The story thus far...

For decades, the Lylat system has enjoyed great prosperity under the beneficient rule of the Alliance of Free Worlds. It was the golden age of Lylat; wars did occur, but rarely did they cost more then a handful of lives, and even then, conflicts could be resolved through negotiations most of the time.

All that changed when the mad Andross, exiled from Corneria because of his crimes, raised an army from the dark world of Venom. He created an Imperium with himself as Emperor. Immediatly he conquered Alliance Worlds for himself, intent on claiming all of Lylat as his Imperium.

Andross was not alone. His dark allies, each the master of an Imperial world, lent their dark powers to aid the invasion. These Warlords, which included Andross, were mysterious, reclusive, and feared by friend and foe alike.

The Warlords were: Andross himself; Deslian Komodan, who was general of Area 6; Ederax Rathii, the mad lord of Titania; Dathi Engredel, the silent lord Zoness; Boltzman Gorastar, the cunning Tyrant of Sector Z; Makhina Fenri, servitor of the Bolsean Machine; Reichmann von Hendricks, head of the Macbeth IndustrialConsortium; Roko Kitsune, leader of Sector X; and Red Firebird, master of Solar.

The invasion nearly wiped out the Alliance. Imperial forces even assaulted Corneria, the heart of the Free Worlds. Thanks to the valient efforts of Fox McCloud and his Star Fox team, the invasion was defeated, and the Alliance counterattacked Venom itself.

The Warlords began to divide. Some thought the Imperium was a mistake, and that Andross was incompetent. Others stood by Andross, urging for another attack. Bitter words were spoken, and out of anger and frustration, Engredel, Firebird, Hendricks, and Kitsune walked out of the Council, declared neutrality, and went into solitude, never to be seen and known only through

the actions of their followers.

Katina also declared neutrality, fearing the Alliance was still not strong enough to protect them. Despite this set back, the Alliance recovered, but so did the Imperium. However, the Neutrals were a powerful force, and although each independent, if either the Alliance or the Imperium attempted an invasion, they would face the wrath of all five Neutral Worlds.

Now the war is at a standstill, although battles are being fought at the outskirts of the system. Sooner or later, the Alliance fears, the Imperium will find a way to compromise the neutrals and try for another invasion. But Andross knows that far more subtlety will be needed.

Unknown to most, the remaining four other Warlords have agendas of their own, goals that excludes Andross. The Emperor suspects this, and is currently seeking a way to defeat the Alliance

and remove all Warlords from power.

Nothing will be as it seems. Masks will be removed, secrets will be laid bare as the Warlords and Andross begin their deadly chess game......

CHAPTER ONE

"I don't like a clean fight. Rules get in the way of too many

objectives."

-Wolf O'Donnel, leader of the Star Wolf team

The twin suns shone brightly over the ruddy skies of planet Casmun. Andross peared out into the artificial ravine 4 meters below. There, a stratech, the largest indigneous predator, posed over a fresh kill, cleaning itself and finishing it's meal.

Andross felt a pang of discomfort. He disliked travelling outside his own Imperium, let alone the Lylat system. The risks were too great. But it was often neccessary, for as long as the Lylat system was not under his full control, there would be resources that would be needed to fuel the Imperial military machine.

One of his principle partners in trade were a group called the Kronosians. The Kronosians were reclusive, secretive, and shy. They had never visited Lylat, and they were most vigilent in

making sure outsiders did not enter their borders. Nobody on Lylat knew exactly how large a territory the Kronosians held. Nobody was even sure where their homeworld was. One thing was

for certain, and that was their increadible biotechnology. Even Andross had to admire their knowledge of genetic engineering.

For some reason, they were willing to trade with the Imperium. For the past five years or so, Andross purchased secrets in biomachinery in exchange for large sums of money. Vulcain, for example, was a Kronosian creation, and the genetic formula had been purchased for billions of Imperial Selars, much to the protests of some Warlords, especially the Macbeth representitive.

Now, Andross was here to see what the Kronosians had to offer this time.

He turned to a wide eyed Lemur in a lab coat standing next to him. "I see the stratech," Andross said crossly, "but where is this 'new innovation' your people promised me?"

The Lemure grinned. "Just watch, Emperor," he said, his voice even more chilling then Ederax the Mad Hyena, Warlord of Titania. "Just watch."

Andross rolled his eyes and turned his attention to the stratech once again. A reekor, a large, dumb, slow moving animal, appeared in view. The stratech, eager for another meal, broke into a

run and lept upon the reekor's back.

Andross' eyes widened when he realized that that was no "reekor." The body of the reekor contorted and and twisted, grew fangs, claws, and a hide similar to that of the stratech's. The stratech yelped in surprise before a swift moving claw removed the stratech's head from its body.

The "reekor" continued to shift, and soon it looked like a perfect copy of the dead stratech, right down to the pattern of its stripes.

Andross took a step back. Never in a hundred years would he have believed it was possible! Never!

Baat studied Andross' surprise with a deranged grin. "You see?" he said. "A marvel!"

Andross nodded in agreement. "Tell me about it," he said.

Baat took a breath. "The creature is a prototype which we have named, 'Spectre'. Originally we designed it for adaptation in combat, but the result was something even more complex. It has

a flexible DNA/chromosome. It can modify its genetic structure, and the changes take effect immediatly. It can also mix and match genetic codes, to take hybrid forms of different creatures, or even take shapes of its own. Even mass is redistrubited, through gene splicing and cell division or destruction. Very elegent."

"What is it's intelligence?"

"The one we are viewing is at a primitive level. But they have excellent problem solving abilities. The Spectre model didn't turn out to be just an adaptible combat weapon; we found that

it can educated to our level of intelligence and work as an infiltrator."

"Good God.."

Baat chuckled. "As you can see, it's most valuable. Should you wish to purpose a copy, one that is already fully intelligent, you'd better have a large sum of cash."

Andross nodded. "I would be reluctant to sell it if I were you."

Baat shrugged it off. "We aren't afraid of them being used againts us. We have the means of insuring that does not happen. But I will tell you they are increadibly fast learners. It takes

them very little time to learn languages, protocol, etc. Absorbtion of other organisms help speed the process tremendously."

Andross thought over. "How much for it?"

Baat gave a toothey grin. "10 billion Selars."

"I'll give you 6, plus a sample of the Bacoon you are always pestering me for."

Baat grinned as if this was exactly what he was angling for all along. "Sold."

Andross nodded and turned back to observe Spectre. It was exactly what he was looking for.

In the years following the Star Fox campaign, the Imperium found a wide range of problems. There wasn't an effective backup plan to cover for the invasion's failure, and some Warlords,

particularly the ones closest to the Alliance worlds, had lost faith in the Imperium and seceeded. There was little the Emperor could do about it. The defectors were very powerful.

It was at this point Andross realized how powerful the Warlords were. Even with the entire Council on his side, a single Warlord challenging Andross would be an increadibly formidible foe. Andross began to fear even the ones who were loyal to him, for he could see that individually they were as deadly as he was.

So, Andross needed a way to deal with both the Alliance and the Warlords. Sooner or later, he knew, one of them would get the idea of trying to seize the Imperial throne, and the only one Andross could trust was Deslian Komodan of Area 6.

Unfortunatly, Deslian was weak and incompetent. Before Star Fox, Deslian was arguably the most powerful Warlord in Council, except maybe for Andross. Now, he had no guts whatsoever.

Then there were the others. Makhina Fenri was an unusual case, alright. Andross especially feared her because of the Bolse satellite's potential power. Not only was it a critical defense

unit for Venom, it also possessed a group unique to Lylat, the Cybers, who were almost totally machine but as aware as any Lylatian. And the Machine itself, the supercomputer of Bolse, was a vast intelligence that could destroy Andross entirely.

Ederax Rathii, the mad Hyena, was also stronger then he let on. Andross was convinced that he was no ordinary Lylatian, and the unpredictable Warlord could pose a threat.

Boltzman Gorastar, Andross knew, was a shrewd politician who would be more then eager to seize the throne. He had ties with Bolse, and worse, there was a sentimental streak in him that

Andross found dangerous. Although Gorastar was famed for being a Tyrant, Andross knew that Gorastar was more then he appeared.

The Defecting Warlords were dangerous as well. Roko Kitsune, the genius telepath whose attitude is the reason for the numerous attempts on his life; Red Firebird, a powerful man who possesed

an undying hate for Andross and three private armies; Dathi Engredel, the secretive and reclusive Warlord who Andross had met only three times in the course of the invasion, not to

mention the Warlord who aided the Alliance in the Star Fox campaign, and Reichmann von Hendricks, who was too damn wealthy to be considered safe.

But with this fabulous creature, Spectre, Andross could destroy all of his enemies. The Ape grinned maliciously to himself. How can he lose?

CHAPTER TWO

"To the outside, the Imperium appears to be a closely allied union of powers, all answering to the Emperor, and the four other Warlords simply rulers in name only. I tell you it isn't so. Each of the Five has his or her own agendas, and Andross and the four Warlords beneath him are actually equals in power."

-Red Firebird, former Warlord, Prime Minister of Solar

The machinery hummed softly in the deepest labyrinth of the Grazen freighter-transport in orbit over Venom. Steam poured out of vent and into the long corridor.

Warlord Makhina Fenri felt a surge of pride as she walked down the dark corridor along with her personal bodyguards. With Macbeth no longer apart of the Imperium (damn them for their treason!), none of this beautiful machinery around her would have been possible without Bolse. The Imperium would never survived without Bolse's support.

Of course, the others were too preoccupied to show their gratitude. No matter. The Machine is patient.

Makhina grinned maliciously beneath her cloak. She could sense the uneasiness of her bodyguards. They knew that she had no need for them, and if they gave her the slightest provocation they would suffer unimaginable horrors at the hands of the dreaded Machine. She would rather have brought a contingent of Cybers with her, for they were at least better trained in the subtleties of the Machine then these Venomian half-wits. But, protocal and formality demanded thus, and her Cyber agents were to be left behind. The other Warlords were afraid of the Machine and it's Cyber agents. No one was comfortable working with them.

Makhina was a Cyber herself. Almost her entire body was no longer imperfect flesh but flawless metal. Flesh was a sad necessity sometimes, but the Machine was true purity.

The cybernetic Wolf Warlord stopped at a guarded door. The two sentries stepped back, not daring to look into her glowing red eyes. Nodding her dismissal to the bodyguards, Warlord Makhina stepped inside of the chamber.

Inside there was three figures sitting around a round table. Makhina studied her fellow Warlords, those flawed creatures of skin and blood who were supposedly equals.

Warlord Deslian Komodan, the Komodo Dragon who wielded the awesome force that is Area 6; Warlord Ederax Rathii, the Hyena who claimed mastery of Titania; and Warlord Boltzman Gorastar, the black Panther whose infamous fist of iron was felt in Sector Z.

Warlord Andross' seat was empty.

"You are late, Makhina," said Gorastar.

"My apologies. This meeting was called at a most inconvenient time." Makhina took her appointed seat, Ederax to her left, Andross' seat to her right.

"I see the Emperor is still on Casmun," she noted.

"He has ordered the meeting proceed without him. He'll join us soon," said Deslian.

Ahh, Deslian, Makhina thought. You always saw yourself as Andross' top lieutenent. How pitifully far from the truth you are.

"This must be a matter of great import for the Emperor to allow a meeting without his presence," she said.

Gorastar cleared his throat and said, "It would appear as if we are ready for phase one."

Makhina allowed a look of puzzlement appear on her face. "Phase one was not due for another three months."

"Three months, 11 days," corrected Ederax. "Really, Makhina, I should think that your sacred logic would be more accurate."

With a voice as cold and impassive as the Machine itself, Makhina replied, "Ahh, Ederax. If only you were more sound of mind. You'd be capable of great wonders."

'My madness grants me insight," Ederax cackled. "Why, the Emperor himself is madder then I, and lo! He is ruler of a mighty Imperium!" He smirked. "And you claim logic and precision is the key to success. Ha! It failed us. Only Andross' mad genius kept us alive."

"Neither madness nor Machine," said Deslian impatiently, "will defeat the Alliance singlehandedly. We need to call upon all of our strengths and resources to win this war. Our strength is all that will help us now."

Gorastar stroked his chin thoughtfully and said, "That sounds well and good, Deslian, but let's not forget our numbers were larger the first time. We had Zonessian supplies, Macbethian weaponry, Sector X war fortesses...not to mention a completely unprepared enemy. And still we failed."

"Because of Star Fox," said Ederax, and Deslian growled at mention of the name.

"Exactly," Gorastar said. "And now, we have lost four members, many, many troops and weaponry, and most importantly, the element of surprise. We are no longer invisible to the Alliance: In the wake of Star Fox's rampage, F.O.R.C.E. insinuated itself right at our doorstep, watching everything we do. When we attack, the Fortunans will know about it. If they can beat a surprise attack, imagine what they can do to an anticipated invasion."

"So what is the Emperor's plan, then?" said Makhina. "Surely, he knows we must try something we've never used before."

A soft chuckle was heard, and all heads turned to Ederax.

Allready, this bothered Makhina. What could he know that the other Warlords, or the Machine for that matter, didn't know?

"Firstly," said the Hyena, "We must be subtle. 'The best poisons work silently,' to quote our dear Andross. Also, know that no enemy is deadlier then the enemy within."

The others were listening patiently. Ederax stood for better effect.

"The key strength of the Alliance is their organization," he said matter of factly. "They have more in common with each other then any of us have with Andross."

He grinned maniacally. "Our dear Andross, however, purchased just the remedy for that little problem from our Kronosian benefactors."

"What kind of purchase?" asked Gorastar.

"The ultimate prize, something worth more to us then any spy!"

Spy, Ederax had said. Makhina connected with the Machine, and literally became it's eyes and ears. She wanted the Machine to analyze every bit of data it could.

"How are we going to destroy the Alliance?" Makhina asked.

"The Alliance will destroy themselves!" Ederax crowed in triumph.

"You are making no sense," Deslian sneered.

"On the contrary, I make more sense then any rational mind could," the Hyena said. "We have a bio-weapon, my dear Deslian. Spectre, it is called. A marvelous creature. I have seen it myself. It is the ultimate chameleon. With but a touch, it can copy all the physical characteristics of any living being! And to make matters even more delicious, it doubles as a flawless combat weapon!"

The other Warlords murmered in surprise. Mad as Ederax was, there wouldn't be anything for the Hyena to gain by lying to them.

Ederax spread his arms in a burst of dramatic flare. "The Alliance will be faced with the worst enemy imaginable: itself! With Spectre, we can spread lies, vendettas, purges of which the system has never before seen! We, the Imperium, will feign peace, and negotiate with the Alliance, and send Spectre as an ambassador, in the guise of someone easily trusted. Then he will do his dirty work, and Ally shall war with Ally, and then-" Ederax lifted his palm and balled it into a fist for emphasis-"we crush them."

Makhina analyzed every word, every bit of data. Immediatly after Ederax ended his speech, the Machine began it's computations. What follows below is the computations of the Machine as best

can be described.

First, 5 years ago, Imperium attempts to invade with standard machinery, bio-weapons providing special support. Invasion fails, armada is crushed badly. Bolse satellite destroyed, rebuilt a year later. Since then, Andross has been dealing with the Kronosians, as well as doubling bio-weapon production. Plans for second invasion begin. Factors in computation: Andross' decision to trust Ederax with knowledge of Spectre: Failure to notify Bolse of deviation in plans: and finally, the failure of machinery in the first invasion, coupled with Andross' known preference of bio-weaponry.

<<CONCLUSION>>, said the Machine. <<ANDROSS WISHES TO CONSOLIDATE IMPERIAL POWER OVER WARLORDS INCLUDING ELIMINATION OF MACHINE>>

MAKHINA UNIT: <<WHY??>>

<<DELUSIONAL PARANOIA WITHIN ANDROSS' MENTAL STRUCTURE>><<IRRATIONALITY FACTOR 94.211 PERCENT>><<SEES MACHINE AS A DANGEROUS THREAT TO HIS POWER>>>

MACHINA UNIT: <<WHAT ARE OUR CHOICES?>>

<<MATHEMATICAL COMPUTATIONS (NON-LINEAR) SUGGEST 238 COURSES OF ACTION COVERING TIME SPAN OF 4 STANDARD MONTHS>><<3 SELECTED OPTIONS WITH HIGHEST RANGE OF SUCCESS>>

<<COURSE 1: LEAVE IMPERIUM, THREATEN TO JOIN THE ALLIANCE UNLESS SPECTRE SITUATION IS PLACED IN CONTROLLED CONDITIONS (EITHER DESTRUCTION OR ASSIMULATION INTO MACHINE)>>

<<COURSE 2: COMPLY WITH IMPERIAL PLAN AND DESTROY SPECTRE AFTER ALLIANCE HAS BEEN ELIMINATED>>

<<COURSE 3: SECRETLY SABOTAGE IMPERIAL PLAN BY ASSISTING ALLIANCE IN ELIMINATING SPECTRE>>

<<NOTE: RECOMEND THAT GORASTAR UNIT AND SECTOR Z AFFILIATED FORCES BE APPROACHED AND ASKED TO LEND ASSISTENCE IN ALL THREE COURSES>> The Machine was suggesting this because of Bolse's close friendship with Sector Z. Plus, Gorastar owed the Machine a huge favor.

MAKHINA UNIT: <<PROBABILITY THAT GORASTAR UNIT/SECTOR Z WILL COOPERATE WITH US?>>

<<CANNOT COMPUTE>><<DATA DEPENDS ON WHCIH COURSE OF ACTION TO BE CARRIED OUT>>

MAKHINA UNIT: <<WHAT DO YOU SUGGEST WE DO, MACHINE?>>

<<RECCOMEND COURSE 3>>

MAKHINA UNIT: <<EXPLAIN>>

<<COURSE 3 HAS HIGHEST PERCENTAGE OF SUCCESS (76.455543231 PERCENT) DUE TO LOWER CHANCES OF DETECTION>>

MAKHINA UNIT: <<PERCENTAGE THAT GORASTAR UNIT WILL COOPERATE WITH US IN COURSE THREE MODE?>>

<<PRECISELY 91.7654 PERCENT>>

MAKHINA UNIT: <<GO>>

<<COURSE THREE>><<ENTERING COMPUTATION>><<RESUMING NORMAL MODE>>

Makhina returned to normal. The Warlords were discussing the plan. She checked her timer and smiled. The entire computation had taken only five seconds.

CHAPTER THREE

"You do not beg the sun for mercy."

-Frank Herbert, "Dune Messiah"

"General, Sean Dire of F.O.R.C.E. wishes to see you."

General Pepper of the Cornerian Defense Force and representitive of Corneria to the Alliance of Free Worlds, looked up from his desk. On it were a stack of papers that were attached like a leech on a groloth's hide.

"Yes, send him in."

The secretary's feline figures disappeared behind the door.

General Pepper sat back and sighed. Sean Dire was one of the Alliance equivalents of a Warlord, as well as Pepper, in that they were the figureheads of their planets, although not always their governments. Personal meetings between the Alliance leaders were never a good thing unless it was in council. If Sean Dire was here, that could only mean that something was bothering the Fortunans. Something important.

In walked in one of the most powerful figures in the Alliance. Sean Dire, Commander First Class, head of F.O.R.C.E. Intelligence and Coordination. Technically, Sean Dire answered to the Queen of Fortuna, and in F.O.R.C.E. hierarchy he was third on the latter. However, his influence was greater than the other two above him, and it was acknowledged by all that Sean Dire was the leader of F.O.R.C.E.

F.O.R.C.E. stood for the Fortunan Organized Royal Command Elite. It was the monolithic beauracracy of the planet Fortuna, and it served both as the military, police, civil service group, and judiciary of Fortuna. It was a powerful organization that any member of the Alliance was eligible for, as F.O.R.C.E. was also an arm of the Free Worlds.

Presently Sean smiled as he entered, his voice laden with a heavy Irysh accent. "I hope I haven't interrupted anything," he said. "I know how busy your office is."

"To be frank, Sean, it's a living hell. Have a seat."

Sean sat down. "So," Pepper asked. "What brings you to Corneria on such short notice?"

The corners of Sean's mouth twitched. "I'm on business for the Queen," he said. "She and her advisers have some concern's we'd like to share with you."

He cut right to the point. "Pepper, the Imperium's got my people in tactical scared sh*tless, pardon my language. We're now certain that the opening stages of a second invasion is on the way."

Pepper frowned and leaned forward. "I suppose it was simply a matter of time."

"Now it's a matter of how."

"Go on."

Sean sighed. "Whatever they are planning, it's big. Thanks to the Star Fox campaign, F.O.R.C.E. was able to watch everything Andross and the Warlords do. But we don't understand what they are planning, not completely. The remaining Warlords have been gathering around Venom for very hush-hush conferences. Then the five of them, including Andross, have been making rounds all over the system. We think they are preparing their forces."

Pepper looked thoughtful. "What about the Neutrals?"

"Ever since the Neutrals left, the war is been bloody quiet. But I think the Imperium's gonna try to circumvent them all together. Maybe try for a total holocaust. It's plausible if they are desperate enough."

General Pepper thought a moment. "What exactly is it F.O.R.C.E. has been observing to worry you?"

Sean Dire handed him a halotape containing intelligence transmissions.

"Well," Sean said. "About 3 days ago, the Warlords all convened at Venom, then dispersed to their respective worlds. We been watching them, and we aren't pleased with the results. Komodan has been taking stock of the Imperial Fleet. Rathii, we know, has issued orders involving the shipment of bomber craft, while Gorastar's intelligence have been active in the system. Fenri I cannot tell ya about. None of my people would go within a million miles of that bloody Machine, and who the hell am I to blame them?

"We've never seen this much activity from them since the invasion. Back then, each Warlord was concentrating on a different piece of the plan. Macbethian industry, Sector X researd, Zonessian stockpilling, Bolsean munitions, Area 6 heavy artillery, Sector Z long range attack missiles, Titanian fighters and bombers, and Venom was running the whole show."

"But the Imperium is down to half of it's size," Pepper said, frowning.

Sean Dire leaned back. "Maybe, but that doesn't change the fact that they possess nuclear weaponry. Think of it, Pepper, they could compromise the neutrals with nukes, then swarm the Free Worlds. And if Andross is desperate enough, he'll do it."

Pepper frowned. "Is this your proffesional view?"

Sean nodded grimly. "Her Majesty is already making the motions for an emergency council of the Free Worlds."

"All right, we'll convene here on Corneria and decide our course of action. In the meantime, keep F.O.R.C.E. on alert."

Sean smiled faintly. "Leave that to me, Pepper."

CHAPTER FOUR

Is it money, is it fame?

Is it always this lame?

Is it money, is it fame?

What's in a name?

Shame

It's a crazy, crazy mixed up town

It's the rattlesnake I fear

In another place in another time

I'd be hauling trucks, my dear.

-Live, "Rattlesnake"

Once Jack Canis finished the combat exercise, he headed straight for mess hall. Damn, what a work out! He must have been out there for three hours, and way past his usual lunch time.

Outside, Solar shined brightly enough, the light made blinding by the snow covering the ground outside. It had taken Jack a long time to adjust to the extreme brightness of the planet, having been used to the dark skies of Venom.

The mess hall was almost empty; most of the F.O.R.C.E. specialoperatives had already eaten and went off to their noon training. After getting himself a meal of Cornerian pasta (F.O.R.C.E nutritional requirements stressed carbohydrates and grains), Jack took a seat over to where his friend, Grey Bracken, was sitting sipping warm Fortunan coffee.

"Surprised you had the guts to stay on Fortuna for this long, Grey," said Jack.

The grey Fox gave his wryest smile and said, "I'm surprised you have the smarts to stay in the Alliance."

Jack shrugged the subject off. He did not like to be reminded that he was once an Imperial assasin, one who answered to Gorastar himself. Jack had grown more and more disgusted with his job, and he had become resentful of the fact that none of the Imperial generals had any honor.

So Jack had finally deserted his employers, received pardon for his war crimes and had been taken in by F.O.R.C.E. Now, two years later, Jack Canis was probably one of the deadliest special operative in the employ of F.O.R.C.E. His combat prowess was reason enough for the Imperium to place Jack on the Imperial most wanted list, but his knowledge of Imperial activities made even the Warlords fearful.

The Warlords...Jack still didn't like the idea of commiting murder for a living, but knocking one of the Warlords off had a certain appeal.

Jack took a nice gulp of his pasta and said, after swallowing, "So, what's the latest news?"

Grey grinned. Like most neutral mercenaries, Grey Bracken was very knowledgeable about Imperial and Alliance activities.

"Well, the Alliance is worried something big is gonna blow soon."

"Uh-huh," Jack said, still eating. "Another invasion, right?"

"That's what I hear. And it looks like they're right, too. The Five Warlords have been rumored to be planning the opening stages as we speak."

The Jackal wiped off his mouth, and said, "What does the Neutral worlds have to say?"

"You know the answer as well as I do. The Neutrals left the Imperium for a reason. They don't wish to join it again, unless reforms are made. And Katina never was an Imperial world, so they won't be too happy either."

Jack stared at his now empty plate, wishing that he had time to get a second helping.

"I take it your not to worried about this," Grey said.

"I'm not," Jack said, pushing his plate away. "Look, Grey. The Warlords aren't stupid. They know damn well that they cannot hope to start an invasion without F.O.R.C.E. or the Sector Y Inspection Corps knowing about it. And if a nine-world Imperium can be defeated by an unprepared six-world Alliance, what do you think will happen to a five on five match with an enemy

who knows it will be attacked?"

Grey chuckled. "Some people aren't so sure. Like you said, the Warlords aren't stupid. They won't try the same thing twice. I should know. I come from a former Imperial world."

"You never worked for the Imperium, Grey."

"No, but the people I work for did. That's quite enough."

A voice came in over the mess hall intercom. "Mr. Canis, your presence is needed in Commander Dire's office right away."

"Great," Jack muttered.

Grey raised an eyebrow. "Maybe I should get you funeral service paid for?"

"Very funny." With that, Jack Canis stood up and left mess hall.

 

CHAPTER FIVE

 

"The Imperium suffered from one of the most fatal flaws any organization, be it a nation, a corporation, or what have you could possess; blind arrogance. The first invasion failed for this reason. The second time, Andross had yet to learn his lesson. Though he expected a few Warlords to oppose Spectre operation, he vastly underestimated the resources of the Bolsean Machine. Andross believed that no matter what, none of the Warlords could defeat him. Yet, two did. From there, the Imperium plunged into chaos, and we all know the terrible events that followed."

-From Historical Analysis of the Kronos War. (Written some twenty years after the events in this story takes place)

The sleek, black personal transport landed in a fury of steam and engine noise in the huge docking bay of the Bolse satelite. The transport, a small eight-person shuttle, was emblazened with Imperial emblems crossed with markings of the Sector Z regime.

The shuttle doors opened, and out stepped four elite guards in their dark orange uniforms, and a black cloaked figure wearing the badge of a Warlord.

A Bolsean lieutenant wearing a badge identifying himself as "Connors O'Rourke," and dressed in the standard silver and black of Bolse, stepped on to the terminal and kneeled in the stance used to greet a Warlord from a different Imperial world. "Lord Gorastar," said Connors. "Welcome to Bolse."

Warlord Boltzman Gorastar nodded, signalling for the lieutenant to stand. "Where is Makhina?" asked the Warlord.

The Meerkat pointed down a hallway leading from the docking bay. "My men shall escort you there, Lord Gorastar."

Without a word the Tyrant stepped off the landing pad and started down the hallway, where a troop of Bolsean guard accompanied him and his own elite guards. Gorastar knew it wasn't a good idea to be placed at someone else's mercy like this, but one guard of elite rank could easily dispatch ten of these Bolsean escorts, and Gorastar knew a thing or two about combat himself, so treachery would be pointless and reckless for Makhina. Beside, what could she possibly gain?

Gorastar smiled wickedly. Ruling a nation can teach you a lot of things.

The black Panther reflected on his long rule. It had began when he had led a bloody revolution againts Sector Z's ancient enemy, the planet Fortuna. After 2 years of battling the royal Fortunan Army, he grasped victory and declared himself Overlord of Sector Z. The Alliance recognized the Sector's independence shortly afterword.

The early years of his reign had been good to him. Sector Z grew strong, developed a healthy economy, and for the most part Gorastar was well loved by the people. They respected him, and in turn he treated them well.

Then pirates invaded the Sector, and from there, the nation was thrown into a state of chaos. Gorastar had declared martial law to preserve order, but it was too late. The pirates had infiltrated the Council, the Executive command, everything.

Desperate, Gorastar had appealed to the Alliance for help, but the cursed Fortunans, still resentful of Gorastar, led a slanderous campaign to ensure that Sector'Z's plight fell on

deaf ears.

The Warlord closed his eyes at the memory. It had been the most painful time in his life. He would have left the Alliance right then and there, but that would have made matters worse. Just

when it had looked like the end of Gorastar's fledgling nation, help arrived from a most unusual place.

The newly created Bolse satellite, which had been nothing more then a outpost on an artificial asteroid at the time, offered to lend the Machine's computational ability to deduce exactly

who in the Executive council was loyal and who was not. It apparantly had had troubles with the space pirates, and it asked nothing in return from Gorastar save that he would do anything

in his power to aid the Machine in the future.

Gratefully, Gorastar had accepted the implants, and in the course of the next few years, Gorastar's newfound abilities had allowed him to determine who was loyal, and who had betrayed him.

With that, Gorastar and those of his agents still loyal to him formulated a plan. The Overlord called an emergency meeting, and all Council members had to attend. The Council's official

reason had been to formulate a plan to destroy the pirates, but the real reason was something better.

When all the members had entered, Gorastar was sitting in his chair of office, sipping wine, smiling amiably and bidding his "dear friends" to enter. When the last of the Council members

had stepped into the chambers, the Council doors slammed shut. Gorastar's elite guards had immediatly crashed through the chamber windows, while the remaining loyal Council members drew

blades hidden in their tunics. Gorastar sat, simply watching the traitors' execution with the same smile on his face he used to bid them enter. Ahh, such a feeling that was.

After that, Gorastar's agents all over the Sector hunted down national citizens who were conspiring with the space pirates. All had been given trial, some had been found innocent (even

the best spies made mistakes) and most had been found guilty, but no one knew what was really happening until all the traitors had died in a public execution by firing squad. Gorastar had then addressed his horrified nation, explaining what had happened, and promptly he had declared war on the pirates.

It was during that systematic witch-hunt that Gorastar earned the nickname "Tyrant". It revolted him to hear it. After all, he did only what he had to.

Andross, on the other hand..........

Months later, the Alliance had sent forces to assist Sector Z, despite the loud protests from Fortuna. Gorastar was back in control. But his revenge was not yet finished.

Years later, when the Imperium formed, Gorastar gladly joined Andross' regime, under the condition that he was allowed to keep his form of government. Andross agreed, although only at the urgings of Bolse.

The Warlord's mind returned to the present as the Bolsean escort stopped at a guarded door. Connors O'Rourke gestured to it, saying, "Lady Fenri awaits your presence, Lord Gorastar."

Gorastar nodded, and the sentries stepped back as the Warlord and his guards entered.

Inside Makhina stood, her profile facing the entrance. She was looking up at the vast array of supercomputers assembled in front of her. Gorastar recognized it at once.

The Machine.

The Warlord walked toward Makhina, coming to a halt along side of her. Makhina did not move a muscle, saying only, "Magnificent, is it not?"

"Impressive," Gorastar said dryly.

Makhina turned and made a slight grin. "You owe your continued existence to the Machine. I'd show a bit more appreciation."

"Like the Machine, and like everything else, I simply did what I had to survive. I don't need to have my judgement clouded by gratitude."

"Spoken like a true Bolsean," Makhina said.

A moment of silence followed. Finally, Gorastar turned to Makhina and said, "Why have you summoned me here, Makhina? And why are you taking measures to keep this meeting a secret from the other Warlords, including the Emperor?"

"The same reason you are," said Makhina. "Remember, your spies are efficient, but our logic is just as potent."

"Why don't you humor me with the reason I'm here?"

Makhina laughed. "All right, you remember the Spectre plan, do you not?"

Gorastar's face darkened. The Imperium had decided against open invasion. Instead they would fake an uprising within Imperial territory, staged in such away the Alliance would be easily decieved when the Warlords petition the Allied worlds for peace. Once the revolt was "put down", peace would continue, but the Imperium would plant Spectre in a place of power in Corneria, and begin sowing lies and dissension. What bothered Gorastar was what his spies were telling him about Andross' plans for the other Warlords. Andross wanted the Imperium for himself, they said, and once the Imperium ruled the system, any Warlord who refused to stand down would be elimenated by Spectre. Not even the Machine could accuratly deduce what guise Spectre was posing as. If the Machine can't see it coming, Gorastar's spies certainly couldn't either.

"You mistrust Andross' intentions, I see," Makhina said. "You would never willingly step down once the Imperium has won the war, as Andross would wish. Why would you, when you have you sights set on the Imperial throne yourself?"

Gorastar tightened his fists. He had told no one of his plan to dethrone Andross! Not even his closest, most trusted advisors were given any hint! And Makhina knows?

"Yes, Gorastar," said Makhina, as if she was reading his mind. "Now, we don't dislike the idea of you ruling the Imperium. Quite the contrary, we think you'd serve our purposes well from the throne. You see, Andross no longer considers the Machine an asset anymore. Oh he thinks he is so clever, having his psychotherapists treat him into acting like he still needs us. He was actually succesful, for the first couple of years. But only Spectre can hide from the Machine for long, and that, coupled with Andross' desire to replace us, is why we must destroy it."

"How do I know this for sure? I cannot fathom your Machine's intentions. How can I trust you?"

"Believe me, Gorastar," Makhina said coldly. "If we wanted you dead, you'd have never made it past the door."

Gorastar considered this. "So you want my help in destroying Spectre. All right, I'll help you, but how does Bolse expect to accomplish this?"

"We secretly lend assistance to the Alliance."

"Are you mad?!" She couldn't possibly be serious!

"No, but our Emperor is. He is using us to defeat his primary opponent; the Alliance. Once he's done, he'll dispose the other Warlords, and you'll lose your shot at the throne."

Gorastar started to pace around angrily. "I don't like it. They sold me out in sheer spite; why should I help them?"

A faint grin returned to Makhina's lips. "You said it yourself. You do what you have to to survive. That is what's at stake here. With the Machine destroyed, you'd never stand a chance againts Andross, even with your spies."

"I know that!" he snapped.

Brooding silence. Then: "If we are to assist them, we must do it quietly. Obviously no one in the Imperium should know, but I don't want any Alliance leaders, especially not F.O.R.C.E., to know either. I don't want them using our assisting them as leverage against us."

"We have already considered that, Gorastar."

"Wait. Why don't we try to rally the other Warlords against Andross? Surely Ederax and Deslian see the danger posed by Spectre."

Makhina shook her head. "Deslian is fanatically loyal to Andross. That Lizard would jump of a cliff if Andross commanded. Ever since the Star Fox campaign, Deslian doubted his own judgement, and does nothing without Andross' approval. He cannot be trusted to help us."

"Allright, but Ederax..."

Makhina looked down and said "Ederax...is unfathonable."

"Yes, but why-" Gorastar blinked suddenly, then said. "You mean, you do not know? The Machine cannot compute?"

Makhina shook her head. "It's not like Ederax's invisible to us. It's just that Ederax cannot be factored into the Machine's computations the same way as everyone else. His thought patterns

are startilingly chaotic. What we do know is, he is very cunning, and therefore dangerous, because there is no telling what he'll do. He has learned things that neither your spies or the Machine's computations have not. We should watch our step when concerning him. If he finds out, the Machine's computation would be negligable as to how we proceed."

Gorastar nodded.

With that, the two Warlords discussed their daring plan.

CHAPTER SIX

 

"The difference between a madman and a visionary is success."

-Ederax Rathii, Warlord of Titania.

As Jack entered Commander Dire's office, he was surprised to see that instead of the Fortunan Cabinet, the five representitives from the Alliance Worlds were sitting around the table.

"Have a seat, Jack," said Sean, gesturing to an empty chair in front of the table.

Jack complied, then said, "Uh, I can assure you my bills were just lost in the mai-"

"This isn't about your overdue taxes, Jack," said Sean, with great amusement. The other Allied officials chuckled.

"Oh."

A moment of silence past. Then Sean Dire said, "Jack, you're probably the only high-ranking Imperial agent whose joined us before. That means you'd have a better idea of what the Imperium's up to then any of us."

Jack nodded, and said, "True, but F.O.R.C.E. espionage is more

accurate."

"Our spies can watch Imperial movements, but that doesn't mean we understand them. We know what goes on in the Imperium, but we have trouble deducing why."

"I see. What do you need me for?"

The Allied officials exchanged glances, and General Pepper of Corneria said, "We have learned of a violent uprising occuring in the Imperium."

"An uprising?"

Pepper nodded. "Over the past twelve days, we have been witnessing violent activity in the Imperium."

"What kind of activity?" Jack asked.

The Prime Minister of Sector Y, a scholerly looking Owl with the stereotypical monocle, shuffled some papers and handed them to Jack.

Jack read through them briefly, then looked up. "Could I just have the shortened version, please?"

The Owl replied, "First, a huge riot occured at the Venomian capital. A great deal of looting. Many Imperial propaganda posters were burned. The Emperor's mansion itself was even attacked. Then a bomb was set off in a Sector Z police station. A whole fleet of Invaders recently assaulted Titania, destroying four spaceports there. A whole fleet of of Dorisbys and Dreadnoughts turned against the Area 6 armada. And just three hours ago, a strike force attacked the Bolse satellite. The Neutral Worlds have denied any responsibility."

Jack stared at them in shock.

Sean said quietly, "The five Warlords have been convening for the past four days now. Right now, Titania is under martial law, and Area 6 has been classified as demiliterized zone."

Jack couldn't believe it. He could only stare at Sean in silence.

The Meteo Rebulic Senator leaned forward. "Think Jack," the Mole said. "Think about what this means."

Jack replied, "The Imperium is wide open."

"Not completely," Pepper said. "The Neutral worlds still resent the Alliance. They won't allow a full-scale attack, and we have no intention of entering hostilities with them."

"Where do I come into this?" Jack said.

Sean stood up and looked out of the office window. "Now that an oppurtunity to end the war has presented itself, the Alliance must be cautious. We don't want to screw this one up. We'd like your imput on how to proceed."

"Depends on what you want."

Sean turned around and said, "We just want to put an end to the war. For good."

Jack thought this over, and said, "If I were any judge, I'd send a diplomatic courier to speak with the five Warlords, and only the five. We confront them with what the Alliance knows, and offer terms for a truce, under the condition that the cease hostilities and rejoin the Alliance, gaining full benfits and

protection as members."

Many of the leaders nodded. If the Imperial worlds rejoined the Alliance, the neutrals would have no choice but to do the same.

"Is there any chance of treachery on the Imperial end?" asked Pepper.

"Certainly," Jack said. "That is the danger of any bargain. However, if these reports are to be believed, the Imperium is at it's knees. They'll have no choice but to accept our terms. Once they do, they won't be able to turn against us again."

The others nodded. Sean waved for Jack to be dismissed, saying: "Keep this meeting quiet until the Alliance contacts the Imperium. Can't go about raising false hopes."

"Of course."

 

CHAPTER SEVEN

 

"Politics is much like a game of chess. Move a piece here, move a piece there. The only difference is, sometimes the pieces bleed."

-Andross, Emperor of the Venomian Imperium.

 

"Are you sure this such a good idea, Fox? I mean, I don't know about this."

"Slippy, you wuss."

"Knock it off, Falco," said Fox, irritably. "You too, Slippy." They were flying to a rendezvous point near Sector X. Pepper had hired them to recieve the Imperial peace delegation, and the entire team was on the edge. From there, the Star Fox team was to escort the Imperial delegation to Corneria to negotiate a permanent peace treaty.

Fox hadn't liked the idea of placing the conference at Corneria, but Pepper had assured him that there were some in the Empire who felt the same way. It would be a more convincing gesture of good will, Pepper said, if we held the conference at Corneria.

So much for good will, Fox thought.

ROB64 suddenly came onto the arwing moniters. "Imperial Black Talon cruiser approaching."

"I see it," Fox replied. "Ok, boys," he said. "Remember why we are here. For once, they mean us no harm. Falco, if you so much as even look at them the wrong way, I'm docking you half of your share of credits, understood?"

"Yeah, yeah," Falco grumbled.

"The Venomians are probably waiting for our signal," said Peppy.

Fox opened the hailing frequency and said, "This is Star Fox. We have been instructed to escort you you to Corneria for the peace conference. On behalf of the Alliance of Free Worlds, we welcome you to Allied Space."

The moniter flickered on as the Black Talon returned the hail. "This is Kakaze. Our thanks to the Alliance for their hospitality."

Fox stiffened slightly. The face on the hailing screen was the Warlord Boltzman Gorastar, the so-called "Tyrant." Like all the Warlords, he was feared amongst the Alliance and their allies, and like all the Warlords, his name was seldom mentioned except in frightened whispers.

Still, Fox's instructions made were. Surpressing a violent sickening feeling climbing up his throat, Fox said. "Would you like to join us for dinner at 19:30 hours, as guests of the Alliance?" God, that felt awful.

"We'd be honored."

Now Fox knew he was going to be sick.

* * *

A few hours later, the Star Fox team was assembled at the rear docking bay, awaiting for the Imperial shuttle to land. Falco was most unhappy. "Why the hell are we inviting them to dinner? Have you lost you mind?"

Fox, who was silently asking himself the same questions, said sternly, "This is a peace mission, Falco. We must show them some respect, and besides, our salary is based on our conduct towards them."

"Yeah, but inviting them to dinner!?"

"Falco, shut your trap or your going to see whole digits vanish off of your next paycheck! I've had enough."

Falco made to respond curtly when the shuttle bay doors opened. An Invader III which was outfitted as a shuttle transport, made its approach through the airlock. As it passed the pressure field, the shuttle bay doors closed.

The craft landed, and opened its forward hatch. Out stepped four Jaguar guards, wearing the red uniform of the Elite Guard. The Jaguars parted to each side to allow the Warlord and his diplomatic staff to pass.

Fox studied the one chosen to represent the Imperium for the peace conference. Warlord Gorastar was a black Panther, tall and broad shouldered, giving him an aura of authority. He certainly carried himself as one of importance. He wore a flowing black cloak, with the insignia stating his rank as a Warlord emblazened with the Imperial symbol for Sector Z. Behind him were other individuals; a Roadrunner wearing the crescent Titanian emblem, a Tiger wearing the standard Bolsean insignia, a Rat wearing a less ornate version of Gorastar's Sector Z emblem, and a grinning Meerkat wearing the standard of Area 6.

Gorastar stepped forward, his steely green eyes locking with Fox's.

"Lord Gorastar," Fox said. "Welcome aboard the Great Fox."

"My thanks, Fox McCloud. It is an honor to meet you."

"The honor's all ours," replied Fox. Falco rolled his eyes at this, prompting Fox to shoot a stern glance at Falco's direction. Fox turned around, and saw that Gorastar saw the whole exchange, apparantly with great amusement. "Forgive my teammates," Fox started to apologize, but the Warlord waved it away. "Pay it no mind. This is not circumstances that warrior such as us are accustomed too, after all."

"How tolerant of you, Warlord Gorastar."

Gorastar ignored the remark and introduced the four diplomats waiting behind him. "This Samuel Rodante, my chief of staff;" The Rat bowed his head at the introduction; "This is Rashid

Khan, militery liason for the Bolse satellite;" The Tiger nodded respectfully; "Avi Runner, Titanian Foreign Affairs Director;" The Roadrunner smiled; "and last but not least, Simon Karo,

Brigadier of Area 6." The Meerkat grinned. "Hi! Nice to meet you."

Fox felt somewhat relieved that the delegates were at least willing to make an effort. Fox reminded himself that these Imperials were also Lylatian, same as him and the rest of his team. Fox also noted that the diplomats were surprisingly young for their positions, all of them except for Rodante roughly Fox's age. Rodante looked to be around Peppy's age.

Fox introduced his team, and gave the Imperials a brief tour of the Great Fox. Ice had yet to be broken, but it seemed that the tensions had eased somewhat. It was going to be a long trip to Corneria.

CHAPTER EIGHT

 

"The key to any succesful peace agreement is simple. Work in the best interests of all who are involved, keep a good hygene, and most importantly, make sure you serve damn good food at the dinner table."

-Morgan Dolphus, Aquan diplomat.

 

The dining hall wasn't much in the way of luxury, but it was sufficient enough to pass as a place of some finery. Boltzman Gorastar suspected that the the hall, like most other rooms

in the Great Fox, would be a complete mess when no special guest were around. Nonetheless, the Great Fox was certainly interesting, though the tour of the craft was akwardly brief. It was still an uncomfortable notion for both the Star Fox team and the Imperial diplomats to be interacting in a peaceful manner.

Gorastar shook his head. How sad it was that the whole peace process was a sham; not even the diplomats knew what the Emperor's plan was, except for Samuel. He wasn't supposed to know, but Gorastar informed him anyway. Samuel would be of greater use to Gorastar if he knew the whole story, the better that the Spectre plan could fail.

Still, the peace conference had to go forward. If it didn't, destroying Spectre would be impossible without exposure, and then all of Gorastar's plans to become Emperor would go straight down the toilet.

They all sat at the table. The droid called ROB64 entered the room with specially prepared meals, consisting of Aquan seafood, Cornerian bread rolls, and Titanian spices. The big three tools

of the trade for a succesful diplomatic meal.

ROB64 placed the meals with the chracteristic methodicalness of droids; unlike the Bolsean Cybers, droids were narrow in their mentallity, almost unable to think for themselves, following thought patterns built in at a precise level. Makhina would have laughed out loud at their inferiority.

The all proceeded to eat, yet an uneasy silence hovered over the meal.

It occured to Gorastar that it would be a good idea to somehow break this tension, in order to to convince his colleagues back home of his support for the Spectre plan, and to take some chills of his own nerves.

Fox must have gotten the same idea, because before Gorastar could think of some way to ease the tension, Fox asked, "So, Lord Gorastar. Have you ever been to Corenria before?

Gorastar smiled pleasently enough and said, "When one has been in power for ten years, he's likely been all over the system. Of course, it has been near to eight years since I have set

foot on the planet."

"I see," Fox replied. "Do you travel much?"

"When matters demand that I do so. Of course, there have been days when I wish the Emperor had outlawed alarm clocks."

There was a chuckle from all around.

Falco cleared his throat and said: "Lord Gorastar, I was wondering-" Fox shot a warning glance to Falco's direction- "why were you chosen to, uh, represent Andross?"

Gorastar laughed and said, "Because I'm the only Warlord who isn't insane, mechanical, or doesn't have a disgusting eating habit." Everyone at the table had a good laugh, except for Rashid, the Bolsean, who just cleared his throat. "Present company accepted, of course," said Gorastar, smiling.

"You're a Cyber?" Falco asked the Tiger.

Rashid a gave a cool grin and said, "As a matter of fact, I am indeed a registered Bolsean cyborg."

Gorastar frowned. Makhina had said nothing about sending a Cyber along on the mission.

Falco continued his query. "So they make models that eat?"

Rashid, who seemed to be enjoying the subject sat back and said, "Oh, yes. All biological functions can be synthesized, but they often aren't. Bolsean Cybers usually have no need to do so, other then for entertaining guests. We like to interact with non-Cybers, you see, and we prefer that our mechanical aspects not get in the way of interaction. Still, some functions are necessary. We aren't true machines because our brain cells are completely living. Of course, we have "back-up" brains, which our basically like computer chips. Thus, we still need to breathe

and eat at some point, just not nearly as often as a non-cybernetic organism."

Slippy joined in and asked, "Why are you a Cyber, then?"

The Tiger smiled tolerantly. "All non-civilians become Cybers in Bolse. We administer the satellite and the computer systems. Because of the complexity of the computer systems, we have to

interact with the computers more closely then most. It's quite useful. Not only do we have enhanced bodies, we are apart of a semi-collective system, which is convenient for communication between Cybers, and interaction with the Machine."

"I see. What is it like? I mean, what does being apart of the Machine do?"

The Tiger thought a moment, then said: "The Machine is like a database connected to all of our CPU's, I suppose. It can distribute it's data streams to all connected to it, allowing us access to it's files and other functions. It's basically a supercomputer that we can access from almost anywhere by thought alone. We can also send our thought patterns to the

Machine, including memory and what we see, hear, touch, and so on for the Machine to record, allowing others to access them. A very useful function, actually."

"Is it true that the Machine can take over the mind of a Cyber?" asked Falco.

Rashid turned to Falco and replied, "I've heard that it has happened, but the Machine prefers to be a front seat passenger and observer to one's mind. If the Machine assumes control of

a Cyber, it cannot access any other, although a high-ranking Cyber could conceivably enter a limited two-way mental conversation. Of course, the conversation would have to be simple and vague."

"Interesting."

"Oh, yes. After all, you have heard of 'computations', yes?"

All present nodded. The Machine's ability for deducing almost anything by means of mathematics was well known, even to the Alliance.

"What I've always wondered," said Avi, the Titanian, "is how the computations work? I mean, I've worked for the Imperium for most of my career, but I've never learned exactly how it works."

Rashid shook his head. "I don't even know exactly how it works. Cybers like myself are only messengers. We supply the Machine with data, and it makes it's computations from there. If it so chooses, it will give us the resulting data gleaned from the computations, but we never interact with the process itself."

Fox asked, "Isn't it true some high-ranking Cybers can make computations?"

Rashid nodded. "Lady Fenri, and some Cybers near her station, can make basic computations. For something more complex, they can work along side of the Machine, in a mental conversation."

Gorastar looked to Avi. "I thought lord Rathii told you something of how the Machine works."

Avi rolled her eyes and said, "With all due respect, Lord Gorastar, we both know that lord Rathii hasn't given anyone, ever a straight answer."

Gorastar shrugged. He noticed that some assembled at the table had shuddered slightly at mention of Warlord Rathii. The conversation eventually went on to descriptions of home, small talk, the sort of things that Gorastar was content just to sit back and observe.

ROB64 entered the room and said, "Warlord Gorastar, you have a priority-2 signal waiting for you."

Gorastar turned to the others and asked where he could take the message, and Fox directed him to the guest quarters.

* * *

A few minutes later, Makhina's image was on the view screen. Behind her was not the steel Labyrinth of Bolse, but rather a desert stretch at what must have been twilight hours. In all probability, the call was from Titania.

Makhina gave a wry smile. "Enjoying your trip, Boltzman?"

"As well as to be expected, Makhina. I do hope this is a codedchannel."

"It is."

Gorastar nodded. Good. He could ask her then why she had sent a Cyber along with the diplomats.

"I suppose you know why I've called," Makhina said.

Gorastar slitted his eyes. "Sending a Cyber without telling me is rather dangerous if you wish to keep me convinced of your intentions."

"We would have told you, but there didn't seem to be any time."

"Well, get on with it."

Makhina narrowed her eyes and said, "Andross has placed Spectre among your diplomats."

Gorastar stiffened. The fur on the back of his neck stood, and his artificial left hand began to feel sore. "Who?" he demanded.

"We have deduced that Avi was Spectre, while Rashid was describing our beloved Machine network."

Gorastar relaxed slightly. "I told one of the diplomats about our plans."

"Samuel?"

"Who else would I trust with that information?"

Makhina scowled. "You're damn lucky that Andross didn't choose Rodante for replacement by Spectre."

"Why is Spectre here? Does Andross suspect?"

"Not likely. He'd have replaced Samuel instead."

"Then why?"

Makhina paused for a moment, then said, "We're certain he's just trying to test Spectre's effectiveness. He neglected to tell you to see if a Warlord could be fooled. I certainly was. We only found out by chance. Anyhow, Andross seems confident now that if you're fooled, then he could use Spectre to depose us from power."

"Damn it," Gorastar swore. "Does Ederax know?"

Makhina sighed. Gorastar got the impression that that was precisely the question she didn't want to hear.

"We still need to make some more computations. So far, the data suggest that he doesn't, but then, who could tell anyway?"

The Panther shook his head. "Then he doesn't know. He wouldn't be pleased to hear that Avi is not on the diplomatic team."

Makhina cocked her head. "Why?"

Gorastar looked up. "My spies say she is very close to Ederax. As in on a personal level. She is one of his closest confidents. He is even going to name Avi as a successor, or so my agents

assure me."

Makhina grinned slightly. "This might work to are advantage, then."

Gorastar blinked. "How?"

"Because the Machine yeilded another piece of information. I came to Titania to see if it was true. I managed to trace Avi's movements, and I ended up here, in the desert."

"And what did you find?"

"The real Avi."

"Excellent. Is she with you?"

Makhina glanced off-screen and said. "Yes, you could say that."

"May I speak to her?"

"I'm afraid that's not possible."

"Why?"

Makhina moved the holo-camera to show Avi Runner herself. Gorastar's blood went cold.

"Avi, I'm afraid, is dead."

CHAPTER NINE

 

"Rage...so uncontrolled and blind, it can do you more ill then good. A clever man would transform his rage and anger into fuel for his plots to exact his revenge."

-Leon Powalski, Star Wolf pilot.

Warlord Ederax Rathii stormed into his office, where two advisors were waiting. One of them started to say, "Lord Rathii, are you alri-"

"SILENCE!" the Hyena roared as he smashed his fist onto a stool, breaking it in half. The advisors started in surprise.

The Warlord stood, eyes closed, and became still. How dare he? Ederax thought. How dare Andross murder poor Avi?

One of the advisors, a Hyena named Rolant Aneyh, asked, "My lord, what troubles you?"

Ederax's eyes snapped open and locked on to Rolant with a gaze of a hungry shark approaching his meal. Rolant took a step backward.

Ederax spoke in his most blood-curdling tone, "Avi is dead. Murdered."

Both of the advisors eyes widened. The killer must be found and executed! Only an attempt at the Warlord's life could be a worse offense.

"My lord," the other advisor, Jinx Carr, a Vulture, said. "You have our assurances that the killer will be found and executed in due course."

"Found?!!" Ederax shouted. "Exececuted!?! HAH! The killer is already known to me!"

Jinx and Rolant stepped forward, not daring a breath.

"My succesor," Ederax raged, "was murdered by Imperial hands! Sanctioned by Andross! And now Spectre sits at her place!!"

The two advisors were horrified. And also very afraid for their own lives, for there was no telling what Ederax would do next in his rage.

Ederax replayed the events over the last few hours in his mind with near perfect precision.

* * *

Earlier that very morning, Ederax recieved a call from one of his sweeper teams in the desert. The team captain was very disturbed and confused, not to mention deadly terrified at having to be the one to inform Ederax of Avi's demise.

Ederax's nerves froze, and he had said coldly, "That is impossible, commander. Avi is on her way to Corneria."

"My Lord," the frightened commander said, "I could scarecly believe it myself. We checked her dental records, retina scan, fingerprints, every possible way to confim her identity, and out of a dozen of these, they all came up positive."

Ederax suppressed the feeling of hideous rage and then said, "If you are mistaken, commander, be glad that you won't be flayed alive."

From there, the commander took Ederax to see the body, and analyze all the reports. Only then did the Hyena let his fury loose, causing the entire sweeper team to run as far as their feet could carry. Then Ederax got another surprise.

Warlord Fenri had been standing at the doorway, waiting for Ederax to finish destroying the room.

"You must learn to control that, Ederax," she had said. "It

could be your undoing."

"What do you want, Makhina?" Ederax replied coldly.

"What I want is unimportant. The real question is what do you want, Ederax?"

Ederax slitted his eyes. "Neither you nor your damned Machine could provide me with what I want."

"We know enough to make you an offer, Ederax. We know what plans you had for Avi. Do you really think you could hide all your secrets from the Machine?"

Ederax laughed like the Hyena he was, and said, "Oh, certainly! After all," he said oily, "I think you give too much credit to your holy Machine and not enough to Boltzman's spies!"

Let her chew on that! Ederax had thought.

Makhina had frowned at that, and Ederax could see that it was she who was at a disadvantage.

"We know who murdered Avi," said the Wolf.

Ederax had slitted his eyes at that, and replied, "Be careful what you say next, Makhina."

She had begun to pace around the room, conferring, no doubt, with her sacred Machine. Ederax's interest had been piqued; somehow, Avi's death sparked a community of interest involving

the Cybers and Sector Z, as evidence by the apparant trading of information between the two.

"You are probably aware," said Makhina after a moment's thought, "That most people believe Avi is on her way to Corneria with Botlzman and the rest."

Immediatly Ederax understood and growled, "Spectre?"

Makhina nodded.

"Why?" he demanded.

"Simple, Ederax. Andross wishes to use Spectre dispose us, and claim our worlds for himself, once the Alliance had been crushed. Killing Avi served two purposes; ridding you of any successors, and planting Spectre in the diplomatic team."

Ederax had turned around. The truth was, he knew what Andross' plan was already. The Hyena had worked out a deal with Andross, promising that he would step down if Avi would be allowed to succeed, once the Alliance fell. It had actually worked to his advantage: Once removed of the burden of the matters of state, Ederax could devote more time to operation Haven, and stil have Titania secure. If Makhina was telling the truth, which logic said she was, then Andross had turned his back on the bargain.

"How did you know this, Makhina? And why are you telling me?"

Makhina hesitated a fraction of a second and said, "We deduced Andross' intentions once Spectre was revealed to us. Myself and Boltzman have been conspiring to sabotauge the Spectre plan. With Avi dead, we think you'll be willing to help us. As to how we found out, we deduced that Spectre was posing as a diplomat after a bit of carelessness on Andross' part. We were able to single out Avi because on of the diplomats is a Cyber. We guessed that Avi would have to be dead as a result, and after tracing her movements, we managed to locate her body in the desert."

Ederax had remained silent.

"Well?" Makhina asked.

"Give me time to consider your offer." Then Ederax left the room and headed to his office.

* * *

Ederax's mind returned to the present. Rolant and Jinx stepped forward, and Rolant asked, "My lord, how do you wish to proceed?"

Ederax turned to Rolant and grabbed him by the throat. Rolant uttered a yelp of surprise as he was forced up againts the wall.

The Warlord hissed, "Listen carefully, Rolant. As head of my security, it is your duty to safeguard all officials. I am very, very dissapointed in you lack of vigilance in guarding poor

Avi. That said, I'll let you keep your job and life, for Spectre is no ordinary enemy, and I may still have use for you yet. Do you understand?"

"Y-yes, my Lord." Rolant gasped.

Ederax released his grip, but as Rolant started to step away, the Warlord pushed him back to the wall and said, "In the morning, Rolant, I leave for Venom to press our rights there. As for Spectre, I want you to assemble two teams of the finest assasins in your employ. I want one team to go to Corneria to eliminate Spectre. You know the drill; no one finds out who did it. Correct?"

"Yes, sir. B-but what of the other team?"

"Dress them in Elite Guard uniforms, and have them accompany me to Venom. The rest, you leave to me."

Rolant bowed. Ederax waved his dismissal, and Rolant and Jinx started to leave, when the Warlord spoke, "Rolant?"

"Yes, my lord?"

Ederax locked gazes with the other Hyena. "Fail me this time, Rolant, and I'll have your backside hanging on my wall."

"Y-yes, my Lord." Rolant bowed, then left.

 

CHAPTER TEN

 

"I lost my soul when I fell to Earth

My planet's called me to the void of my birth

The time has come for me to kill this game

Now open wide and say my name!"

-Monster Magnet, "Space Lord"

Jack Canis stepped into the darkly lit tavern , glancing up at the sign proclaiming the place to be "The Silver Arwing Tavern", clearly meant to draw pilots and mercenaries for business. In truth, most military pilots avoided places like these, since the average commanding officer disaproved of mercenary hangouts.

But mercenaries hung out here all the time, and Jack still considered himself an independent agent who was in the employ of F.O.R.C.E. but not quite a member. In the same way that Star Fox, while not part of the Cornerian fleet, were regular helpers of the Alliance.

Inside it was almost empty. Of course, Jack thought. Most mercenaries are at the conference, attending security matters.

Actually, the conferance had not yet started, else Jack would not have been here, but the delegates had arrived a few hours previous, and the conferance was ready to start.

But first, he needed some information.

Grey Bracken was sitting at the bar, looking up at the holovid up above featuring the evening news. Right now, the bored looking Kangeroo anchorman was describing the arrival of the Imperial

peace delegation, and so on, so forth, blah, blah.

Jack pulled up a stool next to Grey, who just continued to stare at the Holoscreen.

"I've never seen you this bored before, Grey. I'm starting to worry."

Grey didn't look back. He just said dryly, "This conference is starting to be old news. Everybody is convinced that there is no way it can fail. Both sides want peace too bad." He shook

his head disdainfully. "Most people just don't know that there are some powerful individuals who don't approve. And people also keep forgetting that old habits die hard."

"What do the Neutrals think of all this?"

Grey finally took his eyes off of the Holoscreen and said to Jack, "They'll stay independent until the last possible second. After that, they'll return to the Alliance, although not all

at once, and they'll feign reluctance to get as many favors as possible. Basically, Jack, it comes down to politics. That's how this all began, and that's how it will end. I said it when the war started, and here we are."

Jack shook his head. "The war didn't get started because of politics, Grey. It was petty revenge. Andross was exiled, and he declared war on the Alliance out of sheer spite."

Grey rolled his eyes and said, "Of course it was politics that started this war. Look, Andross was exiled by politics, because he was trying to gain power. Andross used politics to build his Imperium. The Warlords became involved because of politics. I could go on. The point is, politics are the only things that matter in this conference. That's what this conference is all

about. If the leaders of the Lylatian worlds ever sought peace for peace's sake, this war would never even have started. But those with power put their interest on the top, and sometimes it coincides with other people's needs, sometimes not."

Jack shook his head and smiled. "Well, the end result, at least, is a good thing. The war's over, and things can return to normal."

Grey made a face and said, "Who said the end of this war is for the better?"

"How do you mean?"

"Well, it's a statistical probability that Andross and the Warlords will keep their current positions. And that means trouble. And then there are the worlds and nations beyond Lylat,

like Iria, Thundria, Kronos, Lupine, Vulpin, and many, many others, who became involved in the war at some point. And not one word from them, nothing."

"What makes you so sure?"

"Because the Warlords will refuse to abdicate for the sake of peace. It is not their goal. The Alliance knows that it would advance it's goals better if peace was achieved. Therefore,

in the interest of politics, they are willing to kiss the Warlords in the ass, to some degree. As for the Third Worlds, the Alliance doesn't want them at the conference because they represent a challenge to the Alliance's power. The Imperium doesn't want them either. Since both powers are bent towards ownership of Lylat, they are both happy to discard the Third Worlds becuase they don't want to hear any arguments for planetary autonomy."

"As far as I know, most of the Third Worlds are sending representitves."

Grey shook his head, "The only Third Worlds sending representitives are the ones who took sides. Have you noticed, Jack, that the true Third Worlds, the ones that attacked both sides, are being virtually forgotten?"

"I thought you said that the peace process is unstopable."

"Yes, but you missed the point. Once the Alliance is whole, it'll have a new set of problems. Iria, Vulpin, and all the rest who wanted to destroy both sides will rally now that they

have an organized enemy."

"I thought Vulpin was friendly."

The grey Fox chuckled and said, "If Cobalt gets his way, it won't be for very long."

"I doubt that Cobalt will be a threat, Grey."

"That's what the Allied leaders said about Andross. And then look what happened!"

Jack shrugged. The truth was, no one knew a great deal about Cobalt. Grey was correct on some points. Most Alliance leaders didn't give much thought to any of the Third Worlds.

"So what information can you give me?" Jack asked.

Grey sipped his beverage and said, "Funny you should ask. I just got word from the boys in the rumor department that a new team of Titanian delegates were on the way, and then suddenly

cancelled. Titania claims that no delegates had even been sent."

"Is that the best you can give me?"

"Unfortunatly, yes. All in all, I haven't seen or heard anything that I would find interesting for the last three weeks. There has been a lot of movement from the Warlords, but then, all the Lylat leaders have been active for the past few months anyhow. With the war dying down, there isn't much news."

Jack nodded. This was exactly what the F.O.R.C.E. Intelligence Department was facing.

"So basically, I'm just wasting my time?"

Grey smiled. "Yes."

Jack sighed, and looked up at the holoscreen.

A young, attractive Fox waitress passed by and gave Grey his bill. AS she left, Grey took a final swig of his drink and followed the waitress with his eyes. "If you'll excuse me, Jack,"

he said, "I believe there is an unnmarried soul crying for some companionship."

Jack groaned. "Grey, this has gotta be the third one this week. Aren't you ever going to settle?"

Grey, still watching the waitress, simply grinned and said, "C'mon, Jack. You know that the day I get married is a day I put a bullet in my own head."

Jack rolled his eyes and stood up to leave. "Well," he said, "Have fun, and stay out of trouble."

Grey smiled wickedly. "Wouldn't dream of it."

* * *

Meanwhile, in his quarters in the Embassy, Warlord Gorastar looked out over Corneria City with a sense of anxiety. The next step in the plan was going to be the most risky, not because of how difficult it would be to carry out (he had the utmost faith in his agents), rather it was because of how much he disliked the idea of meeting one of his former agents again, on peaceful terms. He would have rather worked with the Star Fox team, but Makhina insisted that to do so would be suicide. And she was correct. They could not be counted on to believe a word the Warlord would say, and thus be a danger.

Still, Gorastar was unconfortable. Jack Canis was a sworn enemy of the Imperium, and his loathing for Andross and the Warlords was as great as any other enemy of the Imperium.

Still, if anyone could be made to see the Spectre threat, it would be Jack.

"My Lord."

Gorastar turned. Rodante was standing at the door.

"Yes?"

Rodante inclined his head. Gorastar knew at once what it meant. They had found and acquired Canis. Gorastar signalled to bring him in.

 

CHAPTER ELEVEN

 

"Military thinking is simple strategy. All that matters are objectives, survival, and victory. Anyone who thinks otherwise is doomed to fail in battle."

-from the personal log of Warlord Deslian Komodan, written three days before his death

Jack stumbled on to the ground. He had no idea where he was, or why he was here. On his way out of the tavern he had been caught from behind, gagged and blindfolded, and thrown into

a hovervehicle. Now that his gag and blindfold had been removed, he could see he was in a elegantly furnished room. He blinked in surprise, then turned to his captors. Both of them had laser pistols pointed right at him.

Jack felt sore. They had drugged him, making combat difficult, if not impossible. Trying to grab one of the guns was out of the question.

A familier voice from behind said, "Put those down, gentlemen, and stand at the door."

Jack turned. There, sitting with his arms on each rest, legs folded, wearing a taylored whit business suit and cradling a glass of red wine in his metallic left hand was none other then the Warlord Boltzman Gorastar.

The hairs on the back of the Jackal's neck stood, as he recognized the Warlord. He bristled with rage, and said with a snarl, "You!"

Gorastar just smiled, and gestured to a chair. "Have a seat, Mr. Canis. We have much to discuss."

"We have nothing to discuss, Boltzman! By bringing me, an Alliance citizen, here against my will is a breach in the peace process! I should have known the whole thing was a sham!"

"Have a care, Mr. Canis. There are three sides to every argument. You would do well to hear all of them before making a decision."

Jack growled. "Decide what?"

Gorastar stood, and walked over to his former underling. "Before you decide to do something rash and doom the Alliance to slavery."

Jack blinked. "What do you mean?"

"What I mean, Mr. Canis, will be made clear if you'd allow us to have a civilized conversation. Now, have a seat. We have much to discuss."

Jack, starting to feel dizziying effects of the sedatives once again, sat down, if only out of light-headedness then compliance.

The Warlord watched his former minion for a moment, then handed Jack a holotape. "As you might have guessed, there is more going on behind the peace treaty than many people can ever know. There is much going on beneath the surface, as well as much deeper."

Jack made to speak, but the Warlord continued, as if oblivious to his presence. "With the defection of Solar, Sector X, Macbeth, and Zoness, an attempt at a second invasion became near

impossible. Furthermore, Andross lost whatever faith he had in the Warlord council. He feared that they were either plotting to overthrow him or join the neutrals. Thus, Andross began his

associations with the Third Worlds, to gain allies." The Panther paused, then locked his gaze with Jack. "One of these associates was the Kronosians."

Jack stared at the Holotape, then looked up. "Go on."

Gorastar turned to the window overlooking the capital city.

"Several months ago," the Warlord said. "Andross purchased a bioweapon of increadible value. It is the ultimate spy, Mr. Canis. A more efficient assasin then even yourself." He paused a moment. "It is called, 'Spectre'."

"What is so unique about this, 'Spectre'?"

"Shapechanging, Jack. Flawless adaptible shapeshifting. All it needs is physical contact with the form it wishes to adapt to."

Jack shook his head. "Impossible."

Gorastar turned and smiled. "So it seems. But it would do you well to hear me out. After all, you are at my mercy."

Jack glared at the Warlord. "Very well. So why are you telling me this?"

Gorastar growled. "Think, Jack! Do you realize what Andross could accomplish with Spectre?"

"Simple. Sue for peace, plant the creature in Alliance politics, destroy it from within. But I still don't see why you're telling me this."

"Very good, Jack. However, you have guessed only half of the equation."

"I don't follow you."

Gorastar shook his head and said, "Jack, the Emperor already has spies efficient enough to accomplish the goals we are trying to set. You yourself know that my people could do the job, if

we had the time. Using Spectre would be expensive overkill, unless there was another purpose for it."

"Okay, but what would that be?"

"The removal of the Council of Warlords."

Again, Jack shook his head. The idea was proposterous. "That's bullshit. Why would Andross invest so much energy into targeting his own allies?"

"Who said they were allies?"

Jack just stared.

The Warlord continued. "You see, Jack, the Emperor has no faith in his subordinates. He feels that he alone can pull this off. Besides, he is powerhungry and paranoid. It just so happens

that his paranoia can be justified, if he knew."

"What do you mean?"

Gorastar sat down and said, "Let's just say that there are those with enough ambition to place the Emperor's office at risk of changing hands."

"You?"

The Panther sat back and nodded. "You catch on fast, Jack. And now, my main reason for destroying Spectre becomes clear."

"I see." The truth was, Jack had hacked into the Warlord's personal journals before he defected. In some of the entries were plans to overthow Andross.

Which made Jack convinced that Gorastar was telling the truth.

Presently he asked, "What about the other Warlords? Surely they see the danger."

"Makhina does. In fact, she's orchestrating the whole thing. It just so happens her interests coincide with mine."

"Ok, but what about the other two?"

The Panther shook his head and said, "It isn't that simple. Deslian is mindless; unable to think or act for himself. He is completely loyal to Andross to the point of suicidle. As for Ederax, if he had a single coherent thought in his head, than I'm a Monkey's uncle. We THINK that he might help us, since Andross has murdered the Titanian successor, but even so..." The Warlord trailed off, then said, "We don't even know where Ederax is."

Jack nodded. "So what do you want me to do?"

"Kill Spectre, of course, and gain conclusive evidence of it's existance."

"And what is this holotape for?"

"It'll provide you with everything you need to know to kill the creature."

"And if I refuse?"

Gorastar replied dryly, "Then you'll know what Imperial pain magnifyers feel like the hard way."

 

CHAPTER TWELVE

 

"For the past 4 days the dreams keep coming, night after night. Ever since the meeting with the Imperial delegates on the Great Fox, I have been having nightmares. All I remember about them is a raging inferno, burning places that I have known all my life. I see fires over Corneria City, and I see terrible scenes of destruction from places all over Lylat. And also, every dream, I see huge black ships, thousands and thousands of them, destroying everything in their path. Strangest of all, according to Fara, everytime I have these dreams, I keep saying the word 'Chronos' over and over untill she wakes me up."

-Fox McCloud, journal entry.

A light snow fell over the open plain. It was a beautiful winter night, the snow dancing in the air.

"It's perfect," Warlord Ederax Rathii said from his vantage point on the hillside.

Rolant nodded. "Considering that it took such little time to locate it."

"We already knew it was here, Rolant. At least, I have known for a long time."

"True, my lord. But it has taken us some time to locate a stable wormhole to this planet."

Ederax turned to his assistant. "Yes. And the fact that it is outside the system even doubles it's usefulness."

"Yes, my Lord. But one thing troubles me."

"And that is?"

Rolant paused, then said, "I fear that we won't have enough time, my lord. Even though phase 1 is completed, I feel uneasy. The change in the countdown hasn't left us with enough time to complete phase 2."

"Which is why we've had to cancel our plans for both Andross and Spectre. We cannot afford for phase 2 to be unfinished when zero hour arrives."

Rolant nodded. "But what about the peace process? If the Spectre plan succeeds, the Lylat system will be at war once again, and with this new change in the count-down, we'll never survive with the system divided."

Ederax turned away. Originally, he had joined the Imperium in the hopes of working under a larger systemwide government, the better to carry out operation Haven. With the invasion's failure, Ederax had hoped for a quick strike. It would, after all, have been convenient if there was a single Imperium instead of a divided Alliance ruling the system.

Of course, the sudden change in the countdown didn't allow enough time for a second invasion. Now Spectre was a liability, but it had to be ignored until phase 2 was completed. However, there

was Makhina and Gorastar; if all went well, they would destroy Spectre in a timely manner. There was his own assasins, of course, but Ederax suspected that the real force behind the war knew of Ederax's wish to destroy Spectre. There was no doubt Andross had an ally, although the Emperor probably didn't know it. The change in countdown occured once the assasins were sent after Spectre. There had to be a correlation.

"It's clear that Kronos is at work," Ederax said. "It may be possible that he know sold Spectre to Andross deliberatly to complicate the whole affair. I had thought I could have used Spectre againts him by using it to bring down the Alliance swiftly." Ederax sighed. "Sloppy," he cursed. "Damn sloppy of me. And careless."

"You realize, of course, that everything depends on lord Gorastar and lady Fenri now," Rolant said. "Do you think we should tell them?"

Ederax shook his head, still looking out over the landscape. "That would accomplish nothing but complicating matters. We can't afford the time to allow them to be involved directly. Time is against us now, Rolant. If we don't complete phase 2 in 30 days, 18 hours and-" he checked his timer, -"43 seconds, then all is lost. But if the Lylat system is still fractured by zero hour, whether or not phase 2 is completed, then all will be lost."

Rolant nodded, then turned his attention to the snow covered plain below. "It's not just phase 2 I'm worried about," he said, "I'm afraid for the whole operation. Will we be able to succesfully move the entire population to the Haven planets in enough time? Especially since that almost all of them exist in seperate systems."

"There may not be enough survivors to worry about moving them, if zero hour occurs before phase 3. Besides, the wormholes that lead to most of the Haven planets are near enough."

"Do you think we can even begin phase 3 before zero hour?"

Ederax shook his head sadly. "Impossible now. There will be casualties. We have to abandon the target number and settle for a lower one. Our previous target number is just too high."

Rolant closed his eyes.

"A lot of people are going to die soon."

Ederax replied softly, "I know."

 

CHAPTER THIRTEEN

"We don't need no education.

We don't need no thought control.

No dark sarcasm in the class room.

Teacher, leave them kids alone.

Hey! Teacher! Leave those kids alone!

All in all you're just another brick in the Wall."

-Pink Floyd, "Another Brick in the Wall (Part II)"

The first place Jack went after being "briefed" by Gorastar was the Alliance Capital Building, where Sean Dire was staying. It took a great deal of persistance to get by the Alliance

security, and eventually, Sean himself had come over to see what was the matter. Not long afterword, Sean and Jack were in a private office within the building.

As they entered, Sean activated a disrupter beacon to render any bugs or transmitters that would be hidden in the room ineffective. It was obvious to Sean that whatever Jack had to say, it should be kept to trusted ears.

Sean sat down and said, "Ok. Now, what's the problem?"

Jack didn't answer immidiatly. He paced around for awhile, then started to explain the abduction, the meeting with Gorastar, the plot to usurp the Imperial thrown and to thwart Spectre, and Jack's own viewing of Gorastar's journals several years previous that only confirmed Gorastar's story.

Sean listened with quiet interest. He had suspected that their was more going on beneath the surface. Instinct alone told him that much. The only surprise was the amount of support that was against Andross in this case.

After Jack had finished, Sean contemplated his next move. He asked, "Exactly who does Spectre plan to copy?"

"I don't know. Gorastar doesn't even know, he just knows that Spectre has taken the form of the Titanian delegate. Who knows what forms it may have copied by now?"

"Well, there are quite a few options. It would want a position of power, correct? However, since it is taking the guise of a Titanian delegate, if it shifts, it would have to find a cover story to excuse the Titanian persona's absence. It would be logical for it to wait until after the conference."

Jack began pacing again, saying, "Yes...but it would want to stay behind. It would likely copy the form of somebody important, then when it was time to leave, it would be easier to 'disappear"

with out looking conspicious."

"The question is who would be the best target."

"Somebody trusted. But that could be any of the Alliance leaders or their aides."

Sean smirked. "Not neccesarily. It would want to remain unwatched, should it have to shift in an emergency.

"But that could be any Alliance official."

"Hmmm. Good point."

Jack began pacing once again, and Sean sighed wearily. He knew that Jack, while inteligent, was not a contemplative type, and obviously he was restless for some action. The Jackal's hate

for the Imperium was something of a drawback sometimes, and Jack's thirst for vengeance often clouded his reason.

Well, there was no point beating around the bush. Sean stood up, a look of realization on his face.

Jack looked over to the Commander. "What?"

Sean went to his desk and penned a quick note, saying "Jack, who do you think Andross would want to see dead the most?"

Jack blinked and said, "Uhh.. Fox McCloud!"

Sean turned. "We must find him. If my guess is correct, Andross will want Spectre to kill McCloud as soon as possible. The Emperor doesn't care how stupid a move it would be, he just wants revenge."

Jack turned to leave the room. As he reached the door, he heard a familiar click from behind. He turned, but it was too late. He slammed against the wall, thrown by the stun laser.

 

CHAPTER FOURTEEN

"Hello, don't you know me?

I'm the dirt beneath your feet

The most important fool you forgot to see"

-Soundgarden, "Mailman"

Jack slowly returned to consciousness. His head ached painfully; in fact his entire body was sore. He looked around to find that he was in a prison cell of somekind. Water was dripping someplace in the background of the humming of the force field at the entrance to the cell.

He shook his head. How could he have been caught off guard? Even now, Jack was having difficulty remembering what happened. He had been stunned, that was for sure, but by who?

He heard a door open, followed by footsteps approaching the cell. Jack could hardly believe his eyes when he saw that it was none other then Sean Dire paying him a visit.

But it wasn't the Sean Dire that Jack was accoustomed too. While he still carried an air of confidence and proffesionalism, his features no longer had their relaxed demeanor. Instead there was only a sense of sinister cunning.

"I'm surprised how easy it was to catch you off guard like that," Dire said coldly. "But I suppose I was the last one you'd suspect." His heavy Irysh accent had dissapeared entirely.

Jack locked eyes with the Wolf. "You're Spectre, aren't you?"

"That, my 'friend', depends on what you really mean by 'Spectre'."

"You got to Sean: You aren't really Commander Dire. You are just a copy."

The Wolf laughed in a voice that chilled Jack to the bones. "No," the Wolf said. "You are only partially correct. You see, Jack, I am indeed Sean Dire, though that is not my true name. The Spectre whom you were asked to destroy is a red hearing. It isn't the real thing."

Jack blinked. "So," he said. "You are a traitor, and there never was a Spectre. It was just a ruse to mislead the Warlords."

"Fool!" Sean growled. "I am dissapointed, Jack. Of course their is a Spectre; there never was a Sean Dire. He was merely a useful mask for me to wear; one that got me into such a high place of power. There are TWO Spectres, Jack. One of them is real, and one is just a cheap substitute."

The Jackal shook his head. "You are the Spectre, but not the one Andross purchased."

"Correct. Do you really think that Kronos would give something as powerful as the Spectre over to Andross? What the Imperium has is weaker, more primitive creature, one that cannot be worthy of the name, 'Spectre". It serves no other purpose other then being a easy scapegoat."

"But you are the real thing."

Sean gave a wicked smile. "The Imperium has no idea that I, the true Spectre, even exist. They have no idea that Commander Dire is more then he seems. Both the Alliance and the Imperium are both pawns in a much larger game."

"But why capture me? What use do you have for me?"

The Spectre glared at Jack with an alien menace. "Do you dare insult my intelligence? Do you think that this is the part in the story were the villian tells the hero of the story his wicked

plan? Do you really think I am that stupid?"

So much for that, Jack thought. "Maybe I can't see how you fit in to all of this," he growled. "After all, whose side are you on? If your against the Imperium, which from what I'm hearing

seems to be the case, then by all means you still have my allegiance."

"Allegiance. What a pathetic notion. Which is why I had kept my eye on you for a long time. You're betrayel of the Imperium told me you had no allegiances other then to what you felt was the side of justice. In that way we are alike, my friend. Neither of us serve the Imperium nor the Alliance, but whereas you have served both, I have served neither. My loyalties lie only to

myself."

"I thought you served the Kronosians."

Sean laughed coldly. "No, no," he said. "The Kronosians serve me. I am one of the forces that control them, and the other forces are just cogs in the entity that is Kronos. I AM Kronos."

The Spectre stood there, studying Jack's reaction. After a moment he said, "Already you know more then is healthy. But you shall keep your life. I have too much respect for you then to kill you and let all your skill and talents go to waste."

"Thanks, loads," Jack sneered.

The Spectre turned away and left, leaving Jack to sit and brood, and wonder what this all meant for the Lylat system. He knew one thing for certain. None of this mean well for the Alliance, nor the Imperium.

 

CHAPTER FIFTEEN

"I will walk with my hands bound

I will walk with my face blood

I will walk with my shadow flagged

Into your garden of stone."

-Pearl Jam, "Garden"

Ederax looked down upon the control room from the office window where he dealt with matters concerning operation Haven. The entire control room resembled very much a Mission Control room he had seen on another planet in another time, with a big view screen facing the technicians at their work. The purpose was to guide the earliest spacecraft, and the inhabitants of that planet would chatter away in their strange, elegant but complex language, all of them at ease with their world.

This room, however, served a different purpose.

Ederax shook his head at the memory. That was countless millennia ago, when he was a fundamentally different being. It was of no consequence now.

Over head the main viewscreen a digital clock ticked away the seconds, minutes, hours and days until the dreaded Zero Hour.

14 days. 15 hours. 27 minutes. 8 seconds

Ederax cursed. Right after his survey, he learned of another change in the countdown. It was clear now that his ancient nemesis was playing games with him.

It was a terrible feeling, knowing what was going to happen but be unable to do anything other then pray and hope for a happy ending. Even in the best of circumstances, nothing would ever be the same in Lylat once the clock struck Zero Hour.

A peircing whine suddenly entered the inside of the Hyena's mind. In pain, Ederax clenched his head with his hands and tried to shut out the backlash. He had many such aches before, all

of them a direct product of the madness which had cursed the Warlord for ages, but this pain was different. It wasn't a symptom of a shattered mind. This was a message.

Kronos is here, in Lylat, Ederax thought weakly. The pain gradually subsided, but it refused to leave.

Regaining his composure, the Warlord stumbled over to the washroom. Inside he turned the water on and splashed his face. Then he looked up to the mirror and saw not his reflection, but a creature wreathed in darkness.

"So you finally chose to reveal yourself," Ederax said to the dark reflection of the mirror.

The shadow whispered, "I never hid from you. You failed to look."

The Hyena stared at the shadow, then said, "You're hiding something. I feel it. "

"Maybe I am," rasped the darkness. "Maybe I'm not. We are no longer of the same mind and soul, Ederax. Eversince we went mad, nothing could keep us together."

"The others don't approve of you, Kronos."

"The others," the shadow growled, "Were once apart of me. But that has changed. We are not the same being anymore. WE are individuals.

Ederax gathered his energy and reached into the mirror. His hands passed through the glass and grasped on to the shadow beyond. Kronos contorted in discomfort, but was unable to break free.

"You forget," Ederax growled, "That you still are a fragment of a larger whole. I am an even larger piece of that whole. As long as that is true, you cannot hide from my collective

consciousness."

The shadow wailed but could not free itself. "Very well," it choked. "You leave me no option."

"Good. Now tell me or I will squeeze harder and crush your soul."

Kronos laughed. "You cannot destroy me anymore then I can destroy you."

Ederax tightened his grip, and the shadow wreathed in pain. "Damn you," Ederax hissed. "I can send you Back. I can toss your shape into the Void."

Kronos hissed back. "I am no longer one being, one Kronos. I have split into three. That was how I was able to allude you. If you send me to the Void, my two other selves could pull me

out!"

Ederax squeezed harder.

The shadow wailed. "Very well. One of my selves, as Sean Dire, will use the fake Spectre as a scapegoat to sabotauge peace. The scandel will crush any hope of the War's end. The Neutrals

will be compromised, and by the end of the weak, the battle will rage. With the system at war, my forces will be indestructable."

Ederax tightened his grip. "There is more. TELL ME!"

Kronos howled again then said, "I have Jack Canis, the one who betrayed Andross, captive. He knows of the plot, but he also knows that the Machine and it's ally, Gorastar intend to stop that."

"Why interfere with the Machine?"

Kronos chuckled ruefully. "It is amusing, isn't it? That mere mortals could find the raw sea of data that lies just beneath the surface. What irony that mere mortals could construct such

a vast intelligence. The Machine is an awesome force of logic. Even though the mortals have barely scratched the surface, the Machine is evolving. With the proper data, it could discover

enough of my nature and my plan. It wouldn't have even the fraction of knowledge about me, but it would be enough for it to mobilize to oppose me."

Ederax released his grip.

Kronos regained is energy. Then he said, in a gloating manner. "You can't win in any case."

Ederax turned, then left. In his mind he formulated a plan. Kronos was correct; there was no way to stop him from suceeding. But if he gathered his energies.....

It could work. But he needed to find a place to recover, and choose the moment to strike. Then there was the matter of finding and persuading select individuals..

He noticed an old photograph lying on his desk. It was taken from a newspaper documenting a crucial event in the StarFox campaign.

He laughed. Of course!

He turned to an assistent working nearby.

"Gather my shuttle immediatly. We have work to do."

 

CHAPTER SIXTEEN

 

"Welcome, my son

Welcome to the Machine.

What have you dreamed?

That's alright, we know what you dreamed."

-Pink Floyd, "Welcome to the Machine."

Deep inside the massive structure of Bolse, set in the center of a Labyrinth of steel and glass, the Machine hummed. The many viewscreens on its structure flashed with millions of data streams, coming through every nanosecond. Warlord Fenri was there, motionless, as if in a trance, looking up to the awesome Machine looming over her.

On the opposite wall, 4 meters off the ground, a viewing window was placed. Behind the window, technicians were at their controlls, trying to analyze the Machine's data.

Warlord Gorastar was at the window, looking down to where Makhina stood, a lifelike statue. Next to him, Connors O'Rourke watched the scene with a pang of apprehension.

It had been a confusing day for Connors. Lady Fenri had arrived 6 hours previous, giving no explanation for her departure from the conference, nor her surprise visit to Bolse. She went into the Labyrinth alone, demanding that no one would disturb her. After 3 hours, Connors built the nerve to send a search party into the Labyrinth after recieving strange data streams from the Machine. It had frightened him when he saw Makhina there.

Connors, knowing more about her plans to destroy Spectre then he had wished, immediatly called Gorastar. It was the only thing he could think of.

"How long has she been like this?" Gorastar asked.

"Three, four hours. At least as far as we know. We can't be sure."

"Can't your Machine tell you what's going on?" the Warlord asked impatiently.

"With all due respect, my lord," said Connors, more dread in his heart then he had ever known, "Don't you think we haven't allready tried?"

Gorastar scowled at the Meerkat, then turned back to the window.

"Explain, to the best of your ability, what exactly is happening."

Connors thought a moment, then began to tell the Warlord everything he could.

"Well, we aren't completely certain, but we think she is engaging in a massive, unprecedented calculation. Her mind is in total interface with the Machine, and the Machine's own databanks are pulling all of it's information and thought-patterns into her head. Very risky for the both of them. The Machine is cut off entirely from all of it's Cybers and any computers hooked

up to it. Something could happen once it tried to reestablish those contacts. A CPU might crash. A computer might have a virus. The Machine would only do this only in the greatest of importance. It is up to something, that's for damn sure."

"What about Makhina?"

"She's the Machine's most trusted vassal. It must have chose her for this computation and for her to do whatever hell the Machine wants done. Makhina's mind is totally within the Machine. I mean all of it. For all purposes, she's brain dead within her body, except her life support."

"And that is a problem?"

"No one ever leaves their physical bodies and enters the Machine entirely. The Machine exists within a vast universe of logic, causality, and electronics. It's something a living mind wasn't

meant to witness. If Makhina becomes distracted, if she hasn't already, she'll be trapped in the Machine, and there won't be a damn thing that we can do about it. The only thing that gives us hope is the Machine's refusal to communicate. If it could talk to us, then that would mean it lost connection, and Makhina would be done for."

Gorastar shook his head. "What in the name of holy hell could they be calculating?"

Connors shrugged. "God only knows. Whatever it is, it's something BIG."

The Warlord stared at the scene below.

 

* * *

A second past. To Makhina Fenri, it was an eon.

She was in the Machine. Her body was naught but an empty shell waiting for it's owner to return.

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

100100010100100101101010101010101010101001010010 COMPUTE101010

She was inside the Machine's consciousness, a vast dimension so complex she had to concentrate only at a bare fraction of a space occupying the area of her own brain. If she glanced away, even for a nanosecond, she would be consumed by the vast construct of data.

<<CONTROL>>

The Machine wouldn't consume her if it could help it. It was warning Makhina to be careful. So far, so good.

<<BEGINNING FINAL COMPUTATIONS (#7634858 OUT OF 7634858)>>

It had begun when she had made eye contact with Sean Dire. Only it wasn't Sean Dire if what she had seen in the past 3 hours was correct. When she saw those eyes, the Machine also saw them, and immediatly summoned her to Bolse to begin the Ultimum Computandum; the most awesome processing of data ever created.

<<SCAN>>

MAKHINA UNIT: <<RESULTS?>>

<<HIGH-FREQUENCY PLASMA SIGNAL STANDARD/SUBSPACE PULSE/TRAVELLING VIA WORMHOLES>>

MAKHINA UNIT: <<AND?>>

<<SIGNAL INCREASING IN STRENGTH/CURRENT LEVEL 9123.56 PER PULSE AND CLIMBING>>

MAKHINA UNIT: <<WHAT DOES IT MEAN?>>

<<SUBSPACE FABRIC DETERORATING/SIGNAL BUILDING UP TO CRITICAL POINT IN 22/2/6/11/44>>

MAKHINA UNIT: <<SLOW DOWN, DAMMIT! START WITH DIRE AND WORK FROM THERE>>

The Machine had a tendency to get ahead of itself. This data wasn't making much sense. She had to find out what the Machine had learned from the moment she made eye contact with Sean Dire.

<<SEAN DIRE IS NOT LYLATION REPEAT NOT LYLATION/SCANNING REVEALS UNQUANIFIABLE ENERGY PATTERNS>><<THEORY:EXTRADIMENSINONAL ENTITY OF NEGATIVE ELECTRONIC COMPOSITION>>

Apparantly, the Machine was guessing that Sean was of some sort of astral being. The Machine, being suspicious, did a full scan on him. Makhina guessed that the Mental Scan turned up something that concerned the Machine greatly.

MAKHINA UNIT: <<RESULTS OF MENTAL SCAN OF SEAN DIRE/ENERGY UNIT?>>

<<MENTAL ANALYSES: BEING IS OF A COLLECTIVE THOUGHT PATTERN OF UNIDENTIFIABLE ORIGIN: THOUGHT PATTERNS CONTAIN DATA OF A PLASMA SIGNAL AND OF APPARANT CONNECTION TO KRONOSIANS>><<THEORY: SEAN DIRE IS MASTER OF KRONOSIANS>><<*SEE PLASMA SIGNAL DATA>>

MAKHINA UNIT: <<JUST WHAT IN THE HELL ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT?>>

<<MAKHINA UNIT, PLEASE CALM DOWN>>

MAKHINA UNIT: <<SORRY>>

Odd. The Machine was saying that Sean Dire is the master of the Kronosians? That made little sense.

MAKHINA UNIT: <<MACHINE, YOUR DATA IS NOT UNDERSTOOD>>

<<?>>

MAKHINA UNIT: <<IN OTHER WORDS YOUR MAKING NO F***ING SENSE YOU STUPID PILE OF JUNK!>>

<<MAKHINA UNIT, PLEASE CALM DOWN>><<REPEAT, PLEASE CALM DOWN>><<FAILURE TO DO SO COULD RESULT IN DISCONNECTION>>

MAKHINA UNIT: <<WHO OR WHAT IS SEAN DIRE?>>

That was the question she should have begun with. The Machine was trying to maintain her stability. By asking the wrong questions, the Machine couldn't concentrate on her safety. She had to move logically.

<<SEAN DIRE UNIT IS ENERGY BEING OF 4 DIMENSIONAL INTELLIGENCE. ACTUAL NAME IS KRONOS. DO YOU WISH DATA REGARDING PLASMA SIGNAL?>>

It became a little clearer. The Machine thought it was best to explain the 'signal' it had discovered to better illustrate it's point. But what the hell did it mean by, "Kronos?"

MAKHINA UNIT: <<GO>>

<<PLASM BASED SIGNAL DETERORATING TIME-SPACE CONTINIUM SOURCE DEEP SPACE. ONCE SIGNAL HAS REACHED 1000 VIBRATIONS PER PULSE FABRIC WILL COLLAPSE AND A TEAR IN SPACE WILL FORM. KRONOSIAN ARMADA WILL ENTER THROUG TEAR WITH POSSIBLE INTENT OF WARFARE>>

A quaking fear emerged in the pit of her soul. She fought if off, knowing the consequences of a lapse in concentration, the Machine was saying that a wormhole was slowly being formed.

In a certain amount of time, a nexus will open and Kronos would invade. To illustrate the point, the Machine showed her the armada.

It was impossibly vast.

MAKHINA UNIT: <<MACHINE, WHERE ARE YOU GETTING THIS DATA?>> But the Machine went on. Where the hell was it getting the images? How did it no about the plan? How did it no about the Kronosian invasion? Was it malfunctioning? If it was, she was in serious danger.

<<KRONOS PLANS TO THROW LYLAT SYSTEM IN FULL SCALE WAR TO EASE INVASION. HE WILL EXPOSE SPECTRE AND DISRUPT PEACE. HE WILL URGE FOR FULL SCALE ACTION>>>>>

The Machine WAS malfunctioning. She had to get out of the matrix immediatly, before something happened and shorted out the system. If that happened, her mind would be erased.

The thought of it caused her to lose control. She tried to calm herself, but it was too late. The emotianal halve of her mind was freaking out. She panicked, and the worst happened.

She felt her mind drift away, swept by the data stream. She lost the Machine. Her fear increased to overwhelm her logic. There was no hope for her now.

Then, something strange had happened. She felt another presence; not the cold logic of the Machine, but something warmer. It conforted her, and the quaking terror started to fade.

Hello, the new presence said.

Ederax? Is it really you?

Yes.

But how?

Shh. Relax. Remember your training. We need it more then ever.

Makhina managed to calm herself down.

What are you doing here, Ederax?

Same thing you are. Getting some answers.

Getting some answers? The Machine malfunctioned! How could you get answers?

The Machine wasn't malfunctioning, Makhina. I was feeding it data. I didn't know you were here, else I wouldn't have interfered.

The presence of Ederax was a shifting, multicolored radiance. It surprised Makhina that it wasn't a fractured psych like everyone thought it would be.

My madness is not what my mind really is. Everything you thought I was was just an avatar of my truer self. Same as Kronos.

But....but who is Kronos? I don't understand.

The Ederax presence took Makhina along. She realized where they were: They were in the Machine room! She could see her body staring up at it. Above, Gorastar and some Bolsean commanders

were watching with concern. In a flash, she was at Corneria. Deep in the ground she could see a disrept Jackal sitting in a cell, his thoughts dark black with a wash of conflicting patterns.

Another flash, and she was seeing everything in the system, or more accuratly, the thoughts of everyone in the system

Where are we?

Everything is connected, Makhina, by threads too delicate for mortals to see. These threads hold the Universe together, and unites it into a single being. We are walking along those threads, viewing the Universe through the forces that hold us together.

They drifted through Lylat for what seemed like an eternity. Then Ederax spoke again.

Makhina.

Yes?

We have little time. A war is on the Horizon. After that, another war will follow, raging like a dark storm destroying all in it's path. To survive we must gather as many people as possible.

How?

Their thoughts and dreams. We can communicate there. We only have enough energy for so many.

Makhina understood. There was much to do.

 

CHAPTER SEVENTEEN

 

"Uncovering things that were sacred

Manifesting on this earth

Concieved in the eye of a secret

And scattered by the afterbirth."

-Ozzy Osbourne, "Mr. Crowley"

 

Fox McCloud pulled open a drawer and took out a lump of clothes. He stuffed it in one of the many bags he and Fara had assembled in the bedroom. Downstairs, Fara was loading up food supplies. The Holovision was on, set to a news channel.

They had gotten a call from General Pepper an hour ago urging that they take precautions. Pepper also added that it would do nicely if Fox would report to base.

A week had passed since the dreadful news had been broken. Commander Sean Dire had unmasked an Imperial plot to plant an operative, disguising as a Titanian diplomat. The entire peace

process fell apart, and war was redeclared a day later.

An hour ago, a newflash came on the Holovision that chilled Fox to the bone. Someone, probably the Imperium, launched nuclear devices in the main area of conlfict, namely Zoness, Sector X, and Solar. The war was now a thermonuclear conflict.

"-attempts to contact Zoness, Sector X, and Solar have failed. The Military Council has thus far refused to comment on the situation, prompting widespread speculation that total damage

-" the Holovision was recounting all that it knew, the anchorman doing a good job at concealing his own fear, but not soon enough.

After only an hour, panic began to grip the planet. Social services broke down, religous leaders were screaming about the End Times, and so on. This was just the beginning.

To top it off, during the past week, Fox had strange dreams. In those dreams he saw a handful of people, gathered at a valley on some planet he didn't recognized.

Fara was there. Falco, Peppy, and Slippy was there. Katt Monroe, and Bill Grey were there, too.

It was the future, Fox knew. He didn't understand how he knew. He just knew. It was like knowing that the sun would rise the next morning. One just knew.

At first, he kept the dreams to himself, figuring it didn't really matter. To Fox, dreams were dreams, merely figments of an imagination. But this was different somehow. He could feel it.

There was also the fact that Fara had been having the same dream.

And not just Fara. Peppy, Falco, Slippy, they all had the same dream.

That was just too bizarre for Fox.

He turned. Fara was in the doorway. "All set?"

She shook her head. "I got things to do yet."

The Holovision was suddenly replaced by white noise and static.

Fox picked up his phone. No dial tone. "Phone's dead," he said grimly.

Fara nodded. "Let's get out of here."

They had decided they would round up as much of their friends and family as they could and board the Great Fox. At that point, they would try to find any refugee zones within reach. Likely it would be someplace out system.

There was a knock on the door. Fox went downstairs to answer it.

Falco was standing there. Peppy and Slippy were in a jeep waiting on the road.

"Fox, we gotta go,"

"What happened?"

Falco's features went as cold as stone. "One minute, were hearing all this shit on the news about atomics, next thing I know, all hell broke loose down south. Then troops come into town declaring all civilians evacuate. Military folks are clearing out, too."

Fox cursed under his breath.

"So what do we do?" Falco asked.

Fox grabbed one of his bags and went to the jeep. "We collect all the friends and family we can round up," he said, "and we get on the Great Fox. After that, we'll try military channels to figure out where the nearest refugee world is, and lay low there."

"Yeah, but we're military."

"Falco, I don't think this kind of war calls for mercenaries. It calls for survivors. If this is a nuclear war going on, we just need to get the hell out of here, and don't come back until they tell us otherwise."

Falco nodded. "Okay, let's go."

 

CHAPTER EIGHTEEN

 

"He told of death as a bone white haze,

Taking the lost and the unloved babe

Late too late all the wretches run

These kings of beasts now counting their days.

From mother's love is the son estranged

Married his own, his precious gain

The earth will shake in two will break

And death all around will be our dow'ry.

-Queen, "The Prophet's Song"

Andross looked out over the balcony to the cityscape below. Everything appeared normal, but that was an illusian. Once he had lauched the first nuclear device (over the loud protests of Warlord Gorastar), he had ordered martial law to prevent anyone from trying to panic. No one would dare become disorderly.

He had launched the nukes mainly out of fear. Everything went wrong because of Sean Dire. The war would be messy, and there was no denying that. Neither Warlord Rathii nor Warlord Fenri

were anywhere to be found. Bolse was refusing to cooperate, and had yet to resond to any hails. The only Warlord he had any faith in now was Komodan, and even so, Andross didn't believe Komodan to be a very capable general anymore.

Warlord Gorastar had argued for the evacuation of the capital city, something that Andross refused to do. Victory will be his in a matter of weeks, why risk his control over the Imperial

public by moving them?

It was out of the question. Nobody goes anywhere.

"Andross."

The voice was challenging, cold.

The Emperor turned around. Warlord Gorastar was leaning against the doorframe, wearing his red robe of office. There was a threatening look in his eyes, his Panther heritige making him look intimidating indeed.

"What now, Boltzman?" Andross sneered.

The Panther replied, "You're a bloody fool, Andross."

Andross' features contorted with rage. "How dare you?!"

"Have a care, Andross. You gained power through money; I gained my power from raw cunning and force."

"I can have your head strung up on a pike for less, 'Lord' Gorastar. Now get out of my sight."

Andross turned around. Of course he would obey orders. No one could defeat Andross in the end.

Something clicked behind. The Emperor turned around just in time to see a laser pistol aimed at his forehead.

Andross panicked for a brief moment, then regained his composure and said, "You wouldn't dare."

Goraster lowered the gun and fired. Pain lanced through Andross' left leg. He howled and sank to the ground. "GUARDS!"

The Panther smiled. "You needn't concern yourselves with them, 'Emperor'. Breaking their necks wasn't much of a task." Gorastar flexed his metal fist for emphasis.

Gorastar paced around the Emperor, shaking his head as if in sadness.

"Poor Andross," said Gorastar. "Blinded by your arrogance, you refuse to believe that anything could go wrong. You never think for one second that someone would find a weakness and exploit it. That kind of foolishness has been your undoing since the beginning."

Andross snarled. The Warlord responded with a thrust of his boot into Andross' stomach. Another shout of pain escaped Andross.

"Now look at you," the Warlord continued. "Vulnerable. Weak. Defenseless. You are no great Emperor but an Ape, a weak and foolish Ape, proud and irresponsible. I cannot hate you enough."

Gorastar aimed his laser at Andross' face. "I could kill the so-called 'invincible Emperor' with a simple action of my finger. Ahh, but no, that isn't for me to decide. Ohh yes," the Panther purred with delight. "The Alliance would pay a pretty price for you. A great deal of lives could be saved just by turning you over. The Imperium which you claim to value so dearly would

be saved. I could put a stop to the plague of Lylat. How rich. How so very delicious."

Andross lunged. Gorastar had forgotten the Emperor's regnerative powers. Though the Warlord was more agile, Andross had more bulk.

Unfortunatly, the attempt to knock the Panther against the wall failed to work. Gorastar counteracted the weight and rolled out of the grip.

Andross turned just in time to see the Panther's steel hand come down upon the Ape's shoulder. There was a crack, and the Emperor realized that it was broken.

Gorastar followed with a roundhouse kick to the right side of Andross' head, sending him in the air and back on the ground.

As he struggled to get up, he heard Gorastar whisper in his ear. "You forget," the Warlord hissed, "that I was a soldier before I was ruler. Elegent evidence that you're becoming obsolete."

A vice-like grip suddenly surrounded Andross' neck. He was then dragged against the floor.

 

* * *

A few days later, the new Emperor Boltzman Gorastar was sitting on the throne of the Imperium, musing about handing over Andross to the Alliance. Until that time, the former Emperor had to

spend time in his own prison.

It had been a classic coup de'tat, but swift and painless as well. Before Gorastar had decided to confront Andross, he had planted his agents to counter any resistence from Andross's supporters. Gorastar had also bought the loyalty of Wolf O'Donnel, and that meant no trouble could come from the Star Wolf team.

Few people resisted the change of leadership. Andross had indeed been hated and loathed by the people of Venom, and Gorastar's efforts were met with much popular support. Andross did have

his secret police, but Gorastar had a secret police of his own that was far more deadly. Within 24 hours, the Imperium had officially changed hands.

The first thing he had done as Emperor was to declare a cease of hostilities. The war technically was over, but there had been a sudden shatttering of communications. The Imperium was

in the dark; Venom could only reach Bolse and Area 6; they could reach no farther then Macbeth.

Gorastar cursed his luck. The Warlords would have the resources to combat this absence of communications, each having there own abilities that was almost supernatural.

But he was the only Warlord left. Engredel of Zoness, Firebird of Solar, Kitsune of Sector X, and Hendricks of Macbeth walked out of the Council a long time ago, and had since refused to answer all calls. Even the Neutral governments had no idea where they were. They had been totally isolated.

Now Ederax had dissappeared, he who was easily the most powerful Warlord, but perhaps the most fickle. Deslian couldn't be counted on; Gorastar had him thrown in prison along with Andross.

Makhina. Makhina was the key. Only Makhina had vanished too.

The Imperium was falling apart before his very eyes.

Gorastar became aware of a presence in the doorway. He looked up.

"Ederax."

The Hyena locked gazes with the Emperor and said nothing.

Gorastar stood from his throne. "God damn you, man! Where in the bloody hell have you been?!"

Ederax did not flinch. "I've had work to do. When I heard you became Emperor, I thought I might stop by and assess the situation."

"Situation?! The Imperium is in pieces! Both sides are dropping nukes and I can't tell anybody to stop! No one knows how to reach the other end of the system! To top if off, none of the other Warlords are to be found!"

"You mean Makhina."

Gorastar glared and nodded.

"You won't find her."

"And why the bloody hell not?" Gorastar demanded.

"Because we have precious little time until the Lylat system comes to an end, unless we can save enough to rebuild."

"What do you mean?" Gorastar asked, his Feline curiosity kicking in.

Ederax stepped up to the foot of the stair's leading up to the throne.

"The Alliance is as good as gone, Boltzman. It no longer exists. Before your brutally swift power grab, Andross secretly launched additional nukes, on Fortuna, Sector Y, and Corneria." The

Hyena's eyes were laden with weariness.

Shock came over Gorastar. He sat down, numbness clawing at his heart like a hungry animal.

Ederax sighed. "The reason you don't have communications is because there is almost nothing left. I don't need to tell you the Alliance, in it's dying breath, responded with nukes of

it's own, not knowing that a new Emperor had emerged. Now, the Alliance is dead."

Gorastar sighed. "That's not all, is it?"

Ederax turned away. "In less then a week," he said, "the greatest cataclysm that anyone could ever imagine will awaken in this dying system." Ederax turned to Gorastar with a look of piercing

doom in his eyes. "It can't be stopped. It will crush what is left."

Gorastar didn't bother asking for details. His instincts told him that explanations did not matter. "What should I do?" he asked, despairingly.

Ederax was silent for a moment, then said, "Gather your people. I know a place where your nation can go. It isn't too far. My men can make the arraingements. I had seen this coming for a

long time now, and not all of my plans were in vain. After you have left, wait until I contact you. You'll know it when that happens."

"And you?"

Ederax only grinned. "My business won't be finished here. I am staying behind."

"Why?"

"It's a long story. Let's just say that on the heels of the approaching storm is an adversary I must face. I owe him that much."

Gorastar was perplexed, but chose to remain silent.

Ederax turned to leave, but Gorastar shouted, "Wait!"

Ederax turned.

"What about Makhina?" Gorastar asked.

Ederax smiled again. "Don't worry, Boltzman. You'll hear from her again."

 

CHAPTER NINETEEN

 

"How I wish, how I wish you were here.

We're just two lost souls swimming in a fish bowl

Year after year

Running over the same old ground, oh how we've found

The same old fears

Wish you were here."

-Pink Floyd, "Wish you were here"

 

Driving along on the jeep, Fox got a good look at the tragedy that befell Corneria.

They were driving due west to the nearest spaceport, where the StarFox arwings were located. Radio contact with the port had been established, so it was a good bet that the port had escaped

the chaos.

Off to the left, in the distance, the reckage of an industrial site could be seen. The place had been blasted to pieces. Word had it that many cities to the south had been devestated by atomics, and more were on the way. With the lack of a stable flow of information, it was dangerous to take chances.

It was unanimously agreed that both sides had been destroyed by the exchange of nukes. The few news channels left had indicated that Imperial forces fell into chaos after the Alliance counterattack.

It's the end of civilization, Fox thought sadly. And all because of Andross.

"FOX WATCH OUT!" Peppy shouted.

Fox slammed on the brakes just in time. The dust cleared, and a mangy, unkempt Jackal arose from the ground, coughing. He was wearing a battered F.O.R.C.E. uniform.

"Are you ok?" Falco asked.

"Fine," the Jackal croaked. "I need water."

Slippy pulled out a bottle. The Jackal snatched it out of the Frog's hands and began chugging the water down.

Fox got a closer look at the Jackal and realized he was suffering from dehydration.

The Jackal drank the entire bottle. He tossed it back into Slippy's hands and grinned. "Thanks," he said. "I'd figured it'd be all for one, one for all with the war, but you guys are alright."

"You need a lift?" Peppy asked.

"If you guys are stopping at Asmodius space port, I'd be glad to take your offer."

"We are," Fox said.

The Jackal jumped into an empty space in the back. "Let's go," he said.

Fox drove for awhile. After five minutes, Fox asked, "So, you mind introducing yourself?"

The Jackal finished drinking his second bottle of water. "Forgive my manners," he said. "Name's Jack Canis, Lieutenant Colonal."

Fox raised his eyebrows. "I've heard of you. You were the most feared assasin in your time. Not to mention the highest ranking Imperial agent to switch sides."

Jack grinned. "You got that right. Never did like the job, of course. Otherwise I'd still be on the other side."

"I take it you know who we are."

"Any mercenary worth his weight in gold knows who you are, McCloud."

Fox nodded again. "We're trying to get off the planet. We think it's too dangerous to stay. I'm assuming you're doing the same."

"I don't want to stay anywhere in the system for another second."

Peppy turned and asked, "Where do you plan on going?"

Jack shrugged. "I know I gotta go someplace. If you've been in my place for the last couple of weeks, you'd want to get the hell outta here."

"What's your story?"

Jack was silent for a moment. Then, "You'd just think I'm crazy."

"Tell us anyhow, we need a good story," said Falco.

Jack took another swig of water and began his story.

Fox listened as Jack Canis detailed the events since the beginning of the Peace Conference with great interest. Spectre, the two Warlords, the plot to destroy Spectre, and Jack's roll in it. But when the story reached Kronos, the fur on the back of Fox's neck stood. Fara had stiffened visibly, too.

"After that, I was in the cell for, oh I don't know, a week. After about 12 days, the droid that fed and watered me just vanished. I about panicked. Then the power went out, taking the force field with it. I got out, wandered for a few days, finding not a soul anywhere. Then I ran into you folks, and here I am."

He took another gulp of water. "I swear I was about to go crazy. I had blackouts, started seeing things, the whole bit. Worst of all were the dreams."

Again Fox's fur began to rise on his neck.

Jack Canis continued, oblivious to Fox's apparant reaction. "Kept dreaming about being on some planet that I don't remember ever seeing. All sorts of people there, in tattered clothes. They all looked like refugees or something. I kept feeling like it wasn't a dream but a vision. 'Course it's just as well...You know, come to think of it, I think I remember seeing your faces

in the crowd."

Fox slowed the car down.

Jack looked around. He had just realized that everybody was staring at him.

"What did I say?"

"Jack," Fox said slowly. "Please try not to freak out."

"We've all had the same dream," Falco said grimly.

Jack's eyes widened.

No one spoke. Then, Jack yelled in amazement, "HOLY SH**!"

Fox hit the accelerator. Nothing was going to stop them from reaching Asmodeus Space Port.

 

* * *

Once at the Port, Time itself seemed to move at a faster pace. The port was empty, although there were parked vehicles everywhere. They got out too look around when they heard a shout.

When they turned, a Vulture wearing an old pre-Imperial Titanian uniform was running toward them.

Introductions were made. The Vulture, who introduced himself as Jinx Carr, explained that their arwings were waiting in hanger C. He also told them that a fleet of refugees where waiting in Corneria orbit.

"Now wait just a damn second," Falco quipped. "Could you tell me what's going on?"

Jinx sighed. "I'm afraid the evacuation is total. The war is only the beginning of your problems. Allow me to explain, although I must warn you, there are some parts of this story

that require an open mind to understand." With that, Jinx began his own tale.

"Six years ago," Jinx began, "Titanian reaserches uncovered a high-frequency plasma signal eminating from a source deep in space. The signal was travelling via the Casmun Wormhole into the subspace, allowing it to move beyond the speed of light.

"The signal, it seemed, was deconstructing the structure of the local subspace. An investigation revealed that the signal was being used to open a large wormhole from Lylat to a galaxy roughly 300 million light years away. The purpose: Invasion.

"The Kronosians, who we deteremined were responsible for the signal in question, intend to capture the system for reasons not clear to us. What we have learned, however, is that the

signal was about 7 years away at the time from tearing the subspace for the wormhole.

"Because the shockwave of the resulting collapse in the subspace would cripple almost every working system, the Titanian government decided to try and evacuate Lylat before the actual

Cataclysm. The data was kept secret to prevent panic in the populace.

"Titania sided with the Imperium believing that the operation, code named Haven, would be easier under a single, stabble Union, rather then the type of loose rule provided by the Alliance. Although it became clear that the Imperium was inefficient, Titania had little choice but to proceed as best as possible.

"Then, the worst happened. Not long after the announcement of the Peace Conference, the countdown changed. A strong increase in the signal occured, changing the deadline from one year to one month.

"Operation Haven became impossible.

"With the outbreak of war, the system will be powerless to resist the Cataclysm. We have only five days left, now that another increase in signal strength occured. We have gathered as much of the Lylatian population as we could. All of you remember having strange dreams about an unfamilier planet. That planet is your destination.

"Once we have reached the planet, we will colonize until the time is right to begin a counterattack. Unfortunatly, that time will be a long ways off. The subspace vibrations must settle in Lylat before we can begin our already planned counterstrike.

"In short, we will have to wait 15 years before we can return home."

No one spoke.

"How did you know about our dreams?" Fox asked.

"Unimportant. In the future, perhaps, you could get an answer. All that really matters is getting you off the planet. The destination is already programmed in your ship's data banks. Now, go."

To this day, Fox was unable to remember exactly what happened next. There was an explosion in the distance, followed by a bombardment of missles and explosions. Fox vaguely remembered climbing in his own arwing.

The next thing he knew, he was on the Great Fox. A whole fleet of refugee ships gathered for the next few days, awaiting to enter the wormhole that supposedly led to their destination.

Then he saw it. In the distance, a pulsating glowing blue luminescense was forming, and it was getting wider. Closer by, closing on the planet, a fleet of sleek, black ships straight out of Fox's nightmares. Ahead of those ships were what looked like guided missiles aimed at the planet's surface.

It was Zero Hour. The Cataclysm was taking place.

It appeared as a greenish blue wave sweeoping through the entire system at the speed of light. It was followed by a gold-red wave travelling slightly slower. The black ships themselves

appeared unaffected by the tide of destruction, but Fox knew that the energy wave would vaporize the Great Fox, and any other Lylatian craft in it's way.

"STEP ON IT, ROB!" Fox barked, and the Great Fox slid into the Wormhole.

* * *

An hour later, the whole fleet was orbiting their new home.

"It's beautiful," Fara said.

Fox nodded. It resembled Corneria, but it seemed to have a blend of all features natural to a stable planet. Deserts, mountains, oceans, tundra, forests. A single moon shone in the distance.

"Well, let's see our new home."

The planet had two large oceans, both seperating a large supercontinent in the eastern hemisphere from a grouping of two continents occupying both northern and southern hemispheres in the west. A small continent was resting on the polar cap in the south.

They landed in a valley within the interior of the north-western continent in the group. The air was fresh; the sky was as clear as glass. Not a cloud could be found.

Fox couldn't help but experience a sense of familiarity in this world. He felt as if he had been here before, a long, long time ago.

Of course their were questions. How did they know about the dreams? Who were "they" anyway? So many questions.

There was much time to answer them, and Fox realized as he surveyed the valley that was their home that the story was far from it's end.

 

Into the distance, living on black Stretched to the point of no turning back.

A flight of fancy on the windswept field.

Standing alone, my senses reel.

Fatal attraction is holding my fast.

How can I escape this irresistable grasp?

Can't keep my eyes from the circling sky

Tongue-tied and twisted, just an earth bound misfit, I.

Ice is forming on the tips of my wings Unheeded warnings,

I thought I thought of everything.

No navigator to guide my way home

Unheeded, empty, and turned to stone.

The sole intention is learing to fly. Condition grounded, but determined to try.

Can't keep my eyes from the circling sky,

Tongue-tied and twisted, just an earth bound misfit, I.

Upon the cloud on a wing and a prayer

I bother hailing the vague betrayel of emptiness.

Upon the clouds I see my shadow fly

Out of the corner of my watering eyes.

A dream unfetterd by the mourning light.

Cut to the soul beneath the roof of the night.

There's no sensation to compare with this.

Suspended animation, state of bliss.

Can't keep my eyes from the circling sky

Tongue-tied and twisted, just an earth-bound misfit, I.

-Pink Floyd, "Learning to fly"

Here ends "The Spectre", part one of the Kronos Trilogy. Part 2 shall continue the story with "The Crucible," when the survivors of Lylat return to reclaim what is theirs.

The characters Jack Canis, Ederax Rathii, Deslian Komodan, Boltzman Gorastar, the Spectre, Kronos, the Machine, Baat Duran, Sean Dire, Connors O'Rourke, Rolant Aneyh, Jinx Carr, Avi Runner, Simon Karo, Samuel Rodante, Rashid Kahn, Reichmann von Hendricks, Red Firebird, Dathii Engredel, and Roko Kitsune are not to be used in other stories without my permission.

Cobalt is a character belonging to Scott Morris and is used with permission.

Thanks to Scott for letting me mention one of his characters, and to Katt Monroe, whose planet Thundria provided the insperation for Gorastar.

Special thanks to my little brother, Nick Richard, wholet me use his character, Grey Bracken.

Very Special thanks to the band Pink Floyd, whose music was the driving force behind this story.

 

COMMENTS

 

Well, here it is. The first major writing that I have ever completed. Best of all, the story has only just begun, which opens a world of possibility for the Lylat universe. Writing "The Spectre", I feel like I have begun a mission to give StarFox fans a hell of a story.

I won't bore the reader with how I was inspired with this story. After all, "The Spectre" is clearly no classic, just an interesting story among many posted on this webpage. Certainly, I'm just an amatuer. Nonetheless, I am proud of "The Spectre," and I am exited about the prospect of it's upcoming sequals. Truth be told, I almost abandoned writing it when it was half done.

I mostly stumbled along writing it, not sure what the overall theme of the story was going to be. Imagine my surprise when, while looking back on what I had written, I discovered that the theme of the story formed on it's own volition.

The story's lesson is never to take things at face value, because much more is beneath the surface. "Beauty is only skin deep", goes the adage. Ederax, whom the reader would assume to be a

dangerous madman, actually possesses a gentle and rational soul. The Spectre itself, able to disguise itself into something misleading, and even the "false" Spectre turns out to be a counterfeit; the real thing turns out to be Sean Dire, who quickly earns the trust of the reader. Even I didn't plan on Sean being a villian, but the idea was a good one, so I ran with it. There is also Boltzman Gorastar, who is reputed to be a cold tyrant, when he actually posses a desire to heal the system.

I can list other examples, but I'd rather leave the reader to discover the rest.

As for the future, I plan to continue the Trilogy with the Crucible, set many years later. I plan to have more action in the next story, as well as a more clear cut idea of who the bad guy really is.

Well, that's about it. Feedback would be more then welcome. I am dying to find out what you, the reader, think of my first published story. And be honest!

"I'll see you on the Dark Side of the Moon..."