*Author’s Foreword*
 For this story, I thank Nakar Gabab for the Chapter Four quote.
 This is a dedication to the many fans that had helped made the Justice Cadets famous, and those who believed they should be in some Starfox sequel (literally, of course).  When I was writing “Natlarn’s Influence”, I have never thought that Natlarn and his team would be mentioned in other stories written by different authors.  They have even found themselves in the Art Galleries of several Starfox websites.  For all of those fans, I thank you.
Chapter One

 “If I have made ‘Natlarn’s Influence’ the way it was originally planned, then people will look at Natlarn Berola a completely different way than they do now.”

          --J. Wolfman, Earth

 “Best friends forever, my ass,...” Natlarn Berola muttered as he paced around his room.
 The leader of the Justice Cadets was thinking back old memories, during the days of his innocent youth as he struggled to survive the Academy, during the days when Fran was alive, during the days when he considered Buck Elderson someone he could trust.  The lights on the ceiling shone on his spotty orange and brown fur, and the heat coming from the ducts kept him safe from the frigid cold of Fortuna up on the surface.
 He was of average height, average weight, for a cheetah at 23 years old.  Like all cheetahs, he could run fast and have low stamina, but he was stronger than most, thanks to gym workouts with Tigress Mondale.  His feline face was etched with grief and anger as he paced about, ignoring the decorations that he had worked to make his room a livable spot.  His queen-sized bed took up the center top space of his room, with two large drawers to the bed’s left.  On the other side of the bed was an old banner showing Katina colors and the military insignia of the Katina Air Force adorning the center.  As a former pilot of the Bulldog Squadron, he felt a certain need to have this piece of cloth hung up on the wall.  He couldn’t stand it if he saw a missing tear that he failed to spot before.
 Natlarn stopped pacing and his eyes settled on a picture on top of one of the drawers.  Though he had seen it millions of times before, he stepped in for a closer look.  The picture was big enough to cover only his cheetah face, and it was gold framed.  The picture showed Natlarn and a German shepherd to his left, hugging him playfully.  She was just as tall as him, with strong arms and legs shining black and brown, and her mud-brown eyes were bright under the Katina sun.
 Stepping out of his grief for a moment, Natlarn chuckled.  Fran Beshale was his only love in his life, and only sheer betrayal would make him even have thoughts of him dating again.  She and Natlarn had met during his days as a cadet in the Academy, though they didn’t hit it off from that moment.  They were both transferred together to the Katina HQ Base under the command of Bill Grey, and it was there when they sparked off an relationship.  It lasted only six months, the killers being schedules, missions, drills, and other headaches.  Even after their calm break off, they remained best friends, along with Tera Crista, Dunbar Harraso, and.....
 “Buck Elderson,” Natlarn growled, picking up the picture.  His eyes on the figure of Fran, he walked quietly to the front of his bed, and sat down slowly.  The many memories that he had with Fran, both bad and good, whirled through his mind.  He became still, his watery eyes intent on the picture.
 A knock on the door broke his trance.  “Knock knock,” a male voice answered.
 Natlarn smiled and perked up.  “Who’s there?”
 “Tera,” the badger replied, poking his black and white striped muzzle into the room.
 “Tera who?”
 “Tera Crista.  Who the hell you think it was?”  The badger replied, smiling.  His cheerful smile faded when he saw the picture on the cheetah’s lap.  “You thinking about Fran?”
 Natlarn nodded in agreement.  Tera sat down on the bed beside him.  “What is it you’re thinking about her, Nat?”
 “Oh everything, it seemed like.  Remember Dunbar?”
 “Dunbar, the ocelot with the addiction to Cornerian History and chopped candied acorns?  Uh, no I never heard of him.  Can you fill me in about this guy?”
 Natlarn nudged him on the shoulder playfully.  “Oh stop.  Well, was he the one who took this picture?”
 Tera rubbed his chin thoughtfully.  “I think so.  He always seemed to have that camera with him, since he wanted photography as a side-career.  He would have been a great photographer, if he hadn’t um,....”
 Natlarn cut him short by standing up quickly.  He laid the picture on top of the drawer where it belonged, and looked at Tera.  “What do you want?”
 “Oh, dinner will come in two hours.  Tigress burnt the tornab crab,” Tera replied, rather sheepishly.
 Natlarn patted a paw on his face.  “Not again.  I thought Jo’hara had taught her to cook those delicate crabs right.”
 “Mistakes happen.  Don’t blame her, Nat.  She was raised on eating restaurant food and microwave dinners.  As a cargo pilot she never had the time to cook.”
 “Well, I hope she learns more quickly.  Tornab crab is not exactly cheap.”
 “At least you’re not cooking.  Otherwise I would have begged you to take us to Fortuna Base and eat there.”
 The cheetah rolled up his eyes.  “You always love to tell jokes about my cooking, do you?”
 Tera laughed and was just about to leave when Natlarn stopped him again.  “Oh, and Tera?”
 “Make better knock-knock jokes.  Those are worse than my scrambled eggs.”
 Tera stuck out his tongue and made a raspberry sound before he stepped off the room.  The cheetah laughed heartily before laying down on his bed.  Closing his eyes, he thought back on memory lane, thinking of the days before the Justice Cadets,...before the Katina Scandal that shattered his life forever.

Chapter Two

 “When I had finished ‘Starwolf’, the only fanfic I wrote before ‘Natlarn’s Influence’, I thought that was enough.  If it weren’t to the demands of my fans, I would’ve only been the author of one story, not fifteen, as of this writing.”

          --J. Wolfman, Earth

 Fran Beshale, a pilot and maintenance worker in the Katina HQ Base, lay slouched down on the easy sofa in a rec-room somewhere on the eastern section of the base.  The red leather furniture was adorned with a graceful German shepherd with a 5'8 frame of a model with oil stains on her uniform.  Her long legs were stretched along side the leather, her arms crossed across her chest that had matured enough to drive a male pilot wild, though she doesn’t welcome them.  The oil stains may have tainted her face, but they failed to mask her beauty.  The black muzzle twitched as she dreamed, her triangle-ears following suit.  Patting against the sofa was a freshly groomed tan tail, which wasn’t exactly fluffy, but good enough to make some heads turn.  She twisted and turned her body on the sofa, moaning softly as she moved.  Only Natlarn would know what she would be dreaming about.
 Sitting on a hard chair nearby was an ocelot male, about two years younger than Sleeping Beauty next to him, and a recent graduate of the Academy.  The feline’s yellow eyes were scanning across the words on his thick book, paying no attention to his friend dreaming.  He may have only known Fran for several months, but he was wise enough to respect her relationship with Natlarn.  She was not the type who would make herself available to anyone.  If he would make a pass at her, then not only Natlarn would be upset about it, but Fran would be displeased as well.  He wore a green and white uniform, which was not official attire but he liked the colors.  The cover of his book was white with black letters blaring out, “Cornerian History, 1000 to 1200", and on a coffee table close by was a bowl of chopped candied acorns.
 Glancing out of his book for once, he grabbed a pawful of the delicious morsels and absently plopped them in his mouth.  He then snatched a look at the wall clock, and muttered a gasp.  He finally looked at Fran and tapped on her right boot.
 “Fran...Fran, wake up.”
 The German shepherd mumbled, and her brown eyes slitted open.  “What is it, Dunbar?”
 “It’s time.  You know, the date with you-know-who?”
 Fran sat up straight, slowly and groaning.  “Already?  I have just fallen to sleep!”
 “It’s been two hours now, sleepy head.  Time flies when you’re dreaming, eh?”
 “And it slows to a crawl when I’m awake,” Fran replied as she stood up and stretched.  “Thanks for telling me.  I would have missed the date.  I haven’t seen Natlarn in some time.”
 “Those schedules and missions are killing your relationship with him.  You sure you can keep up?”
 Fran shrugged, rubbing her eyes.  “I dunno.  Probably, probably not.  Maybe once the Androssian War is over, it’ll be like old times.”
 Dunbar Harraso flickered his eyes in shock.  “Old times?  But you’re only been with him for six months!”
 “And a long, memorable five months and two weeks it has been.  What time is it?”
 “Five o’clock, like you told me to.”
 “Oh right.  Well, wish me luck.”
 “Don’t I always?”  The ocelot replied, smiling.  “You sure you can take a shower and dress up in just twenty minutes and then show up at the restaurant in time?”
 “Yeah.  I have been in tighter situations before and made it through.”
 “But can’t you just take the shower and then take a nap, and not do all those things in a hurry?”
 Fran flashed a smile before leaving.  “I like to do things under pressure.  Makes me do my best.  Besides, I like challenges.”

 The “Broken Hearts Restaurant” was the only place of dining in the base that required fancy attire, and because their salaries are not all that good, being there was a special treat for Fran and Natlarn.  Built before the war, the restaurant seemed out-of-place for a military base, but many of the officers and lucky pilots eat there, and it was often bustling during the late hours.  The place was brightly lit from chandeliers overhead, and the windows on the back gave the customers a welcoming view of a grassy field outside.  Snow-capped mountains arose from the ground in the far horizon.
 Sitting at one of the booths at the edge of the restaurant, Fran waited impatiently for her late flame to come.  She was groomed neatly, her fur giving off a faint perfume smell and the oil stains off her face.  Dressed in a sparkling blue dress, she tapped her right foot nervously, wondering where the hell was Natlarn.
 Finally, she spotted the cheetah coming to his seat next to her.  “Sorry about being late.  I woke up later than I planned,” he said, making the excuse with a nervous chuckle.  Like Fran, he was giving off a smell as well, but it was cologne, and his black tuxedo shone under the lights.
 Fran shook her canine head and rolled her eyes.  “Get yourself an alarm clock.  How was your day?”
 “So and so,” Natlarn shrugged, picking up the pink menu.  “I got another mission tomorrow.”
 “What?  But we were going to the movies tomorrow!”  Fran replied disappointedly.
 “Sorry, Fran.  Commander Broluck’s orders.  Me, Tera, Buck, and Dunbar are going with about ten other pilots in a scouting mission to a suspicious area about four hours flying distance from here.  There were some rumors of Venomian soldiers secretly hiding chemical weapons inside an abandoned warehouse.  We are to storm inside the base and destroy the weapons, if the rumors are correct.”
 “Then why don’t the soldiers come and take care of it?” Fran asked, almost angry.
 “They’re off in Corneria, in some drilling mission.  Don’t you know that?  It’s just us pilots around here now.”
 “Well why do you have to go?  We have hundreds of pilots here.”
 “Maybe it’s because I’m lucky.  I don’t know.  I do know that I have orders to follow, and I must do it.  You’ll have to understand that.”
 Fran sighed.  Once again, a mission or a schedule had foiled their plans.  “Fine.  Go on your mission.  You know I’ll be waiting for you here.  So, what are you going to eat?”
 All it took for him was a glance to the menu.  “Tornab crab, with tologna wine.”
 “I have a feeling you would choose that.  Nat, can’t you choose anything else?”
 “What’s wrong with tornab crab?  At least I don’t choose the same wine every time.”
 “That’s because you rarely drink it.  I never had tologna before, though.”
 “It has a cranberry taste to it.  It’s a sweet wine, like you.”
 A bobcat waiter came up to them.  The couple ordered their meals, and as the waiter left, an unexpected friend came by.  The elk was in the clothes of a sergeant, complete with a holster on his belt.  His antlers were cut to the bare minimum of length due to regulations.  With two foot antlers, it would be a pain to fly in a cockpit.  A black, crescent scar was on his white furred area on his neck, and his eyes gleamed with intelligence and youth.
 “Buck!” Natlarn exclaimed.  “What are you doing here?”
 “I have a dinner with a Major here.  He’s off to relieve himself so I’m free from his blabbering at the moment.  He talks like a chatterbox.  How are you two faring?”
 “Fran’s upset that our plans for tomorrow are foiled,” Natlarn answered.
 Buck appeared apologetic.  “Oh yes, that warehouse mission.  Yet another plan foiled.  Listen uh, Fran?  Could I borrow your boyfriend for a moment?  It won’t take long.”
 “Fine.  Just don’t do anything weird that would get the people’s attention here.”
 Buck playfully nudged her on the shoulder.  “Ha, ha, very funny.  Follow me, Nat.  I want to talk to you.”
 Natlarn, upset about the interruption, bellowed out a quiet sigh and got up.  He followed his best friend across the restaurant to a remote hallway with monitor phones hung on the walls.  Buck scanned his eyes around, not wanting anyone to hear what he has to say.
 Natlarn crossed his arms.  “Hurry this up, Buck.  My date is waiting for me, and she can be impatient at times.”
 “I went browsing around the shops here and I found something that you might like,” he said, reaching in his pocket.  He pulled out a gold ring, studded with an emerald.  “I figured you might want to give this to Fran.  You know how she likes emeralds.”
 Natlarn accepted the ring puzzlingly.  “Usually, I’m the one who buys gifts for her.”
 “Hey, hey, what’s wrong with me lending some help?  Besides, you can take all the credit you want for this,” he said, his lips curled up in a grin.
 Natlarn grasped the ring warmly and laid it in his pocket.  “Thank you Buck.  You’re a true friend.  But how can you afford this?”
 Suddenly, Buck became a little nervous.  “Um, a rich relative gave me a good sum of money to repay some bet he lost some years back.  Took me constant reminding for him to pay me.  Look, I see Major Blabber Mouth coming to my table.  I’ll see you later.”
 Natlarn patted on his pocket with the ring.  “See ya, Buck.  Hope your ears don’t fall off listening to that guy.”
 Buck made a mock face of displeasure as he left for his table.  Smiling, Natlarn went back to his table, Fran waiting (patiently for once) for him.  In the almost six months that they have been together, they had some joyous times and some bad times.  At first, they had all the time they needed, then the war against Andross started.  They drifted apart, their plans kept being destroyed by sudden mission notices and duties at the last minute.  Natlarn was worried that he and Fran would not be able to continue on their relationship.  Their love for each other had not drifted away; it was just that they couldn’t see each other as often.  There were some days which they failed to even notice each other.
 “About time, Natlarn,” Fran said, the wine already on the table.
 “Sorry.  Buck had some things he wanted to tell me.  Too important for further delay.  Mission stuff.  Nothing you would want to know,” Natlarn answered, reaching for the ring.  “Hey look behind you.”
 “What for?”
 “There’s a nice view outside.”
 “I already seen it before.”
 Natlarn was feeling frustrated.  “Will you just do it?”
 Fran rolled up her eyes, giving up.  She twisted her slim body to look at the view.  Behind her back, Natlarn plopped the ring in Fran’s wine glass.  The ring floated down to the bottom of the red colored wine, dodging through small bubbles.
 Fran sighed and turned to face Natlarn.  “I don’t see anything new.  What’s your problem?”
 Natlarn shrugged and hoisted his wine glass.  “Sorry.  A toast, if you please.”
 Fran hoisted up hers, still not noticing the ring.
 I hope she doesn’t shallow that thing.  “For six excellent months together,” Natlarn simply said, and they clinked glasses.
 Thankfully, just before Fran would sip the wine, she noticed the object in her glass.  “What in Corneria is this?  A ring?”  She laid the glass down and used a fork to pick the ring up from the liquid.  She clasped it warmly, admiring it.  “Natlarn....this is so beautiful.”
 Natlarn smiled.  “Thank you.”
 “But how can you afford it?”
 Natlarn opened his mouth to speak, but nothing came out.  Oh shoot......

 Commander Broluck stood to greet Buck in a secret room in the very top floor of the base.  The serval grinned as he shook paws with him.  “You’ve come.  I have the package,” he said, mentioning to a suitcase laying on the large table in the center of the cold room.
 “Just in time, eh John?”
 The serval’s smile faded.  “Don’t call me that, Sergeant.  I hate that name.  Now, you know what to do with it tomorrow?”
 “Yeah.  Break the codes in the computer inside the warehouse with the device in the suitcase.  Then infect the computer so that the satellites orbiting this planet would fail at the appointed time.”
 Broluck’s smile regained strength.  “You have listened well.  The special viruses will come into effect within a month, and the Venomian forces will soon attack this stink-hole of a planet without radar detection from the dead satellites.”
 Buck grabbed the handles of the light, black suitcase.  “Why would the computer that controls the satellites would be in some warehouse and not here?”
 “Buck, think about it.  You know that the security of that computer is so tight that in order for a virus to get in there, the hacker would have to be in the same room with it personally?”
 “Yeah, I know.  Otherwise, we could have done this right here, right now.”
 “Well, do you think the hacker would expect the computer to be in some rundown warehouse?  The computers here that control the satellites are just merely active decoys.  It’s the one in the warehouse that does the real stuff.  You get my drift, Sergeant?”
 “Yeah, I do.  How many Venomian soldiers are going to be inside?”
 “Only ten.  There will also be Invader jets guarding the area.  Don’t worry, I had Andross ordering the troops and pilots not to shoot you.”
 “Oh, that’s optimistic.  I could have done this alone, you know.  What if some of my pilots discover this thing out?”
 Broluck sighed and with a sudden burst of anger, he grasped Buck’s right shoulder.  “You have not been listening to me during the debriefings, have you?”
 Buck cringed from the pain.  “I forgot, okay?  I just don’t get it why I need to have possible witnesses with me.”
 Thankfully, Broluck let go of him, his eyes still glaring.  “Well, pay attention.  I won’t tell you this crap again, you hear me?  Now, the main purpose is to distract the pilots and people that have the best chances of breathing down on necks and discovering our plans.  Once the pilots in the warehouse are killed, then the distractions will allow me, you, Yarseea and Grenmen to do our work unnoticed.  You see what I mean?”
 “But Natlarn, Tera, and Dunbar are coming with me!  My best friends will be killed!”
 “They are popular around here.  If they are killed, then the distraction level would be incredible!  Besides, that’s one of the horrors of war, isn’t it?”
 Buck opened his mouth to protest, but he learned some time ago not to talk back at the serval that wishes to become allies with Andross.  In the two months which he has been involving the planned coup over the Katina Base, Broluck had done so much for him.  He secretly became a rich elk, and had gotten word from Andross himself that no harm would come to him from his military forces.
 He sighed and nodded.  “Yes, it is, Commander.  I will do my best, and complete the mission successfully.”
 “Good luck, Buck.  You’re going to need it.”

Chapter Three

 “I may be beautiful, but I don’t welcome horny pilots that think they can actually take advantage of me.  If they want a kiss, then I’ll give them one.....with my fist.”

         --Fran Beshale, Katina

 Tera Crista, a long time friend of Natlarn since the Academy, was waiting for his friends in the East Garage the next day.  He donned his helmet comlink on his badger head, and as he glanced right, spotted Natlarn and Buck running toward their Bulldog-class jets, Dunbar following them.
 He waited till they jumped in their jets and turned on their comlinks, and spoke.  “You guys ready?”
 Dunbar’s youthful voice chirped first.  “I’m born ready!  Let’s kick some tail!”
 “Ready as ever, Tera!”  That was Natlarn.  “We’re expecting Invader jets, right?”
 “About twenty reported to be orbiting Katina, though we’re not sure if they would guard the warehouse or not.” Buck answered.  “The neighboring bases wanted to help us, but Commander Broluck refused.  He has his confidence that we can handle those idiots ourselves.”
 “Right you are!”  Dunbar remarked cheerfully.  “May those Venomians regret going against us!”
 Natlarn chuckled.  Must all rookies be cocky?  Then again, I used to be like that.  “Let’s get ready to roll!”
 The engines of the fourteen jets roared like anxious beasts of war.  They hovered a bit off the ground, and slowly hurled themselves out of the garage.  The pilots may be in some wild goose chase, since the possibility of chemical weapons in the warehouse was just out of rumor, but to some, the thrill of flying were more than enough to compensate it.  As soon as they gotten out into the open, they accelerated and were soon screeching through the skies like joy-flying hawks.
 An hour later, Natlarn spotted several “dots” in the horizon.  They were orange colored, and seemed to be flying in some formation.  That caused a great deal of alarm for him.  Those dots could be Invader-I class jets, and there seemed to be a good deal number of them.
 The radar screen on his control panel confirmed his hunches.  Twenty Invader jets, dead ahead.  Since he expected them to be surrounding the warehouse, he was surprised to find them so far away from the place.  Oh well.  Who really cares where the dogfight would occur?  The odds of victory remains the same.
 Buck spotted them as well.  “All pilots, into Air Attack One Formation!  Lasers to 45% power!”
 “Why 45%, Sergeant?”  An unfamiliar pilot replied back.  “With that low level of power, it will take more hits to destroy those creeps!”
 “If we all have our lasers to full power, then once an Invader jet be hit, the explosion would kill the pilot immediately.  If we could bring one pilot down and still be alive, we can question the pilot to see if those weapon storage rumors are true or not.  If we are in some wild goose chase, then we don’t have to travel three more hours and waste fuel.  We are already having fuel shortages, so this method would conserve some of it.  You understand, pilot?”
 “Yes sir,” the pilot answered grudgingly.
 Buck grinned at hearing that.  With those lasers at such low power, the odds of survival would mount up against his pilots.  After all, he wanted as little company with him as possible when he would reach the warehouse.  If all of his pilots die, including his best friends, then he would have no worry of being detected when he sends those viruses into the computer.  There’s no fuel shortage.  In fact, there’s more than enough fuel to go by.
 Natlarn geared up his weapons, disappointedly to only 45% power.  Now, it would take three or four shots to take an Invader down, not two or even one.  Though Buck seemed to have a good reason, why didn’t another base take care of this mess?  After all, Iropana Base was closer to the warehouse by two hours.  Why didn’t they use their pilots?  If Buck wanted a Venom pilot to be alive just for questioning, then how come just the presence of Invader jets wasn’t enough to convince him?  Venomians may be stupid, but they aren’t dumb enough to guard something that doesn’t really exist.  Christ, this is so confusing.
 Intent on focusing on the oncoming battle, he shook off those questions, and took position in the attack formation.  The twenty Invader-I jets began to set in an attack formation of their own, and they hurled themselves at the Bulldog jets with determination.  Buck fired the first shots, damaging the right wing of an unlucky Invader.
 The two squadrons collided in a blurry of lasers, explosions, and the screams of pilots, either as a war cry or as their last breath before being consumed by fire.  Natlarn spotted one more of his co-pilots going down, crashing on the hills below.  He swooped behind an Invader, and shot some lasers, but the lasers only flinched the enemy jet, and the Invader swooped right and got out of Natlarn’s frontal view.
 “This isn’t working, Buck!  We need more power to the lasers!”  Natlarn yelled through his comlink amid the battle.
 “No, Nat!  Keep it the way it is!”  Was the angry elk’s response.
 Suddenly, the cheetah spotted an Invader finally crash landing.  It slid a couple feet on the grass, then stopped, the pilot still intact.  “Okay Buck!  We got your stinking pilot!  Give the order to raise our power!”
 Buck refused to answer.  Instead, he went on firing his low-power lasers at one of the Invaders.  Natlarn realized that none of the other Invaders were attacking that elk.  They were all targeting his co-pilots, including himself.
 He didn’t have much time to think as another laser struck his left wing.  He had finally had it.  “I’m raising the power of my lasers!”
 “Nat!  You’re disobeying my order!”  That was Buck again.
 Not in the mood to talk back, Natlarn charged up his lasers, and at full power, began firing again.  The other pilots, also knowing that with the Venomian pilot still on the ground alive, began charging up their lasers, hoping to turn around the tables of this battle.  One by one, the inferior Invaders were shot down, and within minutes, the last Invader had escaped.
 With uncontrollable anger, Natlarn banged a canopy window with a fist.  “Damn it Buck!  We shouldn’t have lowered our lasers in the first place!”
 “Oh now you complain, Nat.  I had my reasons!”
 “Do you really think those Invaders were here just by coincidence?  Their presence here alone tells us that the rumors of those chemical weapons are true!”
 “If they are, then why are they so far away from it?  Aw, enough of this!   I will land and question the Venomian pilot.  You guys continue to circle around here.  I won’t take long.”
 Natlarn muttered a curse loudly and banged on the canopy again.  Grudgingly, he continued to fly over the ground, littered with the downed jets of Invaders and eight of his co-pilots.  Tera’s jet, like Natlarn’s, was busted on the wings, and may be rendered useless soon.  Dunbar was better off, but his G-Diffuser was damaged.  Buck’s jet was untouched.
 The Venomian pilot was groggy when the remaining six Katina pilots reached his burning jet.  The green-scaled lizard was injured at the arm and legs, and therefore, couldn’t reach to his holster and give Buck a gift in the form of a laser.  When Buck forced the canopy to open, the lizard sputtered out some saliva and uttered a low, scratchy growl.  Grinning, Buck aimed his laser pistol at his face.  To prevent his pilots from hearing him, he took off his comlink.
 “You have done well, pilot,” Buck calmly said.
 “Fool.....Andross allies with no one,” the lizard replied back, breathing hard.  “You will suffer a fate worse than death....”
 With ease, Buck pulled the trigger.  The laser burned through his skull, killing the lizard instantly.  The elk sighed and donned his comlink again.  “Alright guys, the rumors are true.  There are chemical weapons in that warehouse.  You guys go on to the place.  I’ll catch up with ya.”
 As his pilots flew off the battle scene, Buck turned to face the dead lizard.  “Ha!  Andross will not betray me.  He has his word.”

 The warehouse was abandoned a long time ago, and the look of the place showed.  It was located amid a rather desolate field, and Natlarn could only wonder why the building was in such a remote place.  It was two stories high, and seemed to be two hundred yards wide.  Twenty windows, all either boarded up or broken up, adorn the cracked walls on each side, and the building’s only door was pried and thrown to the ground, a major clue of recent activity from Venomian soldiers.
 The six remaining pilots landed near the entrance, and so far, none of the Venomian soldiers had appeared.  Buck halted his pilots when they reached the door.  Everything seemed quiet,....too quiet.  He was the only one carrying a backpack, with the briefcase inside.
 “Okay, let’s split in groups.  Dunbar, you come with me.  The rest of you go to the top floor.  I want every soldier here killed off, and then once that is accomplished, one of you find a timed bomb, so it would go off when we are all in a safe distance.”
 An hyena pilot shook his head questionably.  “Wait a minute.  If those are chemical weapons, then won’t the explosion cause a lot of destruction here?  It might affect the nearest civilization here.”
 Buck sighed, frustrated.  “Now you ask.  What’s the alternative?”
 “Why don’t we just secure the area and wait for cargo jets to come and retrieve the weapons?  Then we can dismantle them or use them against the Venomians.  I think that sounds more logical.”
 “I have my orders, pilot.  It is not to be questioned.  Let’s move.  There could be five or fifty guards in this place, so watch yourselves.”
 “But why you are just going with Dunbar?  Why not split evenly?”  Tera asked.
 Buck didn’t answer, for he and Dunbar had already burst inside, their pistols scanning for guards.  Forced to follow, the four other pilots cautiously went in.  Their eyes readjusted to the low lighting in the stuffy-aired place.  There were large crates in a disorganized manner here and there in the floor, some of them covered with dusty leather cloths.  As the two groups went their ways, Natlarn grew nervous.  The crates are perfect hiding places for an ambush.  However, there was only silence.  Perhaps there were no guards inside anyway.  Fat chance though.

 “I don’t think there are any guards in this shack,” Dunbar spoke as he followed Buck downstairs.
 “Shut it, Dunbar.  Keep talking loud and you will be corrected with a laser through your back,” he muttered back.  The wooden stairs creaked as they walked down, spider webs the only decorations on the ceiling above.  Dunbar was so nervous that he wiped cold sweat off his forehead, his paws shaking like some quake.
 Finally, they reached a boarded up door.  On the center was painted in white letters, THE GATEWAY TO HELL.  PLEAZ ENJOY YOUR STAY.
 “Dumb kids,” Buck muttered.  Using the strength of his arms, he pried open some of the boards with his bare paws, and cracked open some more before he got through the barrier.  Once inside, he was stopped short in awe.  Instead of loose boards to walk on, there was a tiled white floor, and the lights on the ceiling were shining brightly, giving the room all the light it needed.  The walls were sound-proof, gleaming with sleek blue steel.
 The main attraction however was in the center of the large basement.  A large computer towered in the room, giving off a humming sound and blinking with almost several dozen lights.  The lone monitor was big enough to fit Buck inside, and a leather chair was behind a keyboard.
 “Amazing,....” Dunbar spoke in wonder.  “This is some secret room?”
 “Yes, it is.  Take the seat.  I have a job for you.”
 “What do you want me to do?”
 “Just sit down and turn the screen on or something.  I’m thinking about it.”
 Dunbar simply shrugged and sat down.  Typing some commands on the keyboard, the screen flickered on, showing a picture of Katina with some windows blocking the corners of the screen.  The windows viewed several satellites orbiting the planet.  The ocelot seemed puzzled by this.  From what he had been seeing here, this computer might be some device that could control the satellites, but why would it be here?  Did Buck know this computer was here?
 “Buck.....tell me what to do,” he said, staring at the screen.
 The elk checked the laser power on his pistol.  “Dunbar, I have one special job for you to do.  Turn around.”
 Puzzled but obedient, Dunbar whirled his chair to face his friend, only to find the barrel of Buck’s pistol pressing against his forehead.  It felt cold to the touch.  “B-B-Buck...what the hell are you doing?”
 “Your job is to die,” Buck simply said, and pulled the trigger.  With a sickening splat, a mess was formed on the leather chair, and some of the red drops had splattered on the screen behind him, as well as on Buck’s uniform.  Dunbar limped forward, eyes open for eternity, a burning hole on his head.  Buck grabbed hold of his former friend’s collar and pulled him down to the ground.  Not bothering to clean the mess on the chair, Buck sat down and reached out the suitcase from the backpack.
 He opened the suitcase and picked out a small black box the size of his paw.  He laid it on an empty spot by the keyboard, chuckling as he did so.  The computer in front of him has some of the most toughest security in the entire Lylat System.  It has dozens of barriers, all completely different from each other, and if an intruder makes one mistake, the vents on the ceiling and floor would spew out gas that would kill at first inhale.  Some of the code barriers were easy, and some had over a million characters to decode.  Finally, a voice imprint identification would be needed, and only Commander Bill Grey would have that.
 And Surfer Boy is in Corneria, with some snobs in the Cornerian Ruling Council.  Buck muttered in thought.  He found an outlet on the computer and hooked some wires on it, connecting it to the device.  He must be sleeping in some comfy bed right now.  King-sized.  What a hot-head.
 He turned the device on, and started typing on the keyboard.  With the device’s help, which could decode the barriers, he began breaking the codes one by one.  Numbers and letters flashed on the screen, hauling one barrier after another in a gauntlet, only to be destroyed.
 Buck reached out a voice recorder from the backpack, and laid it close to the computer’s microphone.  When he turned it on, the recorder said, “Commander Bill Grey, Katina” in Bill’s voice.  It seemed nauseating to Buck.  To him, Bill’s voice was an abomination.
 “Let’s see if you can be fooled, fool,” Buck muttered under his breath.  The computer blinked some more unidentifiable lights.  No gas coming out of the vents yet.  A beeping sound signaled Buck that the recorder’s voice was good enough to be accepted.  Now, Buck was in the Mainframe of the computer.  It was now ripe for the picking.
 Laughing, he pushed the button on the device, and the viruses inside started invading the computer.  The screen went into disarray, flashing characters in blinding speed, then flinched back to normal.  The satellites seemed not to be affected.  They continued to scan space for Venomian forces as usual.
 “That is,” muttered Buck, “until the time of the first strike.  Then, the satellites will be shut down, paving the way for Venomians to attack the planet.”  He laid back on his chair, still ignoring the ocelot carcass on the floor, and laughed.

 The last Venomian cried out his last scream as a laser found its way through his heart.  He toppled to the wooden floor, joining his fellow Venomians and one dead Bulldog Squadron pilot.  Natlarn, Tera and Private Jerry Polance stepped out of their hiding places, relieved that all of the Venomians in the second floor were killed off.  The pilots could now inspect the crates safely, but they were still cautious.  An open hole that used to be a window was the only one that allowed light in (the other windows were boarded up), but it was enough for the pilots to see their way around.
 Using a rusty crowbar he had found, Tera pried open the lid of one of the large crates.  As the lid crashed on the floor, clouds of dust filled the surrounding air, forcing Natlarn to cough and wave his paws in front of his face.
 “Any chemical weapons in there, Tera?”  Natlarn asked his badger friend.
 Tera reached in the crate and hauled out a missile about half his size.  “If you don’t call this a chemical weapon, then um....nope.”
 Natlarn sighed deeply.  “Great.  There must be hundreds of those things in these crates around us.  Give me a crowbar.”
 The red-tailed hawk Jerry picked one up and threw it to him.  He then tapped on his comlink.  “Sergeant Elderson, can you hear me?  Please respond.”
 “All the guards dead?”  The voice of Buck asked.  “And call me Sergeant Buck.  I don’t like that last name.”
 “Sorry sir.  Uh, the second floor is all clear.  We found a crate full of missiles.  More of them expected.  I’m going to contact the nearest base and-”
 “Just keep your feathers on your skin, Jerry.  I didn’t find any weapons in the first floor or downstairs, but Dunbar was killed.”
 Natlarn moaned.  “Aw, damn it.  He was only a rookie fresh out of the Academy!”
 Buck’s mournful voice replied back.  “Yes, but he died honorably.  Look, the order to destroy this warehouse remains.  Find a time bomb and start it’s countdown.  I will be waiting for you outside.  Buck out.”
 Jerry snickered suddenly.  “Buck out....that sounds funny.”
 “Say that to his face, why don’t you?”  Natlarn replied back.
 Tera explored some more, and when he uncovered an object that was wrapped in heavy cloths, he gasped.  “Aw, crap....”
 “What is it?”
 “I found a time bomb.....but it’s already ticking....”
 “What???”  Natlarn yelled as he rushed over to his spooked friend.  Indeed, Tera had found a time bomb.  The clock was showing numbers that was counting down to zero.  Two minutes and then kablooey.
 Natlarn retreated back.  “Damn it...it’s a trap!  Get your butts out of here!!”
 Instantly, the three pilots rushed to the door.  They heard a rush of jet engines, and knew that Buck was taking off.  Bumping against the cracked walls at times, the panicked trio screeched across the wooden floor, not caring about the possibility that one of them might step on a weak spot and crash through the floor.  The creaking sounds went to deaf, distracted ears as they ran down the steps, their hearts pumping wildly and their eyes stricken with fear.
 “There’s the way out!”  Natlarn pointed out when they reached the first floor.  Running for their lives, they hurled themselves across the floor, and soon the Katina sun met them fully as they got out, with a minute to go.
 They literally dove into their cockpits, and were in mid-air when the explosion rocked the building behind them.  A lethal cloud arose from the obliterated warehouse, sending plaster and various debris in all directions.  A huge chunk of wall almost struck Natlarn’s right wing, surprising the cheetah pilot.  All four surviving pilots had escaped, barely.
 “God, that was close.  I almost met my grandmother, bless her soul,” Jerry muttered in relief.  The hawk spotted a Bulldog-class jet in front of them.  Then he realized something.  “Hey guys, was Buck’s comlink on when we found the bomb?”
 Natlarn shook his head, calming himself down.  “I heard it beep off.  So, the comlink must be off then.  Why you asked?”
 “Well....this struck me as funny...if Buck didn’t hear us cry out ‘Bomb’, then why did he leave all of a sudden?  It was like he expected it....”
 Tera scoffed.  “What?  C’mon Jerry, think straight.  Buck is our friend.  He will never do anything that would hurt us.”
 Jerry made a nervous chuckle.  “Yeah....he won’t do anything like that....”

Chapter Four

 “You off your rocker?”

    --Natlarn Berola in Nakar Gabab’s “The Liberation of Devionay”

 Another week went by.  On one particular sunny day, Natlarn sat on his bed in his quarters, shaking his head mournfully.  Just the day before he and Fran had broken up peacefully, and they hoped to go back together once the war ends, and thus the schedules and such that had killed their relationship would be eased down by then, they expected.
 The doorbell chirped and Tera came inside.  “Hey Nat.  You feeling better?”
 Natlarn shook his head.  “I don’t know.  Maybe it’s best if we had broken up at this time.  We were so over swamped and all.  Now that we don’t have an relationship to distract us, we can do our other stuff more easier.  Life would be less stressful.  We will be back.  I know we will.”
 “So what’s the problem?”
 “I don’t know.  Post-Breakup Depression, I guess,” the cheetah said, grinning.  He stood up and yawned.  “What time is it?”
 Tera checked his watch.  “It’s getting close to 5:00.  Why you need to know?”
 “There’s a game coming on in ten minutes.  Hoverball Championships.  I’m going to watch it in the rec-room with a bunch of other pilots.  You want to come with me?”
 “Yeah, alright then.  Maybe catch something to eat in some cafe.”
 Natlarn smiled.  “Good.  I want to talk to Buck about something.  Have you seen him?”
 “Not recently.  He was pretty steamed when we got back from that warehouse mission.”
 “Don’t remind me.  Grounded for two days for disobeying orders.  Some friend, eh?”
 “Even friends have to obey the rules, Nat.  It’s part of his job to punish pilots that disobeyed him.  C’mon Nat.  Let’s go.”
 “Don’t you ever wonder why he would still have us fighting the Invaders with low laser power even after that Venomian pilot was down and still alive?”
 “Yeah, of course.  I once told him about it, but he just shrugged me off, and I never bothered to repeat the question.  I guess he does have his reasons, but it is not up to debate.”
 The two friends got out into the hallway.  “Look Tera, I have been noticing a change in Buck lately.  He’s got all this money all of a sudden, and while he may have a rich relative, he never told us about this relative before.”
 “Maybe this relative is mysterious.  Look, the mission is over with.  We don’t need something in the past like that to distract us unnecessarily.”
 “Fine then.  I’ll leave it alone.  So, who are you betting on?  The Firehawks or the Stingers?”
 “The Stingers.  They’re better in hoverball.  Excellent defense.”
 “Really?  I’ve heard they got a praying mantis in that team.”
 “So?”  Tera replied back, grinning.

 Hemra City was one of the most bustling cities around.  Skyscrapers literally scrape the sky with their great heights.  The streets were riddled with hovercars zipping back and forth.  On the eastern side of the city in the southwestern hemisphere of Katina was a small base, called Williams Air Force Base.  The rectangular main building was surrounded by hangars holding two hundred Protector and Green class jets, and two air strips stretch across both sides of the base.  At the very center top of the main building was a tower, called Main Control.  Midway up the tower was a floor entirely surrounded by windows, so the console officers could view the entire base from above.
 Nine days after the warehouse mission, Captain Restina Gahall stood behind one of the huge windows, looking down at the jets parked on the concrete ground.  The lynx was bored; nothing of interest was happening today.  Behind him, dozens of console officers were working with their computers, checking radar, scans, and such.  As the only method of defense for the entire city, the Williams AF Base was the center of military activity for the city and areas on a fifty mile radius.  Restina, as the head of the entire operations, felt a responsibility for the safety of the city, and with the war going on, he had lost some sleep over it before.
 Just when he felt like it, the lynx looked up at the sky.  What he saw was alarming.  He retreated back a few steps, not sure of what to do.  He mentioned at one of the console officers.  “Drake, check the satellites.  Are they reporting anything?”
 The bandicoot Drake looked at his computer screen.  “No sir.  According to them, the sky is as clear as crystal water.”
 Restina pointed at the dots that seemed to be moving in attack formation.  “Then what the hell are those jets, Drake?”
 Puzzled, Drake went up to his side, and looked up.  “My God,...they look like Venomian jets.  I saw pictures of them before.  Bombers.  But the satellites aren’t......sir, I don’t think the satellites are working right.”
 Restina growled.  “Oh that’s just great.  Just frigging great!”  He turned, and faced the officers.  “Call out the alarms!  Get those bombers shot down now!!”
 “Those satellites must have been infected!  This can’t be some coincidence!”  Drake exclaimed as the officers around him went into a sudden blur of activity.  The red, flashing alarms blared overhead, and looking down, Restina could see some of the pilots frantically running to their jets.
 “We have been tricked,” Restina mumbled to himself.  “But we are not stupid enough to let this thing go without a fight to the finish.”  He continued to watch as the Venomian bombers, perhaps dozens of them, began swooping down from the sky, preparing to strike.  They are not very capable to fight back at the defending jets, but they were not meant to.  They knew that if Hemra City would be destroyed, they would win even in death.
 He finally saw some of his jets taking off, already firing their lasers at the thick-armored bombers.  Since there were no Invaders to protect them, the bombers seemed helpless to fight back, but destroying the jets doesn’t seem to be their main goal to achieve.  The bombers continued their trek, and the bombs started to drop.
 The first explosion, coming from the edge of the base, almost blinded Restina as the flash burned his eyes temporarily.  The sound roared into his ears, and another explosion literally rocked the floor under him.  Rubbing his eyes, he heard the screams of panicked console officers behind them.  Not tolerating this, he growled and faced his officers.
 “Calm down!  We don’t need to panic!”
 However, the officers mostly ignored him, too deep in frantic thoughts and too distracted.  Sighing with frustration, Restina stared out the window again.  He spotted one of the bombers coming directly over the tower, it’s bay doors open.  He knew his time had come.
 “Andross...” he growled his last words.  “When a Cornerian soldier aims his gun at you...”  He then spotted the single bomb hurling directly at the tower he was in.  “I hope he says......up yours!!!”
 The lynx screamed as the explosion consumed him and the officers with him, obliterating the tower and most of the base.  The tower crumbled down in a splattering display of debris and fire, tumbling the hopes of the residents of Hemra City with it.

 When Natlarn and Buck were preparing for battle in Herot Base, Fran sighed with relief, now that her day shift was over.  After several hours of working on oily and greasy jet engines in the East Garage, her brown uniform was drenched in oil stains and smudges.  A tool belt was lazily hung over her shoulder, bearing her down.  A pungent smell arose from her, irritating her nose though she was used to it.  She dropped the tool belt, and the heavy set of tools landed on the carpet with a thud.
 “God, I need a bath.  Better yet, a vacation,” she mumbled to herself.  She pulled out a cold pitcher of red-herb tea (her favorite) from the fridge and poured a good volume of the tea on a large glass.  Just then, to her disappointment, the monitor phone rang.  The temptation to quench her dry throat was too great, so she gulped half of the tea before even coming toward the phone, after it rang four times.  She laid the glass down when she saw who was waiting for her to answer.
 It was a white weasel, his uniform collar showing the insignia of Captain.  His missile-shaped face had a sneering look to it, with blue sharp eyes.  “What took you so long, Miss Beshale?”
 “Sorry Captain Grenmen.  I just came home from my day shift.  Haven’t even gotten my bath yet, as you can see.  I’m also thirsty.”
 “Leave your excuses for another time,” Grenmen interrupted sharply.  “Commander Broluck wants to see you in his office.”
 Fran sighed with frustration.  The last thing she needed was another chore to do at this moment.  Her bed looked mighty tempting right now.  She wished to plop on it and sleep for ten years.  Hopefully by then the war would be over, and she would marry Natlarn.  “What does he want, Darian?”
 Grenmen’s whiskers twitched madly.  “It is inappropriate to address your superior officer by the first name, Miss Beshale!”
 “Yeah, whatever, Captain.  I’m just simply tired.  Just let that pass, okay?”
 The weasel cleared his throat.  “Fine, Miss Beshale.  I’m a bit exhausted as well.  The Commander has a job for you.  I am uncertain on the exact details, but it has to do with a special engine coming here from a company in Corneria that needs inspection.”
 “I repair engines, not inspect them.”
 “Still, you are best suited for the job.  If you would take this offer, then you will get a raise starting next month.  Say a 5% raise?  Sounds good?”
 Fran sighed again, her millionth one in a few minutes.  “Oh alright.  I need to clean up.”
 “Do so, but he expects you to come within twenty minutes.  Grenmen out.”
 The screen fizzled into static then blinked off.  Fran finished her drink and turned on the bath water.  As she was preparing for her bath, she noticed the emerald ring on her finger almost black with oil.  “Oh great!  Either I have to take this ring off before I do my work or start wearing gloves.”  Sighing once again, she pulled the ring out of her finger and laid on the sink counter, planning to clean it tomorrow.

 “Oh great,” Fran muttered as she waited impatiently in Broluck’s office.  “He expects me here and when I come, he’s not even here.  Sheez....”
 Restless since she was supposed to be sleeping in bed right now, the German shepherd paced back and forth, the carpeted floor creaking under her feet.  She went over to Broluck’s desk curiously, and spotted one of the drawers left ajar.  While Fran was generally a nice and moral-minded dog, she has the nasty habit of snooping when she shouldn’t be.  Therefore, it wasn’t a surprise for Fran to find herself fully opening the drawer and rummaged through the papers in there.  She didn’t intended to read anything; just to peek, but one of the papers caught her attention.
 On top of the document was the letters “TO EMPEROR ANDROSS”, and it seemed to be in some form a letter, and it was dated to be a few months old.  Grunting in puzzlement, Fran pulled the sheet out (it was in the middle of the small stack of papers) and read it out loud.
 “Emperor Andross of Venom, please hear to what I have to say.  I am Commander John Broluck of the Katina Base Headquarters.  I may side with Corneria as allies, but I know deep within my heart that they will crumble under your mighty forces.  To prevent me pummeling down with them, I wish to ally with you secretly.  I want total control of the planet Katina, and together we can rule the Lylat System, and hopefully other galaxies as well.”
 Fran then glanced off the sheet, her eyes stricken with horror.  She had read enough.  “Good Lordy...Commander Broluck has been siding with Andross for the last few months?”  She was shocked of course, but she had enough sense to lay the sheet back in the drawer and closed it.
 She did it just in time, for the serval Broluck had just came in the office.  “Looking for something, Miss Beshale?”
 Fran smiled innocently, trying her best to hide her new discovery.  “No sir.  I was just uh...bored.”
 Commander Broluck nodded.  He gave her a small package that he was carrying.  “Sorry for the delay.  I forgot about this.  Inside are all the information that you need to know about the Xavier-8900 engine that is coming in two days.  Study it well.  That engine is top of it’s class, and your inspection is important.  That is all, Miss Beshale.  I could have brought this to you in your room, but I must have changed my mind.”
 Fran accepted the package nervously.  Her brown eyes glanced right and left, and the serval noticed that.
 “Something wrong, Miss Beshale?”
 “Nothing,” she replied, hurriedly walking out of the office.  “Nothing’s wrong.”
 As the sounds of her footsteps faded away, Broluck shook his head in puzzlement, confused with her behavior.  Shrugging it off, he sat down on his desk chair, and noticed the drawer closed.  “Wait a minute, didn’t I accidently left it partly open?”
 With a growing sense of alarm, he opened the drawer and found the letter to Andross, which was the first of several that was written a few months ago.  He knew very well that it wasn’t supposed to be on the top of the stack of papers.  “What in the world....did someone look into this?”
 His eyes narrowed.  “It was Beshale!  Damn it!”  He yelled as he pounded a fist on his desk.

Chapter Five

 “Yeah, she has a habit of snooping around.  She’s been working on stopping that however.  She doesn’t use the unneeded information for harmful intentions; just to ease her curiosity.  Besides, a little snooping never kills her.....”

       --Private Iris Tela, friend of Fran Beshale

 The German shepherd was too stressful to sleep.  It has been two hours since the discovery in Broluck’s office, and Fran was at a loss on what to do.  Natlarn and Buck were somewhere in Herot Base, so she couldn’t confide in them at this moment.  Tera was somewhere in Trapana Base some fifty miles away, doing some drilling mission.  If she would expose Broluck’s intentions to usurp the Katina throne, then who would believe her?  She would be a laughingstock.
 The doorbell chirped, startling her three-quarters to death.  Hurriedly, she marched over to the doors and opened to find a turtle waiting with a clipboard.  “What is it?”
 “Miss Beshale?  There is an engine that requires repair in the East Garage,” the old turtle replied, sniffling.  “It is urgent.”
 “But I’m off duty!”
 “I’m sorry Miss Beshale.  General Yarseea demanded that you go work on the engine right this instant.”
 Fran growled.  How could she work in such a stressful and exhausted state?  “Fine then.  I’ll do it.”
 The turtle nodded and walked off, his job completed.  As the door closed, Fran sighed again.  “For Pete’s sake, this day is getting ridiculous to be reality.  Maybe I’m in some nightmare,” she said, and pinched herself.  She yelped in pain, but no avail.  She rolled up her eyes and fastened the heavy tool belt around her slim waist.  It seemed heavier than usual.

 “Alright, you crappy engine,” Fran sullenly spoke to the jet engine that she was ordered to work on in the East Garage.  “Let’s see what’s the problem.”
 The engine was hoisted in mid-air to Fran’s level by four large chains that hung down from the ceiling, and the noises of drills and other assorted sounds of a busy garage roared into her ears.  She opened the panel door of the engine and looked into the belly of the beast.  Her fingers fumbled through the wires, trying to find that reason for off-duty interruption.  On the corner of her eyes, she spotted a white metal place fastened on the carburetor, with blinking red lights.
 She blinked her eyes with surprise.  “Now what the hell is that?”  She asked herself, and her right paw reached for the bomb.  She would never get her answer alive.
 The explosion forced fellow maintenance worker Darrel Bronan to sputter out his coffee in complete surprise.  Dropping his coffee cup to the tiled floor, Darrel turned around and in horror found an engine under fire and a worker lying flat on her back.  The otter rushed out from the rec-room into the garage, trying to gather some sense.  There were screams coming from the other workers, the people rushing toward the horrid scene.  Darrel spotted the worker on the floor, and recognized her.
 “Fran!  Nooo!!”  He yelled, running toward her.  He collapsed by her, ignoring the small fire behind him.  Debris from the blast were everywhere, and the smoke was burning his eyes.  He cradled her head, attempting to find any sign of life.
 Fran was a mess that sickened him the moment he saw her up close.  Her right ear was torn off, leaving behind a smoking tatter of fur.  The face was burned for the most part, and her eyes were closed shut, never to be opened again.  “Fran,....Fran!!”  Darrel yelled at her, sharply tapping the side of her face.  Nothing.
 A worker standing behind him muttered a curse.  “She’s dead, Darrel.  Good God....”
 Darrel shook his head in disbelief.  His friend, dead?  He winched his eyes shut, tears pouring out.  He uttered a mournful whimper, and sobbed noticeably.
 “Alright people.  That’s enough!  Evacuate the area immediately!”  A firm voice reached the otter’s ears.  He looked up and saw a hare dispersing the crowd of onlookers.  It was General Yarseea.
 Darrel was hesitant to leave, but the hare forced him to stand up.  “You’ll have to leave, Mr. Bronan.  I’ll take care of this mess.”
 Darrel was almost shocked at the hare’s rather calm appearance.  A worker lies dead in front of him and there’s no sign of remorse?  “But sir!  I want to-”
 “Leave now!”
 Darrel sputtered out a few sounds, but gave in.  With one last look at his friend, he hurried off the garage.  General Yarseea knelt by Fran, grinning.
 “Curiosity killed the German shepherd, am I right, Fran?”  He said as he chuckled.

 Another ten minutes passed shortly.  The door to Fran’s living quarters opened and Captain Grenmen along with General Yarseea burst inside.  Still enjoying the thrill of a personal victory, they were grinning as they began to ransack the place.
 “Darain, what are we supposed to be looking for?” the hare asked the weasel questionably.
 “Steve, have your hare-brained memory failed you again?  We’re supposed to find any evidence that Fran had recorded about our planned alliance with Andross.  Does that ring a bell?”
 Yarseea snorted a response and opened the drawers, throwing out Fran’s clothes.  Grenmen searched through the compartments of the computer desk in the back of the room.  He found a disk with the label “Diary” taped on it.  Getting an idea, he sat down on a chair and turned on the computer, loading up the disk.
 The screen flashed the diary, and like a nosy, sniveling weasel, Grenmen scrolled down the secrets of Fran Beshale on screen, hoping to catch even one line that would mention her discovery of the secret alliance.  On the last recording, which was yesterday, it read:
Date:  7894.7
 Morning was being a drag again.  I woke up nauseous and spent the rest of the damn morning in bed.  Had to cancel the day shift, which made my boss mad.  Someday he will get the frigging flu or whatever I have and maybe, just maybe, he’ll understand the seriousness of my ailments.  That bat needed a lesson in sensitivity.
 Natlarn is still stationed in Herot along with Buck.  I miss him dearly.  I know I have recorded this in this diary all the time, but I hope that I will marry him once the war is over.  Maybe Buck would be the Best Furry in the wedding, and Tera would probably be the ring bearer.  If Dunbar was alive, he would be an usher.  Or maybe the official photographer.  I can’t wait for the wedding!
 Anyway, back to my stupid health.  I went to the doctor around noon, and went through some tests.  He claimed that it wasn’t the flu after all, but he wasn’t sure enough to pinpoint what exactly it was.  However, what he said to be the best guess was really shocking.  I think I’m pregnant........

 Grenmen blinked his eyes in surprise after reading that last word.  “My goodness....”
 Yarseea stopped ransacking the drawer.  “What is it?”
 The weasel shut off the computer.  “Nothing, Steve.  Nothing.  I don’t see any evidence around here.  Let’s get out of here.”
 The hare nodded and the two walked off the ransacked room, satisfied that the problem involving Fran Beshale was over.

The End