grab it, the ice only burned his hands.

 Star smiled and stepped back, taking hold of one of the valves, hoping it was the right one.  DeFox noticed stopped screaming, even though he was in infinite pain, and saw this wondering.  "While you're standing there hurting," said Star, "let me ask you this.  Can you swim with a lame shoulder and burn at the same time?"  DeFox gasped as Star yanked on the valve.

 A loud creak from above sounded, and a hatch opened.  At once, tons of water was dropped on the both of them.  Star backed into the wall, closing her eyes.  DeFox screamed as he watched a falling wall of water descend right onto his head.  His true colors as a coward were shown now that his life was threatened.

 The water fell right onto him and slammed outward, right into Star.  The impact knocked the wind out of her, irritating her already bruised midsection, but only for a second.  Within a second, the water was already up to her neck and still rising.  The water level was risen five feet a second.  It looked like a giant drinking glass being filled with water, at the same speed in scale.  Star looked up and saw the tank ceiling rush down at her fast.  She dove quickly to avoid hitting it.

 Already, Star saw DeFox, thrashing and kicking in the water.  Black and green matter was pouring off his body, falling out of his mouth and holes in the melting flesh.  Star knew that this looked so weird, seeing her brother's look-alike suffering and dying by simple drinking and washing water.  Almost all of the flesh was gone off his arms and legs, and his ribs were beginning to show.  All the bones were black.  The last Star saw of his face was a skull with glowing red eyes, the last of the Defiler's spirit trying to hold onto this vassal, but he was failing.  His own presence was what destroyed it.  However, the black skeleton of a fox with glowing red eyes, totally evil and demonic looking, was enough to disturb Star's dreams for a long while to come.

 The green and black matter was slowly drifting up towards Star, which compelled her to swim out of this tank and up to the surface.  Besides that, this water was freezing, and she wanted out, now.

 Below her, the skeleton, black as midnight, lost the glowing blood red eyes.  It slowly started to drift downward towards the bottom, where the bones would soon dissolve as well.  The Defiler could no longer hold on to the body, and it fell outward, at the mercy of the life bringing water.  The evil entity itself died and was cast into oblivion.  Star exited the tank and swam upward towards air.

****

 Fox and Orion were rather relieved when DeFox called off the bombing himself, since they were unable to get there in time anyway.  Fox was clutching a burning side, pain he got from Star's injury.  They watched as the three Arwings landed on the last remaining pad.  Fox went forth and greeted Captain Dallas and Kite.

 "Glad you could make it," he said to them.

 "You all right?" asked Dallas.

 Fox sighed.  "I think so," he answered.  He shook his head.  "I'm not sure, not after what happened here."

 "What did happen here?" asked Kite, looking around.

 "That is something best told while leaving this place of corruption," said Orion, stepping forward.

 "You're a Shyer," said Dallas, seeing his glowing eyes and dragon badge.

 Orion rose a single eyebrow, looking at Dallas.  "That is right," he said.  "You know about us?"

 "A little.  A good friend of mine is a Shyer, and he is serving aboard my ship, I guess as an act of kindness.  His name is÷"  She was interrupted by the sound, the striking of metal on metal, right behind her.  She and Kite turned around and had phasers aimed at a hatch behind them.  Ninook put his hands on it to open it, and looked at Captain Dallas.  She nodded to him to proceed.

 With one quick twist, the hatch sprung and it was opened.  An orange hand shot out with a wrench in hand.  At once it dropped the wrench and grabbed the edge of the hole, trying to hang on.  Kite stepped forward and carefully looked inside.  He saw a lovely vixen, but wet and shivering in the extreme.  She smiled when she saw him.

 "K-K-Kite," she said, shivering while talking.

 "Do I know you?" asked Kite, reaching down for her.  Star reached up and took his hand, and was easily lifted out of the hole.

 "Star!" said Fox, rushing forward to them.  Dallas looked at the vixen, and saw a female version of Fox McCloud, very much surprised by this.  Fox and Kite helped her out of the access tube and set her on the floor.  She was soaked to the bone, shivering greatly, a little blue around her lips.

 At once seeing this, Captain Dallas removed her uniform jacket and draped it around Star's shoulders.  Star looked up into Dallas's green eyes.  "Thank you," she said, pulling the jacket tighter around her.

 "Where's DeFox?" asked Fox, looking at the tube entrance.

 "Cooking under water pressure," replied Star.  Dallas excused Ninook and Timel, telling them to take their Arwings up and wait for them.  They nodded to her and left back to the landing pad.  Fox held Star more tightly, making her smile.  "Admit it," Star said.  "You need me more then I ever needed you."

 Fox laughed, hearing what he thought was a joke.  "Excuse me, but you got here first and you were captured first."  Things don't change, thought Fox.  But at least she survived that crash on Titania, which made him happy.

 "I count two, no, three times I saved your butt on this night alone," boasted Star.  "Once when I cut the power and distracted DeFox, the second time when I tossed that water in his face when he was going to garbage chute you, and the third just now when I flooded him down.  Don't you say there are times when you don't need me, otherwise I'll kick your butt from here all the way to Fortuna and back again twice."

 "How do you two know each other?" asked Captain Dallas.

 Fox looked up at her and then to Star, who only shrugged.  "Captain Dallas, Kite, this is my twin sister, Star McCloud."  Both of them, especially Kite, felt their jaws fall out from under them.

 "I÷I flew with James for three years before I left and joined Shadow," said Kite.  "All that time, I never knew he ever had a daughter."

 "Good," said Star, coughing up some water that she sucked while down there.  "Neither does Peppy.  If you don't mind, I'd like to wait and introduce myself to him÷when the time is right."  She coughed again.  Kite nodded to her, promising to keep his.  "Break that promise, and I'll just have to come and kill you."  Kite smiled.

 "It's good to meet you," said Captain Dallas, holding out her hand.

 "Likewise," returned Star.  "Now, I really want to go home."  She removed the jacket and handed it back to Dallas, and started to walk away from them.  Before she passed on by, she stopped before Orion.  "Thanks," she said to him.  "You might have saved my tail three times tonight too.  I can't think on numbers right now, I'm too cold.  All the same, thanks."

 "My honor," said Orion.  The two shook hands and Orion went and joined Captain Dallas.  "I'll be going back with her though to find this other Shyer.  It might be the main purpose of my coming here, other then to stop DeFox.  And I'll have to remove Fox's memory of these events," he whispered.  "Otherwise he'll only get eaten up by them inside.  It's something about the monster that is connected to him some how."

 Star nodded to him, knowing that meant that Fox will forget that he saw her here and will still no know if she is alive or not, only to believe she is by heart.  Star started to walk away.  "What is this 'DeFox' I've been hearing about?" asked Captain Dallas to Fox.

 Star turned around.  "You may not want to know," she said.  "I don't want to know any more either, even though I'm glad I do.  Once you know about it Captain, you'll be able to pull the logic out of that.  As for me÷I'm going home."

 "You want me to fly you home?" offered Fox.

 "Not on your life.  I'm taking my jet, and I'm not stopping until I hit my own pillow for a night's rest, after I slip into a dry set of clothes."  Star left them and headed towards her own fighter, not looking back for a second.

 Fox also turned around to find his Arwing and leave this place behind.  Dallas got on the link to Ninook for them to bomb this place into a new kind of existance, and out of their hair for all time.  She and Kite started back to their landing pad.  Before they went, Dallas turned back to Orion.  "You coming?" she asked him.

 The white fox nodded to her, and she left.  Orion looked back towards where Star made her exit and smiled.  In his own native tongue, he spoke.  "Congratulations Star McCloud.  Although no one may ever know about it, but you just destroyed the first Defiler ever to be destroyed.  Not even you will remember."

 Orion did put the loss of the memories of this hellish catastrophe into her mind.  Once she slept, she would wake up, considering this just a simple midnight nightmare.  If what she said about the conncection with her and Fox was true, then they would both suffer from this.  He even put the same influence in Andross and Miltdown before they left as well.  It would just be better if they remembered nothing about any of this at all.

 Orion turned around and followed Captain Dallas out of this place, hoping never to see it again.  Some things are best to be buried, or in this case, sunk.

****

 Star McCloud turned around in her pilot's seat and watched the large flower explosions on the Zoness surface, signaling the end of the Praetorian.  Good riddens to bad rubbish.  It will not be creating any more biological weapons for Andross any longer.

 Star at once set a course back for Titania.  Hell with that alien ship outside her den.  It was probably under twenty feet of sand which would probably never come off it anyway.  Star decided to leave it alone.  All she wanted was to make sweet contact with a pillow while in dry night clothes.  She could have set the auto pilot on and slept on the way home, but she could not and would do no such thing.

 It was true, Defiler Fox was dead and melted by plain water, and was not coming back.  Thank God for favors like that.  But Star still heard and remembered what DeFox said to Orion, something she knew he did not lie about.  There were thousands of them out there in the stars, waiting, doing, sewing their evils.  Thousands of Defilers in the many planes and universes out there.

 Knowing this, Star, even if it was for this once, cringed away from the darkness of space a little bit right now, knowing that the stars were capable of creating such evil things out there aside from the good they brought.  She knew her sleep was going to be plagued by these realizations and thoughts, wondering what could happen.  Star swallowed, a little bit more careful about what was out there.

 She may encounter the Defilers some time in the future, or she may never hear about them again.  At least she wouldn't have to deal with nightmares like DeFox whose very nature gets to her own soul.  Monsters like that whose memories stayed dead once you have buried them.  At least÷

 ÷she hoped.

The End
 
 

Star Fox is the property of Nintendo Inc. and has been used without permission.  Again, I would like to thank Kay Twilight for allowing me to include Star McCloud in this story.  The ship and crew of the CSS SunHawk, Pandora Freelancer, Orion Drakhan, DeFox and the Defilers, the Shyer people, Shadow Squadron, and Dr. Miltdown are all my characters and cannot be used without my consent.  Thanks.