The story thus far, as described in "The Spectre"

After its failure to defeat the Alliance of Free Worlds, the Imperium became divided. The Emperor Andross, suspicious of his allies, the Warlords, began seeking allies beyond the system. The Emperor wished to find away to eliminate both the Alliance and his Warlord allies in one single strike.

The Emperor purchased an awesome bio-weapon from the mysterious Kronosians, a weapon called "Spectre", which was able to duplicate the appearance of any creature. With the ultimate spy in their control, the Imperium faked a rebellion to trick the Alliance into petitioning for peace.

Two Warlords, Boltzman Gorastar of Sector Z and Makhina Fenri of Bolse, saw through Andross' foul plan and feared for their safety. Gorastar was planning to overthrow Andross and become Emperor. He made a deal with Makhina to protect the Machine, the great supercomputer of Bolse, from Spectre if the Bolseans would acknowledge him as Emperor when the time comes. Makhina agreed, and the two began their daring plan to sabotauge the Spectre plan without endangering peace.

Gorastar began the plan by hiring a former Imperial assasin named Jack Canis to destroy Spectre. Jack had become a sworn enemy of the Imperium and was suspicios of Gorastar, but he agreed, eager to do anything to harm Andross.

Makhina tried to gather allies, namely the Warlord Ederax Rathii, who was master of Titania. Ederax was clearly the most powerful of the Warlords; indeed, it was whispered that he could best the Emperor himself. Ederax's heir to the throne was murdered by Spectre, and Makhina sought to use this to her advantage.

In truth, Ederax was secretly planning a project called operation Haven. Unbeknownst to anyone but Ederax and his agents, a great Cataclysm was on the horizon, one that threatened to destroy all of civilization. Ederax was working to stop this, and what was worse, the Kronosians were behind the evil plan to enslave the system.

The Kronosians planted Spectre as a scapegoat for an even more sinister plan. A powerful being known as Kronos was secretly manipulating the events through one of his guises, the true Spectre, disguised as Sean Dire, an Alliance leader. He succededin using the false Spectre into plunging Lylat into conflict.

Full scale conflict erupted. Over the course of 2 weeks, people all over Lylat were plagued by haunting dreams of a mass exodus to some unknown world. The dreams were being influenced by Ederax, who had the powers to do so, and Makhina, who had entered the Machine's vast consciousness and stumbled upon the dream realm.

Nuclear weapons were dropped, and communications dropped entirely. Gorastar kidnapped Andross and his loyal henchman, Warlord Deslian Komodan, and threw them in their own prisons.

Gorastar then pronounced himself Emperor, and after receiving a warning from Ederax, evacuated Venom to someplace unknown and away from the system.

Meanwhile, Jack Canis, who had been imprisoned, escaped and joined Star Fox to leave the system. The team encountered a wave of refugees, and they all escaped down a wormhole just as the black ships of Kronos invaded the system. The Survivors, as they call themselves now, have made a refuge on a strange, beautiful world they have named "Tehrah", which was common Lylatian for "Peace."

Sooner or later, the Survivors hope to return to Lylat and reclaim what was once theirs.

The story continues on Tehrah, a year after the invasion.

Chapter One

"When you speak, expect your friend to listen. If he doesn't,tap him on the shoulder to see that he isn't deaf. If he isn't, speak louder. If that doesn't work, go home, get your megaphone, come back, and yell it into his ear. Then tap him on the shoulder to see that he isn't deaf."

-Grey Bracken, Macbeth resistence fighter.

One day a messenger came.

He came in a manner that couldn't be ignored; he fell out of the sky.

It was a peaceful afternoon for the community of Haven, living on the world they had cristianed "Tehrah," which meant peace in the universal tongue of Lylat. The sky was clear and bright, the air was warm, and the wind was calm.

Fox McCloud had been working on his arwing, making sure everything was in good repair. Fara was inside the house, making lunch. Nathan was taking his usual hikes with his friends in the nearby woods. Nathan knew full well not to go beyond the river, and Fox had no fears of him getting lost.

Then it happened. Somebody shouted, and a low roar could be heard from above. Fox looked up just in time to see a silver object scream over head. It was trailing black smoke and descending fast. Right into the forest.

Sure enough, the object slammed into the forests with a resounding crash. A cloud of smoke began to emerge from where it crashed.

Without a second thought, Fox lept off of his arwing and ran into the forest. he was joined by his friends Jack Canis, Falco Lombardi, Peppy Hare, and Slippy Toad.

He was relieved to see Nathan and the other kids ok, even if they were scared out of there minds. The adults made sure the children got back to there homes.

Fox, Peppy, Falco, Slippy, and Jack went into the forest to locate the downed craft.

"How did it get past our sensors?" Fox asked.

"Dunno," Slippy shrugged. "Cloaked?"

Falco shook his head. "How could something that small have a cloaking device?"

Nobody bothered to answer.

It didn't take long for them to find the craft. Fox could recognize it as an Invader, but it was a type of Invader that he hadn't seen before.

The Invader had what was definatly Imperial markings, but the standard of Andross was absent. A new standard was placed where Andross' would have been.

The hatch opened, and out stumbled a Bat wearing what looked like Imperial Fleet uniform. He landed on the ground with a thud, and got up, dusted off, and looked around. Once he saw Fox and the others, he pulled out a laser and aimed at them, taking defensive posture.

"Hey, relax! We don't mean harm!" Fox said, holding up his hands.

The Bat just stared.

"Do you speak Cornerian?" Fox asked, not sure the Bat understood him.

"Yes," the Bat replied. He lowered his laser tentativly.

"Are you alright?" Falco asked.

"I'm fine." The Bat stared at them curiously. "Who are you, anyway?"

"My name's Fox McCloud. This is Falco Lombardi, Peppy Hare, Jack Canis, and Slippy Toad." He pointed to each of them respectivly.

The Bat blinked twice. Then after a minute of silence, he began to chuckle, which turned into an insane laughter.

"I don't believe it!" the pilot laughed. "I just don't believe it! First I get sucked into a wormhole, crash on an unexplored planet, and I find myself being welcomed by none other but StarFox! And Jack Canis to boot! Oh, this is rich!"

"Definatly an Imperial pilot," Jack said with a slight grin.

The Bat stopped laughing after a moment, then stepped forward and stretched out his hand. "I'm Cody Black. I take it you live around here?"

Fox shook hands with the pilot. "Yes, we do. Welcome to Tehrah."

 

* * *

Afterword, Fox showed Cody around the village. The children gathered around the visitor, curious to see just what kind of person falls out of the sky like that. Slippy was back in the woods working on the Invader that Cody was flying.

Cody was none the worse from his crash; he asked more questions about the village then Fox could keep up with. After he had shown Cody just about every nook and cranny of Haven, Fox invited the pilot into the communial meeting place where they could talk in private.

"Before I begin," Cody said, after he sat down at one of the tables. "I want to know you're story. How you got here, that sort of thing."

"As you might guess, " Fox said, "We came here to avoid the Cataclysm.

"We all left just before it happened. In the weeks during the war before the Cataclysm, every one of us at the village, or rather, everyone of us not born here, had dreams of this place. To this day nobody knows how it happened. We gave up asking a long time ago.

"We were assisted by an unknown agency. All we know about them was they were Titanian. They claimed to have known about the Cataclysm several years in advance and had been working to save the system from it. They also told us about the Cataclysm and the Kronosian plot behind it."

Cody nodded.

Fox went on. "We came through the wormhole just barely missing the Cataclysm. We arrived here at Tehrah, built this village, and lived here for fifteen years, waiting for something to happen.

"We had the general idea that we'd try to come back and retake the system. But nobody wanted to try it. The oppurtunity never arose. There are other settlements throughout the planet, of course, but they've all since pursued there own interests, even though all the settlements gather at a meeting place to exchange news and what have you." Fox shrugged. "Life has been otherwise uneventful, until you arrived."

Cody sat back. "I suppose, then, you haven't heard any news from the system for fifteen years."

Fox nodded.

Cody smiled a little. "I got a story of my own to tell.

"You probably have guessed that I come from the Imperium. I've been an Imperial citizen ever since Andross and the Warlords took over. I served awhile in Area 6 as a fighter pilot. Naturally, your Star Fox team gained quite a bit of resentment. In fact, during the Star Fox campaign, when you guys were passing through Sector Z, it was our wing, along with the Copperheads that were sent to route you."

Fox raised his eyebrows. "You guys put up a hell of a fight. The repair bill for the Great Fox cost us almost our entire fortune."

Cody grinned slightly, apparantly embarrased. "Well, things are different now, and there isn't any compelling reason we should still be enemies.

"I still work for the Imperium. I was on a scouting mission when a Kronosian Hunter Cruiser and a wing of fighters came upon me and my wing. I remember taking a hit and flying into the wormhole. My defensive computer activated the cloaking device automatically, as it's programed to do when a hit has been taken."

"The system. What's it like over there?"

Cody's face grew dark. "Not very good. Soon after they arrived, they bombed the hell out of the Lylat worlds. Anything that even vaguely looked like a military installation was pulverized.

"There is no asteroid belt anymore; the Kronosians vaporized it. Much of Katina is in ashes. Same for Fortuna. You can still see the blast craters to this day.

"I don't know much about Corneria; I can tell you that much of it has been abandoned. It's still habitable; in fact, some people still crawl around the ruins of Cornerian cities under the prying eyes of the Kronosian police. Or so I am told.

"The other worlds are pretty shaken. Zoness has been made the Kronosian headquarters. Titania is still Titania, except the climate there has gotten worse. Area 6 is a ships graveyard, and Venom...well, let's just say it's not suitable for an Imperial capital."

"How did the Imperium survive the Cataclysm?"

"To this day, I can't be sure. The Emperor had us evacuated, the entire populace, out of the system. We control a system called Gamma. It's far enough away from Lylat to be safe, yet

close enough to battle the Kronosians. That's what the Imperium's been doing for fifteen years, although we haven't had much success. Actually, it's more of a cold war, as we aren't sure if we could survive a full conflict. Instead, we act through agents in the system."

Fox frowned. "As long as Andross is Emperor you're never going to win."

Cody roared with laughter, much to the bewilderment of Fox. "You're right," Cody laughed, "You couldn't be more correct. That's why Andross is no longer the Emperor!"

"Really?" Fox asked. It was actually refreshing news.

"Oh yes!" Cody said with a grin. "Just after that idiot Ape dropped the nukes on the Alliance, Warlord Gorastar staged a swift coup and seized the thrown. Andross, as well as Warlord Komodon and those officials loyal to him were thrown in prison. Then Gorastar pronounced himself Emperor, and not one Imperial citizen had the balls to challenge him, not after taking down the Emperor like that."

"And Andross?"

"Originally, Emperor Gorastar was going to hand him over to the Alliance as a gesture of good will. Unfortunatly, he couldn't contact them. And then somehow he found out about the Cataclysm, and had us all evacuated to Gamma. As for Andross, he killed himself one night in his prison cell. He was that much of a coward after all. End of story. Komodon had escaped, however, before he was to be executed."

"What happened to Star Wolf? Surely they would have been a problem."

"I know Gorastar bought Wolf O'Donnel off. Leon Powalski just vanished out of thin air, and Pigma....as I understand it Gorastar had him jailed for stealing out of Imperial treasuries. Andrew was also thrown into prison as an accomplice."

"Hmm. And the Warlords? Are they still in power?"

"Gorastar is the only one left. Warlord Rathii vanished before the invasion, although popular belief says he's still alive and battling the Kronosians. There are a lot of tales about his wherebouts, and you'll hear reported sightings of him come in daily. He's something of a legend in the Lylatian resistence."

"Resistence?"

"Sure. After all, who likes to be enslaved?"

"Good point."

"We work with them on a day-to-day basis. Mostly in Macbeth, becuase security is lax on that planet. It's a sleaze pit now; you'll find mostly dregs and criminals there."

"Doesn't the Imperium have the Machine on it's side? And you haven't told me about the other Warlord, Makhina Fenri."

"Neither the Machine, nor Warlord Fenri are anywhere to be found. Hell, nobody knows where to find Bolse. After the nukes were dropped, they kicked up their mobile thrusters and just left.

They show up from time to time, but they never answer our hails, and before anybody can get over there, the satellite dissapears."

Silence filled the room for a moment. Then Fox said, "Well, we'll see what we can do with your craft, and see if we can get you back home. In the meantime, why don't you stay as a guest here at the village? I have an extra room to spare."

Cody nodded. "I'd be more then happy to."

Chapter Two

"A King once asked his wise men for some single thing that would make him happy when he was sad, but sad when he was happy. They consulted and came back with a ring engraved with the message This Too Will Pass.'"

-Sufi aphorism

The city of Nova was a third of the size of the old Imperial Capital at Venom, but it commanded much more dignity and glamor.

Not to mention it was much cleaner, and living conditions were tremendously improved.

Emperor Boltzman Gorastar smiled to himself with pride. His Imperium had survived the worst. He transformed the cruel, decadant regime of Andross into something strong, effective, and healthy.

All of the citizens agreed it was far better now then under Andross. And they meant it. Most people had praised Andross' policies when he was Emperer because they feared imprisonment,

but this time they could say what they wanted to without being branded a traitor.

Like the Imperium, Gorastar too had changed. The events of the Spectre incident had forced him to rethink his credo, and as time went on, he had softened considerably. When he saw the damage done by the nukes that Andross had launched, Gorastar felt pity for the first time in years. It was that moment when he decided to end Andross' reign of terror.

Gorastar fingered his royal insignia at the memory. Now he was Emperor, and much of his policy concentrated more democratic principles then under the old regime.

"Emperor?"

He turned. His military advisor, Samuel Rodante, was at the doorway.

"Yes, Rodante?"

The Rat bowed and said, "Pardon my intrusion, but I thought you must know at once. We have found a survivor from the Black Lightning wing."

"Well, that is some good news. But I take it there is more?"

Sam nodded. "My Emperor, the survivor has a most interesting report to make. I never would have believed it if his flight log hadn't confirmed it."

"What is so interesting about this report, Sam?"

Rodante cleared his throat. "Well, my Emperor," he began. "After taking a hit, the pilot, captain Cody Black, Invader IV pilot, activated his emergency cloaking device and tried to make a

jup back to base. Instaed, however, he plunged into a local wormhole, the Robinson vortex, I believe. Robinson is a stable but inconsistent vortex, opening only every fifteen years, and then for 5 years. It opened about a week ago."

Gorastar sat at his desk, still listening.

Sam continued. "On the other side, captain Black found himself in a star system, and crash landed on the third planet in that system. He was most surprised to find it inhabited by......" Sam paused.

Gorastar leaned forward. "By who, Sam?"

"My Emperor," Sam replied. "The captian swears that it is the Lost Colony."

"WHAT?!"

Sam nodded. "My Emperor, the flight log confirms every word of his story. It is indeed the Cornerian colonists. The logs have identified Jack Canis, the Star Fox team, and many other

notable figures of the Androssian war, such as Bill Grey and Katt Monroe."

The Emperor took a deep breath. "Well, Sam," he said quietly. "I think it's clear that we should keep this quiet for the moment, until I can convene the Council. In the meantime, see to it that this pilot, Cody Black, is decorated. Understood? As a matter of fact, I'd like to decorate him myself."

Sam bowed. "Of course, my Emperor." Then Sam turned and left, leaving Gorastar alone to comprehend the full repercussions of the situation.

The Lost Colony! It could mean that the Imperium could wage an open war againts the dreaded Beast for the first time.

Provided that the colonists were willing to return home.

 

* * *

Meanwhile, in the darkened Labyrinth of Bolse, deep in Sector X, the Machine hummed.

All else was silent. The entire satellite was empty, it's inhabitants sent to a place only the Machine knew.

The Machine was a vast intellect, fettered only by the lack of emotion. It had been constructed not long before the Androssian War by researchers who had no comprehension of what power they had discovered.

The Machine's earliest memory had occured a year after it had been finished. Quite by accident, the Machine realized that it had an existence. It learned about the outside world at an increadible rate through the Information Network. It grew to admire it's creators not only for their logic, but their individuallity, and their ability to comprehend emotion, something beyond the Machine's ability.

The Machine devised the first working, intelligent cyborgs in all of Lylat. It turned Bolse from a small research station into the largest spaceborn construction in the known galaxy.

The Machine's fascination with Lylatians, and with all life forms, grew in leaps and bounds. To such ends, the Machine offered the inhabitents of its fortress to become cyborgs. Thus, the race of Cybers were created.

The Machine knew what an error was. But it had only known mechanical errors; failures in a working system as opposed to an error in judgement. Even so, it learned how to compute by

analyzing the every possible factor. The computational ability gave no definate answers; only the possible meanings for an event and the odds of those possibilities being a reality.

Thus, when the Imperium appeared, the Machine had computed that the odds of success where in Andross's favor. When the Imperium was defeated by the Star Fox team, the Machine nearly suffered a major malfunction. It was then when it learned the meaning of a bad decision.

Now, the Machine was alone, intending now more then ever to protect the race behind its creation from Kronos. The Kronosians themselves weren't the enemy, but the force behind them was.

There was but a single resident of Bolse. He was walking down the hallway to visit the Machine, as he did everyday for fifteen years.

The visitor walked in and closed the door behind him. He was cloaked this morning; the heating system was malfunctioning and was a few degrees cooler then usual.

The visitor turned on the light's of the Machine room, and kicked on the auxillary heating system. He removed his hood and surveyed the chamber to ensure that everything was in order.

The visitor was Ederax Rathii. Ederax the Mad, Ederax, Warlord of Titania.

Ederax smiled, satisfied everything was in operation. "Good morning," he said to the Machine. "Any news for me today?"

<<AFFIRMATIVE>>, said the metallic voice of the Machine.

"Well, let's hear it," said Ederax, while he opened up his cooler to make himself breakfast.

<<IMPERIAL REPORTS SURVIVOR OF SCOUT WING BLACK LIGHTENING FOUND NEAR ROBINSON WORMHOLE>><<SURVIVOR NAME CAPTIAN CODY BLACK

REPORTS FINDING OF A LOST COLONY REPEAT LOST COLONY FOUND>>

Ederax was about to eat a bagel when the words registered. He set down his breakfast and stood. "That is something, isn't it?"

He walked over and began typing onto the Machine's consol.

Immediatly, an image of the Robinson wormhole appeared.

"So," Ederax said, smiling. "It's finally opened. We'll have to hurry."

The Machine understood what Ederax meant. In the past decade and a half, the two intelligences had become fellow conspirators.

<<EDERAX UNIT YOU REALIZE THAT DATA RECOVERY MAY NOT SUCEED>>

"I know, but we have to try. After all, we've been filtering the data long enough."

<<CORRECT, BUT MAKHINA UNIT'S PHYSICAL UNIT HAS BEEN IN COLD STORAGE FOR 15.2 YEARS. CHANCES OF RECOVERY ARE SLIM>>

"If we send a weak enough charge, it shouldn't matter."

<<TRUE>>

Ederax smiled. "Of course it is. When have I ever been wrong?"

<<DATABANKS HAVE RECORDED PRECISELY 3123.4 ERRORS MADE IN JUDGEMENT IN PAST THREE MONTHS: NUMBER OF MISTAKES ON REC->>

Ederax cut it off. "Thank you, but I don't need to know."

<<CORRECTION: 3124.4 ERRORS IN JUDGEMENT>>

Ederax rolled his eyes. "Look, either switch off, or work with me, we have work to do."

<<BEGINNING DATA RECOVERY MODE>><<DATA FILTER OPEN>>

"Good. Open the cold storage hatch; I'll do the rest."

<<AFFIRMATIVE>>

Chapter Three

"True power comes from self-reliance. If you cannot do things yourself, you do not have power. But if you can use others to do things for you, then you have power over them."

-Nicolai Rostov, pirate

The cold rain came down hard over Crescent City, Macbeth. Grey Bracken paid it no mind. There were worse things to worry about, especially here in Crescent City.

Macbeth was perhaps the poorest and oddly the wealthiest planet in all of Lylat. The poverty rate was so tremendous that the Kronosian overlord of Lylat, popularly known as "the Beast",

once tried to use the planet exclusivly as a source of cheap labor. Unfortunatly, despite the impressive wealth of the planet, most of the old corporations were still in existence and

operating underground. At first, the Beast tried to shut down the corporations by out producing them, but it wasn't cost effective enough for Kronos, the Beast's superior, to find worthwhile. Eventually, the Beast made a deal with the corporations promising them autonomy as long as they didn't interfere with his operations elsewhere. The Kronosians ignored the planet ever since.

As a result, the Beast's police didn't have as much of a presence here then on other worlds. Macbeth was the ultimate backwater world, home to all kinds of disreputable types. Thieves, pirates, gangsters, scum.

Scum that had taken upon themselves as businessmen, which didn't make them any less dangerous.

If it was said that Macbeth was the junkyard of Lylat, then Crescent City was the sewage pipe. It was, handsdown, the most depressing town on the entire planet, mostly in part because of what prosperity it once had.

Grey looked around. Everywhere it was the same; it wasn't so much a city as it was the ruins of a city. More buildings were empty then not; it looked like the place was a warzone that never recovered. In fact, that's what Crescent City was. It had taken the worst of the bombings during the Cataclysm.

He entered an alleyway and stepped up to a door spraypainted with the words, "TIER UND MANN", and knocked. A viewing slot opened to reveal a pair of eyes obviously belonging to a Raccoon.

"Grey," said a muffled voice from behind the door. The voice was heavily accented in Gherhman, a commonly heard dialect on this part of the planet. "Long time, no see."

Grey smiled. "Let me in, Hans. I'm freezin' my ass off out here."

Not only was it true, but it was also the pass phrase needed to get in, at least for today. It always changed at varying intervals.

The door slid open, and Grey stepped inside.

"Got anything I should know about, Grey?"

"Just my usual protection," Grey replied, moving his trenchcoat to reveal a concealed laser.

Hans nodded. "Okay, but you know the rules, ja?"

"Of course."

Grey stepped into the dimly lit bar. The place was full tonight. The room was filled with loud, Gherhman industrial music. The place was popular with Gherhman Macbethians, and as such it

could always be counted on that there would be plenty of loud music and fights.

Grey's eye went over to his usual table and he saw that a familier Meerkat was sitting there, sipping Macbeth liquor.

Grey frowned. It was going to be one of those days.

Grey approached the Meerkat, and gestured to one of the private booths. The Meerkat nodded and followed Grey inside.

Grey activated the soundproof mechanism and drew the curtain so they could talk in private. He then sat down and said, "What now, Simon?"

The Meerkat grined slightly. "You don't find me a welcome sight, do you?"

Grey leaned forward. "'Beware Imperials bearing gifts,'" he quoted.

Simon Karo chuckled. "Never heard that one."

"Just get to the point. What does the Imperium want now?"

Simon sat back for a moment. He asked slowly, "Grey, have you ever heard of a Lost Colony?"

Grey laughed. "C'mon, Simon. I thought you were serious."

"I am."

"Shit, Simon, there are so many stories about the Lost Colony I have trouble believing that it exists. Is that why you're here? You think I know something about it?"

"We do."

Grey's smile vanished. "What do you mean?"

Simon sat forward. "We've found it."

Grey stared at the Meerkat. "The real thing?"

Simon nodded.

"I'll be damned," Grey muttered.

"They're all there," Simon continued. "Star Fox, a great many Cornerian pilots and mercenaries, even your friend Jack Canis."

Grey laughed. "I knew that asshole had too much balls to get himself killed."

Simon sat back in his chair.

"Wait a sec," Grey said, suddenly suspicious. "Why are you telling me this?"

"You have connections. We thought you could spread the news."

Grey shook his head. "I think not. What good would it do?"

"We know that certain groups would be listening if you started talking."

"What groups?"

"The former Warlords."

Grey laughed. "Gorastar has been trying for fifteen damn years to rally his coleagues. Come on, Simon, they're either dead, or they have no intention of coming back. Either way, it won't work."

Simon stood up. "Listen, you've got influence, Grey. I know you have more connections then the Imperium is aware of. Try to pull some strings, ask around. Remember, the aim here is to eliminate Kronosian rule. The Beast rules with a harsh fist, and the Spectre is a deadly foe, and their master, Kronos, is perhaps the greatest evil Lylat has ever faced. I think your employers would like to see them eliminated."

Grey laughed. "You know about that, eh?"

"I don't know who your backers are, and I don't care. All I know is, they have the resources to contact the Warlords. We've seen first hand what they can do. So please, do me this favor, Ok?"

Grey stared at the table. "Let me think about it," he muttered.

 

* * *

A phone call and a sickening cab ride later, Grey was in a spacious, elegent office on the top floor of the tallest skyscraper in Crescent City.

Sitting at the desk, Reichmann von Hendricks smiled as Grey entered. "Guten Tag," Reichmann greeted. "Come in here, dear boy, have a cigar. It's been a long time, jawohl?"

Grey sat, and turned down the cigar. "Thanks, but I'd rather pass. Wie geht es ihnen heute, herr Hendricks?"

The Doberman smiled faintly. "I am well. Bitte, call me Reichmann."

Grey sat back, relaxed. Simon didn't know how right he was about Grey having connections. If the Imperium knew that Grey was on a fist name basis with a former Warlord, Gorastar would flip out. Now that would be a sight to see.

"What brings you to my office, Grey?" Reichmann asked.

"Somethings came up I thought you'd be interested in."

Reichmann laughed. "And just what would that be?"

Grey coughed, and gave Reichmann a look. Reichmann grew serious. Grey was gesturing that they shouldn't be disturbed.

Reichmann tapped on his comm and said something in Macbeth Gherhman.

"Now," Reichmann said. "We can speak uninterrupted. What news do you have, Grey?"

Grey smiled. It was a great privalege to have ties to the high and mighty of Lylat.

And Reichmann von Hendricks was certainly the baddest of bad. In the days before the Venomian Empire, Hendricks appeared almost out of nowhere and took control of the Macbeth Industrial Consortium, turning it from one of the biggest jokes in the free market to perhaps the largest enterprise ever established in Lylat. Although he had considerable Imperial support, it was Hendricks's shrewd cunning and Machiavellan tactics that made him one of the wealthiest men in all of Lylat.

From that point, Hendricks was the first corporate big shot to be given a position in any government; in this case, Macbeth. He climbed national ladders after he was on the top of the corporate food chain, and very soon he became the Macbethian governer and head of state, and a member of the Imperial Council of Warlords.

After the Star Fox campaign, Warlord Hendricks found his assets badly damaged, and Andross was indifferent. Hendricks had allready became infamous for his temper, and when Andross refused to lend financial aids on ridicilous grounds, (Consortium money belonged to the Imperium, and therefore had to cover it's own damages), Hendricks responded with his own, "F*** you." He left the Imperium along with Warlords Firebird, Engredel, and Kitsune.

Andross threatened Hendricks with the promise that Imperial armies would march into Crescent City if he did not returned. Hendricks sent back a reply saying he would be perfectly happy to retaliate to such an invasion with nuclear weapons.

After that, Hendricks went into isolation, along with his fellow Warlord dissenters. He refused to make public appearances, and left most of the decision making of the Consortium to the Board of Directors. Of course, no policy could be implemented without sending it to Hendricks's office, which would come back with either a simple, "yes" or "no", and a few suggestions.

Still, Hendricks was the master of the Consortium, and if he chose to take direct control once again, there would be little challenge to his authority.

Now, here in his office, Reichmann was patiently awaiting the news from his part-time agent.

Grey cleared his throat. "Gorastar has found the so-called 'LostColony.' He wants to use this finding to rally the other Warlords."

Reichmann smiled. "And has he had much success?"

Grey shook his head. "I do not think so. But it's possible the others haven't heard the call yet."

Reichmann stood, and faced the window overlooking the city.

"See that?" Reichmann gestured to the city below. "There, before my eyes, is the most decadent, corrupt city ever erected. It is a reflection of the Imperium, when Andross was the Fuehrer, the leader."

Grey nodded, knowing where Reichmann was angling to.

Reichmann turned. "Andross decieved me, and turned this city into what it is now. I will not believe that spiel, that play again. Nien, if the Warlords return, Boltzman is too likely to become another Andross. I will not be apart of that. The others agree."

"Tell that to Gorastar. Look, Reichmann, the Lost Colony! Think of it!"

"What about it?"

Grey stood. "Look," he said. "Warlord Rathii was up to something. That's for damn sure. I'm betting that this Lost Colony had something to do with whatever he was up to before the invasion. Something's about to happen, but nobody knows what."

Reichmann shook his head. "I'll talk to the others, but I wouldn't expect much from them. As for Rathii, how do we know that he's even alive?"

Grey shrugged. "How do we know anything about him?"

Chapter Four

"What is the lie? The lie itself, or the truth you believe to be a lie?"

-Anonymous note to Emperor Andross, thought to have been penned by ex-Warlord Engredel.

 

It all boils down to will, thought Rostov.

It was nightime on Katina. The sky was pitch black: No stars could be seen. The sky was dark blue on the horizon, the light making the stars unseen.

As far as the eye could see, the ruins of Splendor, the largest metropolis on Katina, covered the ground like a hastily thrown pile of junk. No building was completely standing; at best a wall or two remained. The ground was invisible, covered completely covered by rubble.

Nicolai Rostov, long time pirate and black-market dealer, was no idealist. He knew that survival was all that mattered, and higher truths were distractions to cold-hard cash. The Cataclysm was not a reason to put aside trade; it was an oppurtunity.

Thus, Rostov and his band took advantage of the chaos and horded all of the wealth and weapons that they could loot. By the time the Kronosians secured their hold on the system, Rostov and his fellows had garnered enough weapons and resources to hide from the Beast's police. Ever since, Rostov, and other pirate leaders as well, raided Kronosian convoys constantly. Rostov, however, targeted the underground forces as well, for he knew that the underground was furnished with weapons and equipment from the Gamma-Lylatian Imperium, and the Imperium was rather wealthy.

His pirate band was hiding in the vast ruin. Any second now, the Imperial convoy will be passing through here, slowly and at low altitude, to avoid detection by the police. It would be lightly guarded, since Kronosians never attacked in large numbers, and very seldom did they use heavy artillery. A Kronosian attack was always small in size, the purpose being to decieve opponents. Kronosian strike forces compensated for their small numbers with a deadly efficiency; A troop of ten commandos could easily eliminate a frontline base.

Rostov decided it would be best to surprise them with a large force. Three foxholes in the ruins concealed class-3 rocket launchers, another thing that the Imperium wouldn't expect.

The convoy entered range. It's escort, a trio of Wolfens accompanied the hover craft that acted as the supplier for the Katinan Underground. Among the supplies, it could be counted on that cash could be found, plus weapons and information.

Perfect items for sale in the Black Market.

Rostov signalled the Rocket Operators to get ready. They needed to get just a little closer. The Wolfens' shields' should all be at low power, again, to avoid catching the attention of the police. The class-3 Rockets would be more then adequate to destroy the Wolfen's.

Suddenly a reverberating hum could be heard. Two Hunterchoppers appeared and began to hover over the convoy.

Rostov's white Lupine face curled into a snarling curse. The Beast's police had found the convoy. There was going to be some competition.

His followers knew exactly what to do. They waited. In situations like this, it was best to see what the Kronosians were going to do before acting.

Apparantly, the police were in no mood to fool around. One of the Hunterchoppers fired a Howler missile at one of the Wolfens before it could raise it's shields. The Wolfen exploded immediatly.

The other two took evasive positioning. By now they should have had their shields raised. The choppers swerved to lock onto the Wolfens. One Wolfen fired a nova bomb, scoring a direct hit onto a chopper. The other fired lasers onto the same chopper, while the other Wolfen turned and prepared to bomb the second chopper.

It was common Imperial tactic. One Wolfen would launch a bomb to weaken a chopper's shield, the other would finish it off with lasers, and then the first would repeat the process with the other chopper.

It almost worked. The first chopper was destroyed, and the second took a solid hit from a nova. But the second chopper launched a plasma wave, a calculated risk. Plasma waves were generated by the Hunterchopters own force fields and created a shockwave similar to a nova bomb explosian. It was powerful, but risky; using a plasma wave would cost the Hunterchopper all of it's shields.

The gamble paid off. The Wolfen's were sent spinning out of control, and the Hunterchopter fired two more Howler missiles, destroying the Wolfen's with direct hits.

Rostov could hardly believe his luck. The police had destroyed the convoys excort for him, while the convoy did enough damage to the police that they could be finished off with little effort.

The police ground team was coming in sight. Once an escort was eliminated, ground police would move in to seize the goods, while the Hunterchopter would stay around in case of trouble.

Rostov gave the signal. Three Rockets fired, two of them scoring a direct hit with the chopper. The chopper burst into flames and slammed into the ground. Immediatly the pirates, 40 of them in all, lept out of their hiding places with blast rifles. The ground poile numbered roughly eight.

Although it would appear as if the pirates had the advantage, Rostov warned himself to take caution. 8 Kronosian police troops were deadly enough to handle 30 pirates, and 40 could concievably be defeated in a situation. Fortunatly, the police were taken completely by surprise by the attack, as Rostov hoped.

Not long afterword, the convoy was theirs.

Every Imperial on board was exterminated. The pirates couldn't afford to take prisoners, nor could they have the Beast or the Imperium knowing about this.

After they finished looting and torching the hovertruck, Rostov analyzed the portable computers taken from the craft. One of them apparantly had a connection to the Imperial mainframe. Probably for use by the crew, not as a supply item for the underground.

Rostov anaylized the data on the mainframe. Mostly rubbish, but one thing did catch his interest.

Schematics. Schematics for a supercomputer. Of course, the so-called "Machine."

Rostov's eyes widened when he realized what he had. This was everything about the Machine, it's weaknesses, it's strengths......

It's immeasurable value.........

He laughed. Here it was! The ultimate jackpot!

Chapter Five

"The only thing we know for sure is that we don't know anything for sure."

-Neil Gaiman, "The Books of Magic"

***********************************************************

00101010101110101010100101010111101011111010110101010101001

All she could see were flashes, coming through at an increadible speed. She saw everything, her birth on Edena, her child-hood, her entrence at the Sector X university. She had graduatted with honors in the field of computer electronics and programming, as well as studying advanced mathematics and communication. She was as smart as she was beatiful; she couldn't remember the number of boyfriends she had in college and high-school.

She became apart of the Bolse project not long after graduating, and was a key designer in the satellite's computer database. Soon, the Machine itself was born, and Makhina had a hand in it's design.

When the Machine gained awareness, she agreed to be it's agent. She became the Machine's foremost servent, it's most trusted lieutenent. In fact, Makhina was not so much a minion as she was a co-worker of the Machine.

Then Bolse was destroyed. She wasn't present at the time. She left matters to the Star Wolf team for defense, againts the Machine's advice. Just to be safe, she stored the Machine's entire memory in a seperate, hidden computer in case something went wrong.

It did. Makhina had been furious at Wolf O'Donnel, who was then her current boyfriend, but the affair ended shortly after Bolse was destroyed.

The Machine survived thanks to Makhina's foresight, and both of them over saw the construction of a new Bolse satelite, one that was twice as large as before. When Macbeth left the Imperium, Bolse became the Imperium's key industrial world.

Then came Spectre, and Andross's deception.

"Makhina?"

Now where did she hear that voice before?

She tried to open her eyes. The light was impossible bright; she felt so cold she was almost numb. She couldn't move her legs, and her arms were heavy, unresponsive.

"Don't try to move. Your system's still trying to recover. You're lucky to be alive."

"Where....?" She whispered. It was the most she could do.

"We're in Bolse."

She recognized the voice now. It was Ederax. What was he doing here on Bolse?

"What happened....?" She asked feebly.

"You got lost in the Machine's data stream. You lost your concentration and became disconnected. That's where I found you."

Makhina dimly remembered finding Ederax's astral presence in that strange dimension she had become lost in. She remembered Kronos, the Cataclysm......

The dreams she and Ederax sent to Lylatians for their survival.

She could open her eyes. She tried to sit up.

Ederax restrained her. "Relax," he said. "You're body just got out of cold storage. You have to give your nervous system some time to unfreeze."

She laid back down. "What happened?" She asked. "I don't remember anything past the dreams."

Ederax was setting up a thermal heater. "Well, after we finished the dreams, you began to lose substance. I shut your mental facilities down, and came immediatly to Bolse. The Machine helped me to locate you and stored you in a file system. Meanwhile your body was put into cold storage; we felt it would be best to just freeze your system entirely rather then hooking it up

to life support, since there was no telling how it would effect your CPU brain."

Ederax paused. "I hadn't much choice but to remove your implants, CPU included. It would have interfered with your revival."

Makhina couldn't think clearly. She just continued to listen as her strength slowly returned.

"The Machine and I spent time hiding Bolse from the Kronosians. They are in controll of Lylat now. Kronos himself is at the homeworld, fortunatly, but his deputy, the Beast, is just as dangerous." He paused. "And the Spectre is still running loose."

"How long was I out?"

"Fifteen years."

The news wasn't exactly a shock. Theoretically, decripting an entire sentient mind was supposed to take years.

"So you couldn't be sure my body would thaw."

Ederax nodded. "Once you were decoded, we hooked your body up to an electrical charge, the electricity carrying the data streams consisting of your mind. We had to send it at a minimal voltage to prevent damage to your body. That's why we had to remover your implants and grow new cells as replacement."

Makhina smiled weakly. "Remind me never to do that again."

Ederax laughed. "Don't worry. You can sit up now."

She did. She looked around, blinking. "Is this place empty?"

"Yes. The Cybers are holing up somewhere that only the Machine knows about."

She stretched. "How is the Machine?" She asked, dimly aware it was a strange question.

"It's evolved tremendously. It's able to think at a metaphysical level. It can take in abstract concepts such as good and evil. You can stand if you want."

Makhina got off of the table. Her legs were wobbly, but she managed to stand. "What has happened since the invasion?" Then she found herself asking, "How is Boltzman?"

Ederax grinned slightly while he prepared a meal. "Your friend is alive and well. In fact, he is the Emperor of Gamma."

"Gamma?"

Ederax nodded. "The Spectre instigated a collapse in the peace conference not long after you lost your connection. After Andross droped nukes on the Allied worlds, Gorastar led a brutally swift insurrection against Andross. Heeding my advice," Ederax added with a slight grin, "Gorastar moved his people to Gamma and formed a government in exile."

"And the others? The ones we visited in the dreams?"

"Alive also. They escaped through the Robinson Wormhole, set up a colony on the world they have named Tehrah." Ederax set up a table and put a tray on it containing warm, delicious smelling food. Makhina, overcome with hunger, began to eat ravenously.

"Slow down," Ederax laughed. "You'll choke."

Makhina stared at Ederax curiously. Throughout her career as an Imperial Warlord, she had, like everyone else, thought of Ederax as mad, dangerous, and volatile.

"Ederax," she asked. "Who are you, really?"

He shook his head. "More then I seem, as you probably guessed. My madness is geniune, but it doesn't indicate my true self. The Ederax you knew was..." he shrugged. "Just a mask."

"Some mask. It fooled me, and it fooled the Machine."

Ederax chuckled. "True. That was partially my intent."

"But what are you? You cannot be a simple Lylatian."

Ederax shook his head. "I can't tell you that. It's true I am not really a Lylatian. Technically, I am not even a physical being."

Makhina finished her meal. "What about Kronos?" she asked.

"He's like me. In fact, we are essentially kindred, but he's not the same anymore. He's strayed so far away from his original self I barely know him anymore. Actually, it would be incorrect to refer to him as an individual. I didn't know it at the time, but his....being split into three forms, one of them being the Spectre."

Makhina stood, and tested her walking. "And you have a plan to stop them?"

Ederax smiled. "Yes, myself and the Machine."

"Count me in."

Ederax nodded. "Good. Get some rest. We have work to do."

Chapter Six

"Rulership is never easy. You have to attend to six million different things at once, make tremendously difficult decisions, and put up with just about every kind of crap your mind can take. To top it off, you have to handle these things and still look good on TV."

-Roko Kitsune, former Warlord of Sector X

 

It's just one thing after another.

Emperor Boltzman Gorastar felt his head throb lightly. He hadn't slept well the past few nights, and he knew he was coming down with a bad case of fatigue.

It had been a particularly grueling Council session, the main topic being what to do about the Lost Colony. Many of the councilors felt it was a bad idea to spread word of the Colony

through the underground, and the point had been emphasized by the fact that none of the former Warlords had answered by this point.

Many were saying that they were all dead. Gorastar knew that this wasn't true. The Warlords were just simply too powerful to succumb to the Beast's police forces.

He sorely missed Makhina. Granted, she was a cold one, but her intelligence and her strength of purpose were unmatched.

Gorastar thought about the other Warlords. Perhaps the strangest of them was Ederax. The Hyena was powerful, no doubt, and unhinged; he was a confirmed head case, extremely volatile and eccentric. And dangerous.

But Ederax had more sanity then he had let on, that was clear. Warlord Rathii had plans, but what they were, well, who could say. Whatever they were, the Kronosians were involved, and that was why Gorastar believed that Ederax was still alive.

The other Warlords were no less influential. Reichmann von Hendricks could control the Imperial industry like they were puppet strings, and Engredel had any number of friends in the

underworld. Firebird was rumored to own at least three small private armies, and Kitsune was arguably the most potent telepath in all of Lylat.

He became aware of a figure in the doorway. He stood when he recognized that the figure was Ederax.

The two Warlords just stood, regarding each other, not saying a word.

Finally, Gorastar broke the silence. "I suppose you came in unnoticed."

Ederax met the Emperor's gaze and replied, "And that is the way I will leave."

"Then why are you here?"

Ederax did not answer. He began to pace around the office, studying it with vague amusement.

He turned to the Emperor and said, "I'm impressed, Boltzman. The Imperium has become rather efficient."

"What about you? I've been trying to contact you and the others for nearly fifteen years."

"I know," Ederax said. "I've been listening."

"Then why haven't you answered?" Gorastar demanded.

"Because the time wasn't right, and I was busy."

"Doing what?" Gorastar was getting agitated. He warned himself to calm down, but it wasn't easy. He hated not getting a straight answer, and Ederax was never known for getting to the point.

"I'd suggest you relax, Boltzman. I'm not here to join your Imperium....not yet. I'm here to give you a message."

Again, Gorastar's Feline curiosity began to kick in.

Ederax stepped closer, a cold look in his eyes. "The Warlords are alive and well, but you're never going to get them to listen to you."

"Why?" he asked. "What are they afraid of?"

"You," Ederax replied. "They will not tolerate the possibility of another tyrant ruling their worlds, and they remember all to well your nickname in Sector Z."

Gorastar winced. That was indeed true. Back in Sector Z, he had launched virtual witch-hunts for his enemies. He had good cause, but it did not matter. He learned long ago when he became Emperor that he had handled the situation badly in Sector Z, and worse, he blamed the pirate invasion on the Alliance instead of his own arrogance.

"I did make terrible mistakes back then, and I have taken a vow never to be so grasping ever again."

"Words are empty, hollow, and meaningless. Furthermore, they are deceptive. Talking was invented not as communication, but for elaboration."

"What do you suggest I do, then?" he asked. The Hyena was going somewhere with this, Gorastar could tell.

Ederax grinned the mad smile that only a Hyena could express. "The Lost Colony. Talk to them. Offer them your goodwill."

A good idea, Gorastar thought, but he asked, "What about the Warlords?"

Ederax turned to leave, saying, "Once they see that your intentions are serious, they may just get in touch with you. Then you'll be in a position to negotiate with them."

Ederax was about to step out of the doorway when he turned suddenly, as if something had just occured to him. "By the way, Boltzman?"

"Yes?"

"Don't worry about Makhina. She's alive and well."

Gorastar didn't know how to answer. He had feared that she was lost in the Machine, after attempting a dangerously complex calculation.

Ederax chuckled and vanished from the door. Gorastar sat down at his desk, and started to pen a note. Another council meeting was in order.

Chapter Seven

"I died as mineral and became a plant,

I died as plant and rose to animal.

I died as animal and I was human.

Why should I fear? When was I less by dying?

Yet once more I shall die human,

To soar with angels blessed above.

And when I sacrifice my angel soul

I shall become what no mind ever conceived."

-Rumi Jalaluddin, Persian poet

 

After the visitor left, Tehrah never quite was the same.

Many people were tense. Many people were excited. Some thought that the Imperium would help the Survivors return home to Lylat, and defeat the Kronosians.

Others were afraid. How do we know anything about the Kronosians? they asked. What if we get annhilated? These people advocated staying on Tehrah. Many of the younger colonists, the ones who never saw Lylat, had their doubts. Some of the radicals even suggested that Cody Black was a spy for the Kronosians, or possibly even the Spectre, and any day now, Kronosian ships would emerge from the Wormhole and destroy them.

Fox McCloud scoffed at such allegations. His instincts had never let him down, and instinct told him that Cody was trustworthy. And Peppy, who had enough telepathic ability to discern truth from lies, agreed that Cody wasn't being deceptive.

But life at Haven became less subdued. Nathan, in particular, became fascinated with the idea of people living on other worlds. He had heard the stories of the Kronosians and Lylat, but he never took a serious interest in them before until now.

Fox said as much to Fara one morning after Nathan had left for school. Fara smiled and said, "Well, now he's seen proof that what we've been telling him is true."

"Maybe," Fox said. "Maybe he should start flying lessons."

"Maybe," Fara answered in the exact same tone as Fox, obviously teasing him.

Fox shook his head and laughed. Marriage hadn't been easy for them at first, given that the traumatic experiances of the Cataclysm was fresh in their minds when they decided to become engaged. But after Nathan was born, things became strangly easier. Of course, the stress factor was still there, as Nathan quickly inherited the famous McCloud headstrong mentality.

Now Nathan was ten-years old, and now the skies were beginning to call to him too.

There was a loud knock at the door. "I'll answer it," Fox said. He walked over to the entrance. The knocking became more insistent. Fox opened the door and almost took a blow to the

face as Jack Canis made ready to pound on the door once again before he realized that Fox opened it.

"Hey, watch it!" Fox said.

"Sorry. We got company. Scanners just picked up a small wing of ships from the wormhole. They've identified themselves as Imperial. Cody's with them."

 

* * *

Later, three Invader IV's had landed in the field south of the village. The colonists welcomed Cody and the two other pilots tentatively, remembering the Imperial Wars, but at the urging of Fox, they started to relax, and greeted the pilots warmly. The village leaders gathered at the Communial to talk with the three pilots.

"I see you made it home safe," Fox said, smiling.

Cody grinned.

"So," Falco asked. "What brings you back here?"

Cody looked at his two colleagues then back to Falco. "The Emperor sends his greetings."

Falco groaned. Fox hissed at his teammate, reminding him that Andross was not the Emperor he was referring to.

Cody ignored the exchange and said, "Look, the state of affairs in Lylat is abysmal. Those who are living there are little better then slaves, while those who aren't are desperatly homesick.

After staying with you guys for a couple of weeks, I'm guessing you have the same problem."

Fox nodded. It was true that they were happy here, but ever since Cody made his first visit, people began to remember Lylat and ached for the past.

"So what does the Emperor have to say?" Falco asked.

"He knows that you are a peaceful people," replied Cody, "so he won't ask you to join in a war againts the Kronosians. He knows that you are happy here, so he won't ask you to do anything that would require you to leave. But, he also knows that you still regard Lylat, not Tehrah, as your true home, and his door is open to any who wish to join his cause.

"Because you have little defense against the police, should they find you and choose to attack, you wouldn't stand a chance. I gathered as much when I saw the fear on your faces when you weren't sure of who I was. So the Emperor wishes to provide full protection of this colony."

Fox raised his eyebrows at that. He looked toward the other town leaders.

He turned to Cody and asked, "What's the catch?"

"None whatsoever. He offers this service as a token of his goodwill."

The others were nodding. Fox could tell they were receptive to the idea. He smiled slightly and said, "That would be welcome."

Chapter Eight

"You'll never find a more foul pit then the mind of a politician."

-Anonymous Consortium agent

It still felt ackward to Reichmann von Hendricks to be in the same room with his fellow former ex-Warlords.

In fact, none of the four had spoken with one another for over twenty years. After leaving the Imperium, all had agreed to retreat into solitude, and pursue their own interests.

But things were different now.

The four ex-Warlords were in a special conference room aboard Firebirds personal cruiser, the Pheonix. Currently, they were orbiting Solar, where the police wouldn't bother to look; they had always assumed that no one could resist that radiation at such a close distance.

Reichmann studied his former colleagues, remembering the days of the old Warlord Council, when all Nine Warlords had visions of glory for the Imperium....

Their host, Red Firebird, was a Solarian Hawk of notoriously short temper. He was clearly not pleased about the meeting of his fellow Neutrals. It was well known how much he had despised

Andross, and as such he was reluctant to join the Imperium, even under these circumstances. It was Firebird who led the defection, and it was Firebird who was the unofficial leader of the ex-Warlords.

Then there was Roko Kitsune, a Fox from Sector X. The youngest to ever sit on the Warlord Council, except for Makhina, Kitsune was universally regarded as the most disliked man in the group of Warlords. He had a record number of attempts on his life, and his name appeared on a great many hit lists, more then a few of which were spelled with an "S". The reason for this was his attitude, his intelligence, and his mouth. He knew how to piss of anybody. Nonetheless, he was perhaps the smartest politician in all of Lylat, and was a valuable ally to the Neutral cause.

Finally, there was Dathi Engredel, a Draconian of planet Zoness. Quiet and very shy, he was nonetheless a brilliant strategist himself, although he was known to prefer a peace and quiet to political affairs. It was a surprise he had even showed up, though such matters warrented even his attention, Reichmann thought. Engredel would have the least to say about all of this. His concern was mainly for his home and his family.

For a moment there was silence.

"Well?" said Kitsune with a sneer. "Should someone else say it, or should I?"

Dammit Kitsune! thought Reichmann. Don't try to set off tempers now!

Firebird growled. "I'll say it. We are here because our former colleague, Boltzman Gorastar, wishes us to join his Imperium. As usual, we answer with silence."

"But things have changed," noted Reichmann.

"Exactly," nodded Kitsune emphatically. "I, for one, think we should get out of seclusion. The Beast has the run on the entire system, and we haven't done anything about it!"

Firebird glared at Kitsune. The two-ex-Warlords had got along the least out of the whole crowd of former Council members. "Roko," Firebird said quietly. "Remember, the whole reason we droped from the Imperium in the first place was because of that liar and cheat, Andross. Now, Gorastar, himself a former Warlord like us, with plenty of ambition when we last left him, is now Emperor. How do we know that he isn't just as bad as his predecessor?"

"Haven't you noticed his behavior lately? Like his decision to give the Lost Colony free protection from the police?"

"That could mean anything." Firebird, never one to welcome change, clearly did not like the turn of events.

Reichmann cleared his throat. "That may be true, Red," Reichmann said calmly. "But I am inclined to agree with Roko. At the very least, we should see for ourselves what our old friend is up to. After all, we can still withdraw to seclusion."

Engredel had a faint smile on his lips. Kitsune turned to him and asked, "You agree, Dathi?"

The Draconian looked up and nodded.

Reichmann smiled slightly. "So here is my proposal. One of us goes to Gamma and meet with Boltzman and try to learn his intentions. If we find him reasonable, we'll offer a temporary alliance until the Beast is defeated."

"IF he can be defeated," Roko muttered.

"So," Reichmann finished. "That is what I suggest we do. Agreed?"

"Agreed," nodded Kitsune.

"Agreed," muttered Firebird.

Engredel smiled, and spoke for the first time. "Agreed."

Chapter Nine

"Even when I was working for the Imperium, I always acted alone. I learned a long time ago when I was growing up on Titania that when there is a group larger then 5 people, you will get at least one damn fool."

-Jack Canis, ex-Imperial assasin.

 

After the second visit from Cody Black, all of the colonies on Tehrah had convened on a small island in the eastern hemisphere, not to far from the eastern supercontinent, to decide the matter of the Imperium, the Kronosians, and the Lylat system in general. It had been the longest convention that any of the Tehrans had ever witnessed.

The colonies had debated for almost a week before coming to a decision. They would send some representitives to the Imperium and see for themselves if the new Emperor was sincere. It would be an unnanounced but non-threatening visit. The big question was; who goes?

Figures, Jack Canis thought to himself, as he banked to make his approach into the wormhole. In truth, Jack wasn't surprised when Haven voted to send him as one of the Tehran "Observers". After all, Jack was once in the employ of the Imperium, and a former employee of Gorastar, now Emperor of the Gamma System.

Jack thought back at his career in the Imperial Special Projects Division. He had entered the ISPD straight out of the Titanian Marine Corp (if such a thing could be said to exist on Titania), where he was sent to carry out delicate assasinations. He had proven to be efficient at this job, and several times he had been the guest of honor at private Imperial dinners.

At first, he liked the honor of meeting the Warlords, personally. He had enjoyed the decorations he recieved for his jobs, even though his activities were always kept classified. Eventually, the Warlords themselves became Jack's superiors, his sole employers. Chief among them was Gorastar. Back then, Gorastar was the chief organizer of the Special Projects Division, and as such arrainged most of the assasisnations.

But after awhile, Jack became more and more unsettled. He had never liked killing, even at the start, doing so only by convincing himself it was all justified by patriotism. But soon he found that he didn't believe himself. Over time, he became too empathatic with his targets, and his superiors were becoming more demanding and more dishonarable. They often withheld key facts from him, such as the presence of civilians at a job where explosives would be needed, and others.

The final snap occured when Jack, along with two others, was sent to Gall, a moon of Aquas, to terminate an Alliance pilot. Jack had the pilot in his sights when the pilot's children, of whom Jack was told would not be present, appeared and began to cluster around their father. The two other assasin's told Jack to fire anyway; if any kid get's hit, they said, the laser bolt would still hit the mark.

Jack's vision turned red, and he turned his gun on his other teamates, and killed them both.

After a hair-raising misadventure, trying to dodge both Imperial agents and Alliance authorities, Jack managed to escape from Gall, after Star Wolf arrived covertly to recover the Imperium's favorite hit man. Jack managed to steal Wolf O'Donnell's Wolfen II and left the moon base.

From there, Jack managed to contact the Alliance, and after a period of incarceration, the Alliance pardoned him and set him to work as a F.O.R.C.E. special agent. They even agreed to let Jack keep his new ship, which he had named Hunter's Moon.

Now he was going to meet his ex-boss for the second time since his defection.

He flew into the wormhole and emerged on the other side in one piece. Nothing to worry about; Robinson was as stable a wormhole as it could get, and even Invader II's could survive the transit.

The other Observers arrived, either in shuttles or in their own personal space craft. After an exchange of communications with the Imperial squad that was assigned to guard the wormhole from the Kronosian police, they made the jump to Gamma.

Once they arrived, the Observers acquired tacit permission to land on Oberon, the capital planet for the Imperium.

 

* * *

It wasn't difficult for Jack to get an audiance with the Emperor himself.

After entering Oberon's atmosphere, two Invader III's greeted him and escorted him through Nova City airspace. Jack took a good, hard look at the city below while his autopilot navigated.

The place certainly looked nice. There was little, if any, air pollution, and the place was sparkling clean. The city wasn't a particularly large town, at least when compared to Simia, the capital of Venom. But Nova seemd to have more respectabillity than Simia.

They arrived to the Imperial palace. There was a landing pad on one of the ledges, and that is where Jack docked his craft.

He was given a hasty greeting from Samuel Rodante, a fellow Jack had met once before. Rodante was one of Gorastar's lackeys during the Sector Z days, and apparantly was still a confident of the Emperor.

"As you can see," Rodante was saying to Jack while they were on their way to meet Gorastar, "we wanted a clean, efficient, and relatively safe capital. We had to draw on funds that Andross had hoarded for 'emergency purposes.' Actually, we think he was just saving the cash to pay for the Imperium's overwhelming military budget."

"Uh-huh," Jack said. "I suppose you got rid of Andross?"

"And Komodon, and just about anyone who didn't secretly hate Andross."

"What did you do with them?"

"Most of them are still in jail," Rodante replied. Then he shrugged. "Komodon escaped, unfortunatly, and is currently in the employ of the Beast, who commands the police. As for Andross, he killed himself before we were able to execute him."

Jack nodded. It would have been a most unpleasent execution.

"Well," said Rodante. "Here we are."

The door slid open to reveal a simple but elegent throne room. Gorastar was sitting facing away from them, overlooking a view window of the city.

The chair swivled around. Gorastar was the same old self, it appeared. Still dressed in the favored gold and black of Sector Z. It was his old Warlord uniform, except in addition to Sector

Z there was the standard emblem of the Imperium emblazened on the uniform, as well as Gorastar's personal standard in the place of where Andross' would be.

"Well, well, well!" Gorastar said, his face breaking into a grin. He stood and spread out his arm. "If it isn't for Jack Canis, the most disgruntled employee to enter, and leave, my service."

"I can't say yet whether or not I'm pleased to see you," Jack said cooly. In the months before his defection, Jack had not gotten along well with Warlord Gorastar, and the two had become

something of rivals afterword.

Gorastar walked down the steps leading to his throne. "Your visit comes as a surprise, Jack. You didn't give me much time

for me to arrainge a welcome committee."

"You mean execution," Jack said, refferring to his previous insubordination.

Gorastar shrugged. "Things are different now."

"That's why I'm here. To see if that assertion is true."

Gorastar smiled faintly. "And is it?"

"So far," Jack said, "But it's too early to judge. I'm not going to leave until I am totally convinced."

"You are quite welcome to stay, then. I have heard that there are other visitors, examining other Imperial territories."

"Yes," Jack said, relaxing, although he did not know why. "They're doing the same thing I am, inspecting the Imperium to see if it can be trusted."

Gorastar nodded. "Perfectly understandible, given the reputation

we have with your people. Andross was not the best of rulers, damn his incompetence."

Jack raised his eyebrows, but decided not to pursue the matter.

"Well," Jack said, after a moment. "I suppose I should see what you've built for yourself here."

The Emperor nodded. "I'll see to it that you are attended too. I'll grant you access to Imperial records, if you like, as well as free passage anywhere in the city."

"Thank you, Boltzman, that would be most welcome."

* * *

In spite of himself, Jack was impressed. The city proved to be a decent, prospering town, and the townsfolk appeared to have no complaints. It wasn't perfect, of course; crime was a minor problem in the outskirts of town, and poverty, as ever, existed in the poorer sections of Nova.

Still, the overall situation was preferable to the old Imperium, and Jack had to admit that things were being run differently.

All in all, he spent a week exploring every nook and cranny of Nova. The Imperial police were cooperative, but intelligent enough to check Jack's credentials first.

Now, he was resting in his hotel room, conferring on a coded channel with Katt Monroe, who was another Observer on Proteus, a world that evidently was the key industrial world for the Gamma Imperium.

Katt seemed to be in a cheerful mood, which wasn't unusual. She was making her call from what appeared to be a room overlooking a large industrial complex, one that resembled major manufacturing plants on Macbeth.

"So," Jack said, "what have you got to report?"

Katt shrugged. "Proteus is surprisingly clean, given the amount of industry found here."

"What kind of industry?"

"Mostly maunfacturing and mining, as far as I can tell. It's a mineral rich planet, they tell me, so there isn't much need to import metals here."

"What about the workers? How are their lot?"

"Mostly lower class folks, but not nearly as poor as the old days. The government runs the entire industrial base here, instead of the old corporate Consortium."

"How does the Imperium pay for all those workers and operations?" Jack asked, incredelous. "The budget must be f***ing enormous!"

Katt scowled. "You really should watch your language, Jack."

Jack laughed. "Sorry. Go on."

Katt shrugged. "Economics isn't my strong point. They tell me that corporations here pay a tremendous tax to the Imperial government. I assume that's where Imperial funds come from."

"I see."

"What about you?" Katt asked.

Jack sat back in his chair. "Nova is a fine town. You should drop by."

"Really?" Katt raised an eyebrow.

Jack nodded. "It looks like law enforcement is no longer a branch of the military, although both are still run by the same agency. Gorastar has been cooperative with us, too. I don't think he has anything to hide, and that suggests that he can be trusted."

Katt raised her eyebrows. "From what I've heard from you, Gorastar is nothing but scum."

Jack shrugged. "Now I'm not so sure. I think the last decade has changed his worldview somewhat."

Katt grinned. "I have to agree. All the other Observers have a good opinion of the Imperium as well. I'd say we're about finished."

Jack nodded. "I agree. Three more days to finish up, and we should be outta here."

Katt nodded, then hung up.

Chapter Ten

"Conquest is more then just asserting control. Conquest means crushing opposition entirely, and destroying the very concept of equality. To this end, the lower class must be completely isolated, unable to compare their state of being to others. The result is an inability to reject whatever thruths or lies we tell them; for they have no way of discerning the truth except by believing what we tell them. This also accomplishes the task of making the slave class believe they are free, when all their thoughts coincide with ours, and they do our bidding without even knowing that they are being forced to do so."

-Kronos

 

On board the Macbeth transport, the Kaisar, Reichmann von Hendricks sat in the lounge, sipping tea and wondering to himself if traveling was such a good idea, things being as they were on Macbeth. Oh, the Consortium was efficient, but it unnerved him somewhat to leave the Consortium in the hands of the Board of Directors.

Still, it needed to be done. The Kronosians had to be defeated somehow, and it was clear that remaining isolated from the Imperium would accomplish little. Even Firebird realized that.

After the decision to make overtures of temporary alliance, the four ex-Warlords had to decide exactly who would go to negotiate. Reichmann would have prefered that each of them send a representitive, but that was risky. Agents were scarce. With the Beast and his damnable police in almost total control of Lylat, and certainly with the Spectre crawling around, it seemed more logical if one of the ex-Warlords went to Gamma personally. That, too, had it's risks, but it was the most that could be done. Reichmann was thankful that the most powerful of the Dark

Three, Kronos himself, was away at whatever planet was the Kronosian homeworld.

Kitsune had, of course, volunteered, but it was obvious that the others would have prefered that he stayed behind, much to Reichmann's relief. Kitsune was intelligent, and quite capable of negotiation, but there was no telling what he would do.

Engredel would have been an excellent choice, but he was reclusive as it was and his dislike of travel was well known. Indeed, it was a surprise that he was even at the meeting.

Firebird was clearly not going, as he was still unconfortable with the idea of an alliance. That left Reichmann.

Now, seven days later, Reichmann was on his personal Dreadnought, cruising at impulse speed, cloaked and rigged for silent running. In the old days, a trip to Gamma could be made in a few hours, but now, measures had to be taken to elude the Beast's police. Once the Kaisar has left the system, then a jump to Gamma would be possible.

"Herr Hendricks," an intercomm buzzed. "We are ready for the jump to Gamma."

"Gut. Proceed with the jump."

The engines powered up. Reichmann sat back and waited for the jump to finish.

 

* * *

After the jump, the Kaisar was almost immediatly hailed by the Imperial border patrol. Reichmann identified himself, and requested permission to land and meet Gorastar, and so on and so forth. Protocol was so boring, so rigid, and worse, so neccessary.

At least they didn't give him any trouble. Reichmann wasn't the least bit surprised. Gorastar would be determined to make things run smoothely.

It wasn't long until the Kaisar had docked at the Nova City spaceport.

Reichmann stepped out of the craft, flanked by three Consortium agents, dressed much like Secret Service guards. Outside, several Imperial troopers were standing at attention. In front of them, a Rat dressed in Royal Ministry uniform waited patiently to greet the ex-Warlord. Reichmann recognized the Minister as Samual Rodante. Of course. Gorastar's favorite henchman.

Rodante bowed respectfully, using the stance required to greet a Warlord, as if Reichmann was still an Imperial member. "Welcome to Nova, Lord Hendricks."

Reichmann decided to make him sweat a little. He wore a bored expression on his face and said curtly, "I've little time for pleasentries. I am a businnessman and I am here on business."

"Of course," said Rodante, nonplussed. "Right this way." The Rat gestured to elegent Hoverlimo.

The ride was uneventful, and Reichmann saw no point in making conversation with Rodante.

Once they arrived at the palace, Reichmann was brought to a conference room, were Gorastar was waiting. The Emperor appeared calm, but Reichmann was not fooled. Gorastar was anxious to gain the support of the old Warlords, and this meeting was the breakthrough he was waiting for.

Gorastar stood as Reichmann entered. "It's been a long time, Reichmann."

"Twenty years." Reichmann kept his tone completely neutral. In this business, the less interest one shows, the greater the advantage.

The two former comrades sat. Reichmann remarked, "I see you have quite a healthy nation established, Boltzman. One has to wonder why you are so anxious to ally with the former Warlords."

Gorastar smiled coolly and said, "I have a problem. All of Lylat has a problem."

"Except you are not in Lylat."

"But we ARE Lylatians."

Reichmann studyed his former co-worker closely. If there was another Andross hiding behind that face, Reichmann would find it.

"So you wish to drive the Auslander, the Kronosians, out of Lylat. A noble cause, but why? The Reich seems healthy, as far as I can tell."

Gorastar leaned forward. "I don't know for how long, Reichmann.

The Beast is an aggressive bastard. His police know that I am here, they know about Gamma. I have been fighting a war with them to keep them out of Gamma, and try to drive them out of Lylat."

Reichmann squinted. "What do you want the Warlords for, then?"

Gorastar sighed. "Because you, Dathi, Red, hell, even that smart ass Roko are powerful, and closer to my enemy. I KNOW that you want the Kronosians gone. Logic insists that this is so. The war has already begun, and Kronos will win, unless we become a united force."

"I see." Gorastar was handling this well. Either he was serious, or he knew precisely what to say.

There was only one way to find out. Reichmann decided to move in for the kill.

"I am here," Reichmann announced, "representing not just the Industrial Consortium, but all of the Neutral agencies. We are considering a temporary cooperative association, at least until the problem at hand has been delt with."

"And what are your terms?" Gorastar asked.

Reichmann cleared his throat. "You must realize, Boltzman, that this decision was not made lightly. We have certain.... concerns about your intentions."

Gorastar locked eyes with Reichmann. "You're concerned that I am in danger of becoming another dictator, like Andross."

Reichmann's eyebrow's shot up. Gorastar was indeed perceptive. "To put it one way," he replied, "yes. We left because of Andross' lies and we do not intend to be decieved again."

"Perfectly understandible," Gorastar said, again taking Reichmann by surprise. "These are hard times, yes? And for that one must be cautious."

"Indeed," Reichmann answered.

At that moment, the doors open and in ran a Racoon messenger, looking very distressed. He bowed hastily to the two of them before rushing over to Gorastar's side.

Reichmann said nothing, and just waited to see what was happening.

The Racoon leaned and whispered something into Gorastar's ear. Almost immediatly a wave of shock appeared on the Emperor's face.

Gorastar stood. "Forgive me, Reichmann," he said, "but something has come up that demands my immediate attention." Reichmann sensed strong worry in the Panther's voice.

Reichmann stood. "Might I ask what this is about?"

"The Lost Colony that we discovered," Gorastar said quickly. "A Kronosian strike wing is making it's way to the wormhole leading to it. They are battling the Imperial fleet there as we speak."

Gorastar left the room, and Reichmann followed close behind. No question now, Gorastar can be trusted. Reichmann knew that he had to send a message to his colleagus back in Lylat as soon as possible.

Chapter Eleven

"And then our worlds, they fall apart

when the walls come tumbling in,

though we may deserve it,

it will be worth it."

-Depeche Mode, "Halo"

 

Once news of the attack had reached them, the first thing the colony leaders did was to try to keep the Survivors from panicking.

It was surprising how succesful they were. People were visibly alarmed, even borderline hysterical, but the colonists managed to keep clear enough heads to pack their bags as best they could, while the pilots took to the sky.

It was reassuring to know that the Imperium was sending relief to help evacuate the colonies, and to provide additional protection.

Fox McCloud was assembling his belongings. He could hear Fara gathering some things downstairs. It reminded him of the time when he and Fara chose to leave Corneria City to escape the possibilty of a nuclear strike.

"Dad?"

Fox turned. Nathan was standing at the door, carrying his own bag.

Most of the children born on this planet reacted to the news rather badly; the evacuation had come without any warning, and the native born Tehrans were perhaps the most shocked and affected of the colonists.

Nathan, however, was holding strong, which made Fox proud.

"Mom says she's ready to go."

Fox nodded. All of the non-pilots in Haven were gathering at the Communial, where small shuttles would pick them up.

"Okay, Nathan. I'll see you soon. Just relax, and everything's gonna be fine."

Nathan nodded back, and went downstairs.

 

* * *

30 minutes later, the Imperial assistance arrived. They had brought plenty of shuttles, plus a wing of Wolfen's and Invader III's to help guard the convoy. After about an hour of getting all the colonists into shuttles, and then about another hour to get all the refugee convoys assembled into one fleet.

After jumping into the wormhole did the chaos began.

More Imperial forces joined the convoy, after keeping police away from the wormhole. "Get ready!" the wing leader signaled. "They are really pissed off!"

Not long after, the Kronosians struck with all the fury of Hell.

Fox banked along with his teamates and a pair of Wolfen II's to attack the nearest flight of Kronosian fighters. They resembled Arwings, only sleeker, and larger.

Fox locked on and fired a Hyper burst, scoring a direct hit. A fierce dogfight began immediatly, and in the confusion four Invader III's and another Kronosian fighter lept into the fray.

It turned out that the fighters didn't have G-Diffusers, but they did have excellent speed. They were fast, very manueverable, and apparantly possesed stronger thrusters then the Arwing.

Their flight pattern very much resembled Wolfen II's, except they worked in pairs instead of singally.

They had terrible shields, however, and apparantly a direct laser blast was more then enough to eliminate them.

But they also had fightening laser strength. Plasma, by the look of it. They did have nova. but apparantly they could carry fewer nova's then the Arwing. But their lasers were fast, powerful, and dangerous. Fox made it a priority never to take a direct hit.

"Make sure they never get a lock on you," an oddly familier voice from one of the Wolfen's said, "or they'll do a number on your shields."

"Roger that," Fox replied.

"Fox?"

Fox felt his stomach leap into his throat, as he recognized the pilot's voice.

"WOLF??"

"Incoming!"

Thanks to Wolf's timely warning, Fox banked just in time to dodge a large, fast missile coming out of nowhere. "What the hell was that?" Fox asked.

"Screamer," the Wolfen pilot replied. It was definatly Wolf O'Donnell. "They scramble all shielding upon contact, and they're deadlier then nova bombs. A real bitch if it hits you."

Fox nodded dumbly and broke the signal. Fighting alongside Wolf O'Donnell. It was like he was living in the pipe dream of some deranged short story writer.

He shook the thought from his head.

The fighting continued, and Jack Canis and Katt Monroe arrived to help out. Unfortunatly, the line was breaking. The police forces were pushing closer and closer to the main convoy, and although there were a few Imperial Zerams along side for heavy defense, there were simply too many fighters.

"This is bad," an Invader III pilot was saying. "They never attack in groups this large. It's not what we expected."

"I'm just about out of nova," Slippy reported.

"How much longer till we make the jump?" Fox asked.

"30 minutes."

The convoy couldn't make a hyper jump to Gamma untill they had enough power. That was the trouble with jump drives; they took a long time to power up. The farther away the destination, the longer the wait.

"We don't have 30 minutes!" Fox yelled.

Even before he could finish, a barrage of laser blasts overcame the squad of police fighters. Fox turned just in time to see at least a dozen Shoguns spread out and swarm the Kronosian wing. The Shoguns were missing Imperial markings, but Fox could see the blue and white standard of Sector X painted onto the side of one of the Shoguns.

"Those aren't our people," a Wolfen pilot remarked.

The Shoguns' speed was a match even for the police fighters. The Shogun squadron swarmed the wing, bunching them into a cluster and thus making them easier kill.

Finally, they were ready to jump. "We got to jump now!" Peppy said. "I can see another fleet of fighters headed this way!"

"Gamma says they got a whole battalion on the other side of the jump!" An Imperial pilot yelled.

"Hit it!" Fox said.

The jump drives activated. Since light speed was impossible, spacecraft used quantum technology to fold space closer to them. Instead of a spacecraft travelling to it's destination, the destination travels to the spacecraft. After the jump is made, space returns to normal. Of course, anything nearby would be brought across as well, so not every ship needed a jump drive.

When they arrived to Gamma, the police got a nasty surprise. A large battalion of Zerams and Harlocks were there to greet the police with an anti-matter beam, leaving nothing but the ashes.

The convoy was escorted to the capital world of Gamma, named Oberon, according to Jack. They landed safely and soundly, though the civilians were shaken up.

 

* * *

A few hours later, Fox was face to face with Emperor Boltzman Gorastar himself.

Fox had met Gorastar once before, when the Imperium and the Alliance of Free Worlds were gathering for a peace conference. The treaty was actually a sham concocted by Andross to plant a spy, called Spectre, into the Alliance leadership and try to weaken it from the inside. Fox later learned that Gorastar, along with the Bolsean Warlord, had been working to foil Andross' plan.

Fox had been assigned to excort the first Imperial delegation to Corneria, and that meant inviting them to dinner. Gorastar was the head of the delegation, and he had seemed pleasant enough, despite what Fox had heard about him.

Now, Gorastar was Emperor, and apparantly a far better one then Andross was.

"Emperor Gorastar," Fox said. "We meet again."

Gorastar shook his hand. "It's good to see that your fellow colonists all made it in one peace."

"Thanks to your help," Fox replied.

Gorastar nodded. "We don't know how the Beast found out, but I'd guess the Spectre had a hand in it. The Dark Three must have had a great interest in your colony. Kronosians very seldom attack in such large numbers."

"So I have been told," Fox replied. "But what do they want from us? Why did they conquer Lylat in the first place? We never were a threat to them. And who are the Dark Three anyway?"

Gorastar was silent, apparantly gathering his thoughts. "Step in to my office," he said. "I'll tell you all I know about them."

* * *

In Gorastar's office, Fox sat down at the desk while Gorastar gathered some papers and holodocuments. "The Dark Three is our term for the leaders of the Kronosian forces. They operate out on the other side of the galaxy from here. We thought that they were from a different galaxy, but it seems that was just a ruse.Wherever they come from, it's riddled with wormholes, one of which leading as far away as M66, on the other side of the universe, where they launched their invasion. But this is all speculation." Gorastar shook his head.

"We think the Kronosians themselves are descended from the Lost Tribe of Cornerus. They have a language strikingly similar to the old Edenian dialects spoken by the Lost Tribe. They certainly have a familiarity with the system uncarachteristic of an outside race.

"For a long time, they masquearaded as a loose confederacy dwelling outside the system. The only world we knew about was Casmun, where most dealings with them have occured. We know they have a strong central leader, who goes by the name of "Kronos," but nobody has ever laid eyes upon him. Who ever he is, Kronos is remarkably cunning and resourceful. He is the

most powerful of the Three, or at least the de facto leader. We know that he is the brains behind the Cataclysm. Currently, it is believed that Kronos is in residence at the homeworld.

The enforcer of the Dark Three is the Beast. He is the most dangerous, militarily. He is an excellent tactician and a cunning general. He is also the military governer of Lylat." Gorastar took a breath. "Of all the Three, the deadliest would be the Spectre himself, who acts as the eyes and ears of the the Three. It's possible that he is more powerful then the other two, but we are certain that he answers both to the Beast and to Kronos. It was the Spectre who engineered our demise by plunging Lylat into war. It was he who masqueraded as Sean Dire."

"Sean Dire?"

Gorastar nodded. "Sean Dire never existed, actually. He was the Spectre all along."

"I thought Spectre was the Titanian diplomat, Avi Runner."

Gorastar shook his head. "No. That was a fake. Its purpose was to be discovered so there would be an excuse to start a full scale war. Sean Dire was the real Spectre. After the Cataclysm, he vanished, or took a different guise. There is no telling which."

"And you've been fighting the Dark Three ever since the Cataclysm.?"

Gorastar nodded.

"Why?"

Gorastar gestured with his hand, indicating everything around them. "This," he said, reffering to the Gamma system, "This is not our home. This is not our birthright. We are happy here, but it is still not our home."

Fox stared at Gorastar thoughtfully. This was the same attitude that the Tehrahns had experianced over the last few months.

"But what do the Three want from Lylat?" Fox asked.

Gorastar sighed. "No reason," he said bleakely, "other then sheer malice. They see everything as a resource to be exploited. There like parasites, locust. They subvert every culture they can find and consume as much output as possible. They probably saw your colony as a bonanza for cheap labor. Fresh new workers, healthy, unprotected. They probably were just bored."

Fox blinked. This kind of malice he had seen before in Andross.

Gorastar studied Fox's face, and nodded. "You notice the similarites to the old Imperium, I see. Indeed, I wonder how much Andross really knew of the Kronosians."

Fox frowned. "We have to stop them."

Gorastar nodded. "I have been fighting a losing war to drive them out of Lylat. I have been trying to dislodge them through the underground, but it isn't working. And I can't wage an open war, not with the forces I have now. For this reason, I have been trying to gather whatever of the old Warlords remain. And it seems I have finally succeeded."

"Was that why the Shogun fighters suddenly showed up?"

Gorastar nodded. "I was meeting with ex-Warlord Hendricks when the attack occured. I'm guessing he notified his peers, and Kitsune apparantly sent forces, although I doubt he bothered to tell anyone about it. He doesn't bother with courtesy, after all."

Fox stood up. "We should gather anyone and everyone we could find who is opposed to the Kronosians," he said. "Present an organized front. If Lylat is united, we might have a chance againts them."

Gorastar smiled. "That's an excellent idea."

Chapter Twelve

"So, so you think you can tell Heaven from Hell?

Blue skies from pain? Can you tell a green field

from a cold steel rail? A smile from a veil?

Do you think you can tell?

Did they get you to trade your heroes for ghosts?

Hard ashes for trees? Hot air for a cool breeze?

Cold comfort for change?

Did you exchange a walk-on part in the war,

for the lead role in a cage?"

-Pink Floyd, "Wish you were here."

 

As word spread through the underground, the Kronos War, which previously was limited to saboutauge, smuggling, and isolated raids, surged forward into a genuine conflict.

The story of the Lost Colony, and the defeat of the police at the hands of Imperial forces, gave the underground groups the energy to fight on, now that they realized that the police could be beaten. They were also encouraged by reports of the four ex-Warlords emergence from hiding and rejoining the Imperium.

Grey Bracken sat at his usual seat at the club Tier und Mann, or Beast and Man, as it translated. Again it was a crowded night, and everyone was enthusiastic. Word that a big meeting of all the resistance groups at Oberon was cause of much excitement. Currently, the club's patrons were dancing and partying to Macbeth's infamous Gherhman metal music.

Grey had every intention of attending the conference, and now he was waiting on the one man who could arrainge this.

Sure enough, in stepped Nicolai Rostov.

Grey narrowed his eyes as Rostov entered the club. Grey had nothing but contempt for the Fortunan pirate, since it was clear that Rostov cared little where he stole his goods from, be that police, Imperium, or underground. Still, the pirate had connections, and Rostov had some dealings with the Consortium.

Even so, Grey avoided Rostov whenever he had the chance. Despite what Rostov might have thought, Grey wasn't fooled by any of the pirate's lies. Indeed, Grey led the pirate to believe that it was he who was at a disadvantage. In truth, however, Rostov's days were numbered. Grey looked forward to the day when he no longer needed pirate assistance, and could arrainge Rostov's "dissapearance" at the hands of the Consortium.

For now, however, Grey had to continue the illusion that Rostov was in control.

"Hello, Grey. It's been awhile." The white Lupine smiled genially. Grey wasn't fooled.

"Sit down," Grey said.

Rostov shrugged and sat. "So," Rostov said, "what's the deal?"

Grey replied coldly, "I want a shuttle, and a cloaking device. I want it as a loan, and I want it in three days."

"What am I, a miracle worker?" Rostov asked, spreading out his arms for drama.

"Don't give me that shit, Rostov. I know about that stunt you pulled on Katina, and I know you have one."

Rostov smiled. "Ok, but I can promise you, it won't be cheap."

Grey leaned forward. "I just saved your ass from Imperial retaliation, Rostov. I suggest you take that into account when you name your price."

Rostov's face turned serious. "Very well, then. I'll lend it to you for five hundred grand."

"Don't play games with me, Rostov." Grey let his piercing stare send the rest of the message.

"Five grand," Rostov said firmly. "That is my asking price."

"I'll take it for four, Rostov, and if it's satsifactory, safe, and not rigged in some way, I'll deliver an additional 6 grand upon return." That was the trick with dealing with Rostov. Never pay in advance, unless you can promise him a larger total then the asking price. That's the only way to avoid a cheat in the deal.

Rostov took the bait. "Done. I can have it to you in the time you require. I trust you remember the rendezvous?"

"Of course."

It was done. Grey made a note to avoid paying Rostov in cash. When Rostov becomes discarded, Reichmann would want his moneyback.

 

* * *

After the deal was struck, Grey went to the Consortium building

to arrainge the payment for the shuttle.

Reichmann wasn't very receptive to the idea, as he had little faith in Rostov's business practices, but he trusted Grey. Grey never paid Rostov with his own money; the Consortium covered all of the expenses, at least dealing with Rostov. The money would be wired directly to Rostov's account (actually a Consortium holding) and the payment would be made in Grey's name. The idea was to make sure that the money stayed in Rostov's account, gaining interest and replenishing itself via anonymous "loans." Eventually, when Rostov was expendible, the Consortium would arrainge Rostov's "mysterious dissapearance" and sieze the money.

Grey could have used a Consortium shuttle, but that was risky, and besides, dealing with Rostov cost Grey nothing, and the end result would be the Consortium getting their money back.

The shuttle arrived on time, and the exchange was made. A moment's inspection revealed that the craft was in good condition, although there were signs that it underwent tight maintenence, probably within the past two days.

Grey smirked, but said nothing as Rostov was describing the shuttle's condition. It was obvious that Rostov made sure the shuttle was in good shape when he realized that it would be more profitable.

After the devil was paid his due, so to speak, Grey was in the air, cloaked, and ready to see Gamma for the first time.

 

* * *

It took a few days until the jump could be made, but Grey didn't mind. Boredom was never a problem for Grey, as he was a heavy sleeper, and made sure to bring a large collection of holovids with him.

Once he entered Imperial space, he gave his clearence codes and was allowed to land on Oberon. It usually wasn't that easy, but Reichmann had seen to it that Grey didn't get trouble from the border patrol. It was such a blessing to have the Consortium on his side.

Reichmann himself was there to welcome him. "Pleasent trip?"

he asked, as Grey stepped onto the terminal.

"As uneventful as you can get these days," replied Grey dryly.

They stepped into a limo and made their way to the meeting.

"I'm reminded," Grey said in Macbethian Gherhman, "of another famous conference fifteen years ago."

Reichmann grinned. "Your optimism is refreshing, Grey."

Grey gave him a look and said, "Reichmann, simply put, this is dangerous. We know that the Beast has ways of getting sensitive information. You remember the Spectre."

"Jawohl."

"And for decades, the Spectre posed as an Alliance official, and nobody even had a clue during the whole time."

Reichmann nodded. "The Imperium has built ways of detecting the Spectre. Genome scanning can find it. After all, the Spectre has a unique genetic strand, despite it's flexibility."

Grey shrugged. "That's one thing. We don't know where the Spectre is. He vanished after the Cataclysm."

"My sources say he went back to the homeworld."

The limo slowed to a halt. Grey and Reichmann stepped out and were escorted inside. Grey continued the conversation. "We still should be careful. The Spectre isn't the only thing to be worried about."

Hendricks nodded in agreement, but said nothing.

They stepped into a chamber were the delegates were gathering. The Emperor approached them. "Boltzman," said Reichmann. "I'd like you to meet one of the Consortium's most favored special agents, Grey Bracken."

Emperor Gorastar shook hands with Grey, who didn't appeared to be daunted by the presence of authority in the slightest. "It is an honor, Emperor," said Grey.

Gorastar grinned. "I've heard a great deal about you, Mr. Bracken. Colonal Karo has spoken very highly about you."

Deadpan, Grey replied. "I'm sure."

"Grey, you lousy, backstabbing, double crossing Snake!" a familier voice said from his right.

Grey turned and smiled. His old friend Jack Canis was there, grinning like a madman and walking toward him.

"Well, if it isn't for Benedict Arnold. How've you been, Jack?"

"Couldn't be better. Great to see you after so long, pal."

Grey rolled his eyes. "Don't make me sick."

Jack laughed.

After catching up a bit with Jack, Grey made acquantinces with the other delegates. The Neutral Warlords were there, all four of them, even Engredel, in his first public appearance in almost twenty years. The Underground leaders were there, too, most of them members of groups from Katina, Fortuna, or Macbeth, although representitives from all worlds were there, except for of course Bolse, which disapeared; and Area 6 and Meteo, both of which had been destroyed a long time ago.

There were also some Pirate groups who had slightly better reputation then most and were willing to help out, and most noteworthy of all, the Lost Colonies.

Grey found the colonists most fascinating. A great deal of them were famous figures from the Androssian War, and after their disappearance it was assumed that they were dead. But here they were.

One thing was certain. History was in the making. Grey just hoped that it wouldn't kill him in the process.

Chapter Thirteen

"I came into this world as a reject..."

-Limp Bizkit, "Nooky"

 

Night had fallen. The weather was turning nasty. Streaks of lightning could be seen in the distance, just at the city limits of Nova.

In the central part of town, the buildings took on a more menacing, Gothic tone. On one of the many stone buildings, within sight of the Imperial palace, a row of stone Gargoyles lined a ledge of the building facing the palace.

Percing alongside of one of the Gargoyles was the Spectre himself, in the guise of it's favorite form; that of a black, skulking shadow.

The Spectre squinted at the palace, where his increadible sensory ability allowed him to see who was inside and what was going on. Unfortunatly, what was being said inside the palace was unknown to him.

The conference had aroused the Spectre's curiosity, and, not for the first time, he ignored the Beast's orders and came to Nova to see what he could see. The Imperium was vigilent, however, and despite his flexible DNA strand, the Spectre knew that Kronos would have not approved of making such a bold move just yet.

He found himself thinking back, remembering just how far he had gotten. Of all of the three shards of his original self, the Spectre was perhaps the lowest ranked, but certainly the most powerful. Though he had little need to use "magical' powers, he did have his extrordinary shapechanging ability, and no secrets could be hidden from the Spectre for very long.

It took the three of them some time to plan the Invasion of Lylat. What was worse, Ederax, that meddlesome fiend, was there in the guise of a Warlord, and neither Kronos nor the Beast could enter Lylat without Ederax knowing it. But the Spectre could.

And Ederax did not know that Kronos had split into three, and he was thus unaware that the Spectre, the Beast, and Kronos existed not as one but as three seperate beings. So, it was easy to fool Ederax into thinking that his enemy was still outside of the system.

Almost a decade it took, but the Spectre was patient.

Now that the system was theirs, Kronos went home to take care of other business. The Beast was placed in control of Lylat, if only to battle the underground and the Imperium. The Spectre, meanwhile, had the task of infiltrating the underground and bringing the Beast's rage upon them. Theoretically, the Beast was his superior, but in truth the Spectre answered to nobody.

Turning his thoughts back to the present, the Spectre decided that nothing further could be done. It bothered him that he couldn't get inside, but sooner or later, the Spectre knew, whatever was to be learned would be revealed to him. It was just a matter of time.

* * *

The Spectre's form materialized out of the thick air. He had willed himself back to Lylat, on Zoness.

He was now in the Beast's palace. The place was built out of red stone, the architecture given the appearance of a temple. Indeed, bright torches lined the walls. In front of the Spectre, the Beast sat on a black obsidian throne, which was set inside the open jaws of a dragon skull.

The Beast himself looked very much like his namesake. He resembled a prehistoric reptile, with humanoid arms, powerful legs, sharp claws, and cold reptilian yellow eyes. One race of creatures hailing from a small blue world would have named it a "raptor," but this creature was larger, more broad shouldered then that extinct species the Beast resembled. He stood almost three meters tall, or 8 feet to be precise. His hide was the color of blood-red, with hazy black streaks along the side.

Right now, the Beast was glaring at him. He dark red hide matched nicely with the coloring of the palace, but the Spectre found the whole thing quite amusing. The Beast never could intimidate the Spectre, nor Kronos, for that matter.

The Beast stood, and his jaws opened to reveal rows of sharp, gleeming teeth. His voice rasped.

The Spectre just yawned.

"I sssuppossse you have an exssplanation for yourssself," the Beast hissed.

The Spectre, shifting to his Sean Dire persona on a whim, shrugged. "What if I don't?"

The Beast stood, a full three meters tall. "Don't provoke me, Ssspectre, I'm in no mood for your tiradesss."

The Spectre chuckled. "While you were sitting here playing the Zonessian god of war, I was actually doing ssssomething useful," he said with a sneer, mimicking the Beast's hiss perfectly. "I might note that you ordered me to stay put. If I had, Kronos would be sorely irritated at the both of us."

The Beast took a step forward. "Then why don't you jussst tell me what you've been up to?"

The Spectre gave a wry smile. "It would seem that Gorastar has pulled it off; the underground and all of our enemies are gathering."

The Beast snarled. "That'sss it? You think I would be intimidated by sssuch a futile gesssture? They could never sssuccsseed! If they tried a full ssscale attack, Kronossss would bring doom upon their headsss from the homeword sssso fassst they'll never even know what happened." The Beast was irritated, clearly distressed that he could have missed that information, and was trying to downplay it to lower his own embarrasement.

The Spectre loved it. "True," he said, "but you know how Kronos reacts to such things. He would be most unhappy to learn that you ordered me to stay, while our enemies gathered, yes?"

The Beast sat back in his chair. "You jussst ssstay put. I will sssee what Kronosss hasss to sssay about all of thisss."

The Spectre was to bored to argue. He just turned and left.

 

* * *

Meanwhile, on Bolse, Ederax Rathii sat in meditation. In his mind he witnessed the entire exchange. Neither the Spectre nor the Beast had the capacity to detect him, unless they were expecting an evesdropping.

Ederax grinned to himself. The fact that Kronos had split in three had caught him off guard 15 years ago. Ederax had been equiping himself againts a single entity, but evidently, that was why the Spectre had slipped past him, even after Ederax had "discovered" the Spectre's presence in Lylat.

Now that Ederax knew better, it was surprisingly easy to keep tabs on them, although the Spectre was trickier then the Beast, and the Spectre probably would have noticed the psychic residue if he had bothered to look.

Ederax opened his eyes. Though the Beast was convinced that there was nothing to worry about, Kronos would still order a strike, while all of their enemies were in one place. And the

Beast, who relished a good fight, would be more then happy to carry out a strike.

It was time to emerge out of hiding. It would put him out in the open, true, but Ederax was confident in his powers.

Ederax went to the Machine room. "Machine," he said, "Activate retrievel program. It's time we commenced the second phase of our plan."

The Machine complied. Somewhere, Ederax knew, on some distant moon or planet known only to the Machine, a whole legion of Cybers, sleeping for fifteen years, would be awakening, and making ready to return to Lylat.

Ederax grinned. If all went well, the Beast, the Spectre, and Kronos would have a lot of problems on their hands.

Sure enough, the Machine indicated that the Cyber legion was active and on it's way.

Now, it was only a question of if they would make it on time.

Chapter Fourteen

"White..It serves as a beginning. White cloth may be dyed. The white page can be overwritten...."

-J.R.R. Tolkien, "The Fellowship of the Ring."

 

It was the third day of the convention when the Kronos War took another surprising turn.

Fox McCloud was sitting at the convention table, where Gorastar, Grey Bracken, and the colony representitives, including the Starfox team, Jack Canis, and Katt Monroe; the Katinan, Fortunan,

Cornerian, Venomian, and Aquan undergrounds, Roko Kitsune, Reichmann von Hendricks, Red Firebird, and Dathi Engredel had gathered.

The group of them were discussing just what was to be done first, and indeed, if anything should be done, as some people just wanted to hole up in Gamma and leave it at that, when the doors burst open. Fox and the others turned and found themselves slack-jawed when confronted with the sight of none other then the Warlords Rathii of Titania and Fenri of Bolse, who had been missing for fifteen years.

Nobody spoke.

Ederax and Makhina were both dressed in Imperial War uniform, Ederax in blue generals uniform, Makhina in the silver war cloak of Bolse. Behind them, several soldiers in Bolsean uniform stood, their left eyes glowing red, indicating that they were Cybers.

Emperor Gorastar stood. He and Makhina walked toward each other, met, and embraced, two old friends meeting after too long of a time.

Ederax, meanwhile, turned and surveyed the council table, looking at each face, before finally settling on Fox. Fox shuddered slightly as he felt the Hyena's gaze pierce right through him, but then he relxed. There was something in the Warlord's demeanor that said that he wasn't the madman he was thought of as, that he was on your side, and more then willing to help.

"Well," Ederax said to the crowd. "We have much work to do. I see that all of you are trying to decide whether or not if it is worth the effort to battle the Kronosians, and retake the system. I tell you it is. Many of you think it would be better if you gave up and live instead on the Gamma system. I tell you, no matter what you do, Kronos will find you. Even if you hide here in Gamma, the Kronosians will seek you out. They will not give an inch of mercy, and the Dark Three will hound you across the whole galaxy before they give you up."

Still nobody spoke. There was simply too much truth in his words.

Ederax grinned slightly, then said, "Anyway, it doesn't look like you have much choice in the matter. In one week, the Beast and his police will lauch an invasion, the invasion of Gamma."

There were gasps. An Imperial delegate stood and cried, "That cannot be true!"

"But it is," Ederax replied, nonplussed.

The aging Zebra delegate shook his head. "If they wanted to invade, they could have done it years ago. Why now?"

Ederax shook his head and replied, "Kronos doesn't care about the Imperium. He and the Beast's police could have wiped Gamma out a long time ago. If they wanted, they could have blown the entire underground movement apart. They chose not to, because neither the Imperium nor the underground have what they are looking for."

"Then what do they want?"

The other delegates voiced the same question. Ederax raised his hand. "That is not important. What is important is, the Beast is coming, and his police will be right behind him. Now that you have assembled, you are in the perfect position to fight back. But you won't succeed unless you remember the whole purpose of this battle. Lylat is being tested. We are going through a Crucible, friends, a Crucible that will test our will to survive, and our ability to cooperate. We can't think of ourselves as Cornerians or as Fortunans or Titanians or Venomians; we must act as Lylatians."

* * *

Eventually, Gorastar returned things back to order. The convention voted in favor of a war effort, and after the convention disassembled, Fox approached Ederax, not sure why he wanted to talk to him.

Ederax saw him coming, and beckoned him to someplace where they could talk in peace.

Once they were out of the crowd, Ederax turned to Fox and said, "I did not wish to mention this to the delegates, but there is much you need to know." He glanced around and said, "Listen,

Fox McCloud, I mentioned that the Dark Three are looking for something. And that something involves the Lost Colonists. You know this by the size of the attack the Beast launched on your convoy."

Fox nodded and asked, "But what do they want with us, Ederax? We never posed a threat to them."

Ederax paused, apparantly gathering his thoughts. Then he said, "This much I can tell you. The one called Kronos is powerful, and has lived long; thousands of years in fact. But his evil ways demand a price, and that price is haunting him. He is now not one being but three, and they fear that they will continue to break apart, growing weaker and weaker until there is nothing left. By mortal reckoning, this won't happen soon, but for the Dark Three it is within sight. They search this universe for one soul that can strengthen them and bring them back into a single, collective being."

Fox cocked his head. "And you? What role do you have in this?"

"I was asked to see to it that Kronos never finds this individual. There are a near infinate amount of sentient life in the universe. Their numbers are to a trillion what a hundred trillion is to one, and anyone of them could be this chosen individual. I foresaw this one's coming, before his birth,

andalthough I did not know who it would be, I knew he would hail from Lylat. So did the Dark Three, and they planned the Cataclysm so that when the individual is born he or she would be in their possesion."

"What does that have to do with the colony?"

"I was able to determine that this individual, or illuminatus, as my native tongue calls him or her, would be born or emerge within a certain group. That group was everyone who had the dreams, and everyone who went to Tehrah. Now I have found this illuminatus, and the Dark Three are aware of his identity. That is why the Beast is invading, under the orders of Kronos."

"And who is he?"

Ederax stared deep into Fox's eyes. "Perhaps you should also ask why I tell you this."

Fox blinked, then it dawned upon him. "Nathan?" he whispered, not sure how else to react.

Ederax nodded solemnly. "Keep him in good hands, Fox McCloud. The Dark Three are well aware now that one of the lost colonists is the one they seek. That is why they attack."

"I suppose that they have other ways of capturing him then that," Fox noted, surprised at how calm he was, then realizing he was in some kind of shock.

Ederax nodded. "Correct. The Spectre is perhaps the greatest threat, for he can assume any form with a touch, and no secrets, no weaknesses can be hidden from him for long. He'll try to take the form of someone that Nathan trusts, as his power relies solely on his ability to avoid detection. But once he's unmasked, he is powerless until he escapes notice."

"So how would I know to recognize him?"

Ederax glanced back at the convention hall, then turned back and said, "Even the Spectre requires a link to his original form. That link can be found in his eyes, for the eyes are the windows to the soul within. The Spectre's eyes are black, empty, and hollow; there is no life in them. Once you recognize the Spectre, his disguise will melt away to you and anyone who discovers him."

Fox nodded.

Ederax smiled slightly. "Just be careful, Fox McCloud."

 

* * *

The following days were spent preparing for battle. Hopes were high; the underground had mobilized into an allied, coordinated force; the Imperium had it's own forces, as well as private armies from the returning Warlords; the colonists had more then a few fliers, soldiers, and other military personel; and finally, there was a fresh army of Cybers, three legions total.

All of the newcomers, mostly the colonists, were briefed on Kronosian tactics and armanent. Fox's original assesement of the Kronosian military turned out to be correct. A great deal of their fighters had weak shields, and very few of them had G-Diffusers. But they had excellent speed and breaking ability, and could turn at frightening efficiency. The worst part about them were their lasers; they were twice as strong as the standard mass drivers, and a rapid fire that put even Hyper lasers to shame.

"Most fighters," said the Imperium tactician during one session, "especially mass combat fighters, have the same nova capacity as the Arwing, give or take. However, they seldom use novas unless taking out a base or capital ship with particularly strong shield, or to take out a huge swarm of fighters.

"Kronosian fighters of all varieties travel in small groups; they almost never group their fighters in wings, like we do. Instead, they all come in squads. To put it another way, a typical Imperial combat fighter force would consist of two dozen fighters; The Beast, on the other hand, would send a force consisting of between two and ten fighters. Typically, four or five is the norm.

"In battle, the wing will spread out and try to fence in the enemy to a certain range, attacking from all sides. Typically, Kronosian fighters work in trios or pairs to eliminate an enemy, and guard against opponents."

Another session delt with capital ships. "Ordinarily, the Beast uses capital ships as mobile bases for his fighters. The Kronosians dislike using heavy artillery, but when they do, they use mostly plasma based weaponry, and in extreme cases, they'll bring out antimatter as well.

"Capital ships all have jump drives, so don't waste time. Their shields are tough, but they are vulnerable at the rear, nearer to their exhaust pipes. For this reason, most of their cannons are found near that area.

"They will NEVER activate their antimatter, unless their fighter escort is destroyed or absent. Even then, they will usually make a jump to friendly territory. However, if push comes to shove, they will fire their antimatter cannons, and you'd better get the hell out of the way."

Armed with this knowledge, the colony pilots were ready for action.

It took two days to assemble the armada. To a veteran of the Androssian wars, the fleet was in itself a contradiction in terms. Arwings and Wolfen's side-by-side. Dreadnoughts and Dorysbes. Nearly every weapon that had survived the Androssian War was assembled here, this time two sides united by a common enemy.

Jack Canis' Wolfen II, the Hunter's Moon, flew alongside of StarFox, and hailed Fox. "I've been thinking," Jack said over the comm. "If the Kronosians hadn't invaded, we might still be at war with the Imperium."

"So you're suggesting this invasion is a good thing?" Fox asked.

"In some ways, yes. I mean, you remember how bad it was fifteen years ago. Even though the Neutral Defection slowed down the war, it was only a matter of time before on side or another got impatient and blew things over. Lylat was on the brink of destruction. The Spectre's activities had only exaggerated the problem."

Fox nodded. This was something Jack had said before, just not in so many words. Jack was right; the invasion gave Lylat a chance to clean the slate, to unify the schism that had threatened the safety of the system. It was almost like a test.

Fox spotted a wing of Wolfen's pass him and he shuddered. He knew that somewhere in the fleet, his old nemesis Wolf O'Donnell was out there, fighting on the same side. The thought that Wolf had saved his life earlier still gave Fox the chills.

The comm buzed over the common frequency, breaking his chain of thought. "Get ready, people," a squad leader said. "We just got word that the enemy fleet has made the jump and is on it's way."

Well, Fox thought, let's give them a reception they'll never forget. The armada surged forward.

Chapter Fifteen

"Deep inside the puny little minds of all mortals, no matter how often the tell themselves they are capable and good people, there is always a nagging doubt that none of that is true. And it isn't. It's a perfect way to use people to you're ends."

-The Spectre

 

No matter what you do, Wolf O'Donnell thought to himself, you always find yourself betraying your own principles.

And not just him, but Gorastar, the Neutrals, hell, even the entire Imperium. Funny how things turn out when some alien force muscles in.

A lot of things had changed, and Wolf never seemd confortable with it. The Imperium was no longer in the master of Andross. Gorastar had abandoned the Manifest Destiny policy that Andross had used, and the Imperium was no longer based in Lylat. The Neutrals were back, StarFox was back, Rathii and Makhina were back, and Jack Canis was back. All mutually antagonistic forces fifteen years ago thrown together, now on the same side.

What unnerved Wolf the most was, he wasn't so sure if he disliked these turns of events. Certainly, the StarWolf team itself was no longer in existence. When Gorastar took controll, Wolf had seen the change of rulership as an oppurtunity to advance his own status. Wolf, and as a result StarWolf in general, threw in their lot with Gorastar. Unfortunatly, the other three members of StarWolf weren't comfortable with the new Emperor. Those fools. They had to be disposed of, and Gorastar was amiable to the idea.

Sure enough, Leon vanished, almost as if he never existed. No trace of him had ever been seen since. Pigma and Andrew, well, it wasn't difficult to deal with them. All that had to be done was to invite the two of them to a meeting in the Imperial treasury, and have the attendent leave for a cup of coffee, with the safe key within Pigma's sight. The rest followed suit.

The fools walked straight into the trap, making off with almost 500,000 Imperial Selars. All the while, the treasuries hidden camera recorded more then enough to get the two of them convicted within two weeks.

Wolf grinned. Unlike his archrival, Fox McCloud, he didn't feel strong loyalty to his teammates, and it didn't take an Einstein to figure out that they weren't particularly found of him either.

After Pigma and Andrew were locked up, Wolf feared for a time that Gorastar would find away to deal with him, too. After all, Wolf had been one of Andross' most trusted minions.

Fortunatly, Wolf had always regarded Andross as little more then a convenient ally, to be discarded when he was of no use. And that was exactly what happened.

A black and red Wolfen II, painted with the words Hunter's Moon banked within his field of vision before moving over to one of the Arwing squads. Wolf growled. That Wolfen once belonged to him, until Jack Canis betrayed the Imperium and stolen Wolf's craft as a getaway. It wasn't the betrayel that irritated him; it was the theft. Still, ever since that incident, Wolf had secretly applauded Jack's bravado, as he was the only one in the Imperium who answered to nobody, and was not afraid of defying his superiors if it suited him. He had guts, and that was a good quality.

"Bogeys, 11 o'clock high," a voice warned over the common frequency.

Show time, Wolf thought to himself grimly. Now here was an enemy far more fun to tangle with then the Alliance; for the Alliance always saw war as something to be avoided when possible. Kronosians had no illusions about battle. To them, it was businness, pure and simple. No hard feelings, just strictly objectives and neccessity.

Immediatly, Wolf advanced toward a wing of fighters, six in all, that were coming up at the front of the Kronosian armada. Two Invader IV's and a Husky fighter decided to join in. 4 on

6. Good. Wolf enjoyed a challenge.

Predictably, the Kronosian fighters banked away in pairs, spreading out to draw their enemies way from each other and singling them out. Wolf did the opposite of what they wanted; he made a u-turn toward the pair of Kronosians circling around the rear of the Imperial fighters. Already they were chasing one of the Invaders. The Invader pilot was doing so deliberatly to keep the Kronosians distracted.

Wolf would have to act fast. He locked and fired a nova and immediatly began raining a barrage of lasers on the Kronosians. It worked beatifully; the Nova destroyed one fighter, and the second fighter was so badly damaged by the blast he had no chance whatsoever.

His Wolfen jolted forward suddenly. He had taken a hit. A pair of fighters was on his rear. Immediatly, Wolf rolled to activate his G-Diffuser. Then, without warning, he ducked and looped around the pair.

Unfortunatly, the pair banked in opposite directions and made their own turns. Being faster then the Wolfen, they were already waiting for him.

Wolf had to take advantage of his enemies inferior shields. He fired all of his lasers, rolling to avoid their own laser shots. He took out one of the fighters, and the other ducked out of the way.

Another blast shook him from the rear. Wolf swore loudly. Another trio was coming up behind him! He looked around just in time to see one Invader and the Husky get blasted to pieces.

It didn't look good. If he braked, it would be too easy for them to lock on; if he rolled, they were likely to toss a nova at him. If he looped, they would turn around to greet him too fast.

A barrage of laser fire emerged from nowhere. Wolf looked up to see an arwing flying right above him and straight at the Kronosians. Wolf took advantage of the Kronosians confusion and made a loop around the fighters. By the time he was finished, one fighter was destroyed and another was seriously damaged.

Wolf chased the undamaged fighter and managed to get a solid lock on it. A few laser bolts later, the fighter was in ashes.

Wolf hailed the arwing. "Woah, you sure saved my ass, pilot."

Fox McCloud's image buzzed back, grinning, "Yeah, well, that's my job, Wolf."

Wolf could have sworn his fur turned white. "You??" he asked, incredelous.

Fox's face turned serious. "I pay my debts, Wolf, even to you." The image switched off.

Wolf blinked. He didn't have time to reflect upon the exchange, as another pilot in a Dragon fighter was screaming for help. Two Kronosian's were on his tail, and the pilot was just about out of shields.

Wolf fired his thrusters and sent a hail to the Kronosians, howling like mad. It felt foolish, but it was useful. Even againts the Kronosians, terror tactics worked. And he WAS a Lupine, and Lupine pilots were encouraged to make use of their howls in war, at least during old times. It worked still even today.

Sure enough, the Kronosians were startled, and the banked away....right into the cold embrace of a well timed laser charge.

And so the battle went. After twenty minutes of ferocious mass dogfighting, the capital ships arrived, and soon, the battle itself turned into pandemonium. Three Spyborgs, countless

Copperheads, and a legion of Shoguns entered the fray. In the distance, a pair of Metal Crushers and a Blade Barrier were approaching.

The Kronosian fleet, however, had Phase Cannons, and a large number of Screamer missiles, the Kronosian version of Imperial Copperheads. Wolf felt his heart sink as he recognized four Iron Claw class ships forming up in the Kronosian fleet.

The battle was furious, and neither side seemed to gain an advantage, although, Wolf knew, sooner or later something was going to have to give. Fate decided matters now, it seemed. And Wolf did not trust fate.

Unless........

It was common knowledge that Kronosians spared no expense in coordination tactics. One of the reasons they seldom attacked in such large numbers was the sheer power needed to keep the systems of capital ships in operation. Thus, it was necessary for one of the capital ships to supply a steady stream of plasma energy in the form of relay signals. The capital ships did have their own power, but Kronosian reactors relied solely on neutrino power. It was the only way for them to use antimatter.

If the plasma was cut off, the reactors would go haywire, and react with the antimatter. And when matter and antimatter meet...

Wolf opened the comm link. "Fox McCloud," he said, "do you read?"

"Yes, Wolf. You're voice is a joy to hear."

"Cut the sarcasm. I have a proposition."

"I'm listening, but you had better make it quick."

"It's simple. You and I are going to orchestrate one hell of a fireworks show. I need you to help me find the largest source of plasma radiation and help me blow it out of the stars."

There was silence. Wolf was in the clear, for the moment, as there was brief pauses in the fight when a one wave or another broke away to their capital ships for repairs.

Fox beamed the coordinates to Wolf. Wolf frowned as he realized that the Generator craft was a Maelstrom battleship; the nastiest capital ship of them all. Maelstrom's were aptly named; they had a fighter compliment of almost a hundred, featured a barrage of cannons, mostly plasma, as well as Screamers, phase beams, and worst of all, antimatter cannons.

"This is Wolf O'Donnell," he said over the common band. "I am advising that all Imperial capital ships get clear. I am asking that any fighters not docked for repairs and able to fight lead an attack on the Maelstrom at the following coordinates." He sent out the coordinates, and he recieved several affirmatives. Right now, fighters on both sides were docked for repairs, so the battle was slowed greatly.

"I am beginning my attack now. Anybody who wants to help me is welcome."

As Wolf gunned his engines, several other fighters joined in. About a dozen Dragons and Crushers; three teams of Invader III's; a small Dreadnought; and two teams of Arwings, including StarFox, surged alongside.

Even that might not be enough, as Maelstroms were tough.

As they closed in, the Maelstrom turned and powered up it's cannons. A number of fighters flew out of the Maelstrom's docking bay.

A trio of Copperheads showed up alonside of the attack force. A pair of Screamers were launched by the Maelstorm. Eventually, more and more attention was drawn to the fray; More fighters from both sides were arriving, and the battle raged once again.

The Copperheads hit right on target. Everybody was firing at it now; the Maelstrom started to resort to antimatter.

"Attack the rear!" Wolf yelled to no one in particular. "That's their weakest point!"

A group of fighters began to converge near the Maelstrom's stern. It was Fox McCloud, and Jack Canis, and an Invader III.

Wolf did not think. He joined the group, and the four began pounding relentlessly on the Maelstrom. Other fighters backed them up, while the Dreadnought and the Copperheads took out the antimatter guns.

Then, flames began to burst out of the Maelstrom's hull. It shook violently, then burst apart in a silent explosian. If there had been sound in space the noise would likely have been deafening.

For a moment, nothing happened. Then, one by one, the Kronosian capital ships started to explode. They weren't just any explosions, but they were antimatter reactions. One such explosion could vaporize three Dreadnoughts. Fortunatly, the Lylatians had the sense to bank away from the enemy fleet. From a safe distance, they watched the entire fleet go up in what looked like a multitude of Nova bombs.

Wild cheers came over the common band, as Kronosian fighters began to flee. Wolf breathed a sigh of relief as he sank into his chair, exhausted.

Chapter Sixteen

"Clean

The cleanest I've been

An end to the fears, and the in-between years

and the troubles I've seen

Now that I'm clean

Oh, you know what I mean.

I've broken my fall, put an end to it all

And I've cleaned up my routine.

Now, I'm clean."

-Depeche Mode, "Clean"

 

The celebration was perhaps the most festive event that the Lylatian people had ever seen. The victory was a turning point in the war; all over Lylat, the Undergroud was taking bolder measures. Raids into the Lylat system were allready being made, and everybody was in a damn good mood.

Everyone was at the palace, where most of the key figures in the war were celebrating their victory. Fox McCloud and the StarFox team, Bill Grey and his squadron, Katt Monroe, Jack Canis, the underground leaders, Wolf O'Donnell, Cody Black, Emperor Gorastar, Ederax, Makhina, Reichman von Hendricks, Grey Bracken, Roko Kitsune; even Red Firebird and Dathi Engredel were there, having a great time.

The Spectre, however, had different plans.

Right now, he was disquised as an Underground soldier. He did his level best to avoid drawing attention, especially considering that Ederax was nearby.

The Kronosian defeat had so badly unnerved the Beast that the Spectre decided that enough was enough. He was going to take matters into his own hands, and to hell with anybody who said otherwise.

The Spectre moved through the crowd, not daring to "imprint" or copying their genetic data for him to use as a disguise, lest Ederax sensed his presence. If that happened, the Spectre would have more problems on his hands then he would like.

All of a sudden, he found himself face to face with Fox McCloud. "Excuse me," he smiled.

Fox was staring at him curiously. He moved out of the way, and the Spectre went on his way. What did that look mean? Strange. But, the Spectre shrugged, there was more important things to worry about, namely finding the one called Nathan McCloud. He would have to push the limits of his powers to the full maximum. If necessary, the Spectre was willing to stalk Nathan for days untill the oppurtunity. He warned himself not to get to anxious. Patience was a necessity.

He turned a corner, homing in on Nathan's spiritual residue. It nearly made Spectre tremble; he was so close, and once he found Nathan, there would be no stopping him.

He was alone!

Perfect. He was moving down a hallway, not to far from the guest quarters, where the pilots and their families stayed.

He turned a corner, and stopped. Nathan should have been right there, less then 10 yards in front of him, but he wasn't there. The signal was not there, either.

Suddenly, he was aware of someone behind him. He turned and saw the snarling face of Ederax. Behind him was Makhina, glaring at him with all of her contempt.

Ederax lifted a hand as the Spectre stepped backward. A burst of light shown out of the uplifted hand, and the Spectre found that his form was annhilated, his energy and consciousness sent to the Void Beyond, outside of the Universe.

He would have howled in frustration and dissapointment and rage, but the silent Void had nothing for sound.

 

* * *

Is he destroyed?

No. Nothing can destroy the darkness inside the soul. He's just dwelling in the Void Beyond, there to stay untill one of his fellows pulls him out.

If he can't be destroyed, Ederax, how can we ever be safe from him, or the Beast, or Kronos?

Kronos and his fellows are like a virus. They attack an unprepared host, Makhina, and rely on that to accomplish their ends. Once they are expelled, however, the system is vaccinated against Kronos. And in time, he will waste away, unless he returns to his original path.

So, what should we do, Ederax?

We take back the system. You know their weaknesses now. It'll be a matter of time.

But it won't be over yet, won't it?

No. Kronos will still be there. The homeworld still harbors the corruption that threatens Lylat. Sooner or later, the Lylatians will have to carry the battle to the Kronos homeworld itself.

And then there is rebuilding.......

Yes. It won't be easy. Some will covet the Machine, and will try to use it as a weapon of power.

I'll remember that.

You should.

How did you find the Spectre, anyway?

When anyone, mortal or otherwise, detects the Spectre, his powers melt away to whomever recognizes him for who he is. That is his weakness. Fox McCloud saw the darkness in his eyes and understood who he was. That's when I felt the Spectre's presence.

But when will he be back?

It takes a great deal of power to escape the Void. He'll have help, though. I imagine it will be quite some time, especially if you attack the Kronosians and keep the Beast and Kronos distracted.

And you?

I have to depart for now. I have work elsewhere, and it must be attended to.

When will you return?

Soon enough, Makhina. You need not be concerned. You might want to worry more about Gorastar.

Why?

He has a great weight on his shoulders, now that he is Emperor, and now that the Kronos War has begun in earnest. He has become a good leader, but in the coming days he will feel the strain acutely.

Yes. It'll be difficult, recovering our home.

Remember, Makhina, that two storms have just passed, but the third will be the most furious of them all.

I'll remember that, also.

Yes.

Thank you, Ederax, for all you have done.

Don't worry, Makhina. Just watch your step. And I must make a request of you, before I leave.

And what is that?

Relax, and have fun at the celebration. You need to reawaken your emotional side that was hidden by the Machine.

I will.

Goodbye, Makhina.

Goodbye.

* * *

Hello, is there anybody in there?

Just nod if you can here me.

Is there anyone home?

C'mon down, I hear you feeling down.

Well, I can ease your pain, put you on your feet again.

Relax, I need some information first.

Just the basic facts. Can you show me where it hurts?

There is no pain, you are receding.

A distant ship moves on the horizon.

You are only coming through in ways,

your lips move, but I can't hear what your saying.

When I was a child, I caught a fever.

My hands felt just like two baloons.

Now I got the fever once again;

I cannot explain, you would not understand.

This is not how I am.

I have become comfortably numb.

Okay, just a little pin prick.

Now we don't go ::AAAAGGGHHHH::

But you'll feel a little sick.

Can you stand up? I do believe it's working. Good!

That'll keep you going through the show.

Come on, it's time to go.

There is no pain, you are receding.

A distant ship moves on the horizon.

You are only coming through in ways,

your lips move, but I can't hear what your saying.

When I was a child, I caught a fleeting glimpse

out of the corner of my eye.

I turned to look, but it was gone;

I cannot put my finger on it now, the child has grown,

the dream is gone.

I have become comfortably numb."

-Pink Floyd, "Comfortably Numb."

Here ends The Crucible, part 2 of the Kronos Trilogy. Part 1 was The Spectre, detailing the events before the Invasion. The final chapter of the Kronos War will be written in part 3 of the Kronos Trilogy, The Wall.

Thanks to my brother Nick, for letting me use Grey Bracken. If you wish to use Grey, you can contact his owner at the following address: SlntStrdr1@aol.com

Special thanks to Scott Morris for giving his opinion on this story whenever I asked it, and for giving it honestly.

And finally, a very special thanks, again, to Pink Floyd, for providing the music which feuled the creative impulses behind this trilogy.

I ask that the following characters be used only with my permission, as they come straight out of my head and belong to no one else: Jack Canis, Red Firebird, Roko Kitsune, Dathi Engredel, Reichmann von Hendricks, Simon Karo, the Machine, the Spectre, the Beast, Kronos, Cody Black, Makhina Fenri, Boltzman Gorastar, Sean Dire, Baat Duran, Deslian Komodan, Rashid Khan, Conners O'Rourke, Samuel Rodante, Nicolai Rostov, Morgan Dolphus, Rolant Aneyh, Jinx Carr, Nathan McCloud, and....wow, I have that many characters?

Places that should require permission to use would include Gamma, Proteus, and Oberon (if they are to be used as they were presented in the story, as anybody could come up with Gamma for a name), Crescent City (again, as it is presented as a city in Macbeth) and Tehrah.

Kronos related terms should require my permission as well, such as Maelstrom battle ships.